Ginkgo Biloba: Health Benefits, Uses, and Risks

Ginkgo is used as an herbal remedy to treat many conditions. It may be best known as a treatment for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and fatigue. Other conditions it’s used to treat are:

  • anxiety and depression
  • schizophrenia
  • insufficient blood flow to the brain
  • blood pressure problems
  • altitude sickness
  • erectile dysfunction
  • asthma
  • neuropathy
  • cancer
  • premenstrual syndrome
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • macular degeneration

Like many natural remedies, ginkgo isn’t well-studied for many of the conditions it’s used for.

Health benefits of ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo’s health benefits are thought to come from its high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It may also increase blood flow and play a role in how neurotransmitters in the brain operate.

Some studies support the effectiveness of ginkgo. Other research is mixed or inconclusive. In 2008, results of the Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory (GEM) study were released. The study sought to find out if ginkgo would reduce the occurrence of all types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. It also looked at ginkgo’s impact on:

  • overall cognitive decline
  • blood pressure
  • incidence of cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • overall mortality
  • functional disability

The GEM study, the largest of its kind to date, followed 3,069 people age 75 or older for 6 to 7 years. Researchers found no effect for preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in study participants who either took ginkgo or a placebo. And a 2012 meta-analysis found ginkgo had no positive effects on cognitive function in healthy people.

Still, a 2014 study showed ginkgo supplementation may benefit people who already have Alzheimer’s and take cholinesterase inhibitors, common medications used to treat the condition.

The GEM study also found ginkgo didn’t reduce high blood pressure. There was also no evidence ginkgo decreases the risk of heart attack or stroke. It may, however, reduce the risk of peripheral artery disease caused by poor blood circulation.

According to a 2013 systematic review, ginkgo can be considered an adjuvant therapy for schizophrenia. Researchers found ginkgo seemed “to exert a beneficial effect on positive psychotic symptoms” in people with chronic schizophrenia who take antipsychotic medication.

Researchers in that study also found positive study results for ADHD, autism, and generalized anxiety disorder, but indicated more research is needed.

According to an older review of evidence study, ginkgo may improve erectile dysfunction caused by antidepressant medications. Researchers believe ginkgo increases the availability of nitric oxide gas which plays a role in increasing blood flow to the penis.

Ginkgo may help relieve premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, according to a 2009 study. During the study, participants taking either ginkgo or a placebo experienced a reduction in symptoms. Those taking ginkgo had significantly more relief.

Takeaway

There was a time ginkgo seemed like a magic bullet for preventing age-related memory loss and other health conditions. But research to date doesn’t support much of the enthusiasm.

Most evidence for ginkgo is anecdotal or decades old. Still, research has shown ginkgo may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, help treat some common mental health conditions, improve sexual function, and improve blood flow to the peripheral arteries.

Don’t replace a current medication with ginkgo or start taking ginkgo to treat a serious condition without consulting your doctor.

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