10 Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba, or maidenhair, is a tree native to China that has been grown for thousands of years for a variety of uses.
Because it’s the only surviving member of an ancient order of plants, it’s sometimes referred to as a living fossil.
While its leaves and seeds are often used in traditional Chinese medicine, modern research primarily focuses on ginkgo extract, which is made from the leaves.
Ginkgo supplements are associated with several health claims and uses, most of which focus on brain function and blood circulation.
Here are 10 benefits of ginkgo biloba.
Antioxidants combat or neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive particles that are produced in the body during normal metabolic functions, such as converting food to energy or detoxification.
Yet, they also have the potential to damage healthy tissues, contributing to accelerated aging and disease development.
Research on ginkgo’s antioxidant effects is promising. However, it remains unclear exactly how it works and how effective it may be at treating specific diseases.
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to injury or invasion by a foreign substance.
In the inflammatory response, various components of the immune system are recruited to fight against the foreign invader or heal the injured area.
Some chronic diseases trigger an inflammatory response even when there is no illness or injury present. Over time, this excessive inflammation can cause permanent damage to the body’s tissues and DNA.
Some specific conditions in which ginkgo extract has shown to reduce inflammation include:
- Irritable bowel disease (IBD)
- Heart disease
While this data is encouraging, human studies are needed before drawing concrete conclusions about ginkgo’s role in treating these complex diseases.
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo seeds were used to open “channels” of energy to different organ systems, including the kidneys, liver, brain and lungs.
Ginkgo’s apparent ability to increase blood flow to various parts of the body may be the origin of many of its supposed benefits.
One study in people with heart disease who supplemented with ginkgo revealed an immediate increase in blood flow to multiple parts of the body. This was attributed to a 12% increase in levels of circulating nitric oxide, a compound responsible for dilating blood vessels (7).
Similarly, another study showed the same effect in older adults who were treated with ginkgo extract (8).
Additional research also points to ginkgo’s protective effects on heart health, brain health and stroke prevention. There are multiple potential explanations for this, one of which may be the anti-inflammatory compounds present in the plant (9, 10, 11).
More research is needed to fully understand how ginkgo affects circulation and heart and brain health.
Ginkgo has been repeatedly evaluated for its ability to reduce anxiety, stress and other symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline associated with aging.
Overall, research results are inconsistent in this area.
Some studies show a marked reduction in the rate of cognitive decline in people with dementia using ginkgo, but others fail to replicate this result.
A review of 21 studies revealed that when used in conjunction with conventional medicine, ginkgo extract may increase functional capabilities in those with mild Alzheimer’s (12).
Another review evaluated four studies and found a significant reduction in a spectrum of symptoms associated with dementia when ginkgo was used for 22–24 weeks (13).
These positive results could be related to the role that ginkgo may play in improving blood flow to the brain, especially as it relates to vascular types of dementia.
Overall, it’s too soon to definitively state or refute ginkgo’s role in treating dementia, but recent research is beginning to make this piece clearer.
There is some speculation that ginkgo may enhance brain function in healthy individuals.
Results from studies like these have given rise to claims linking ginkgo to improved memory, focus and attention span.
However, a large review of research on this relationship concluded that supplementing with ginkgo did not result in any measurable improvements in memory, executive function or attention capacity (16).
While supplementing with ginkgo may improve mental capability, there are no guarantees
Some research indicates that supplementing with ginkgo may reduce symptoms of anxiety.
In one study, 170 people with generalized anxiety were treated with either 240 mg or 480 mg of ginkgo or a placebo. The group treated with the highest dose of ginkgo reported a 45% greater reduction in symptoms of anxiety, compared to the placebo group (19).
While supplementing with ginkgo may reduce anxiety, it’s still too early to draw any definitive conclusions from the available research.
A review of animal studies suggests that supplementing with ginkgo may help treat symptoms of depression (18).
Mice who received ginkgo before an unavoidable stressful situation were less emotionally affected by the stress than the group that did not receive the supplement.
The study indicated that this effect was related to ginkgo’s anti-inflammatory properties, which improve the body’s ability to cope when stress hormone levels are high.
Nonetheless, depression is a complex condition that may have a variety of root causes.
More research is needed to better understand the relationship between ginkgo and how it may affect depression in humans.
Very little research has investigated how ginkgo relates to vision and eye health. However, early results are promising.
One review showed that people with glaucoma who supplemented with ginkgo experienced increased blood flow to the eye, but this didn’t necessarily translate to better vision (20).
Another review of two studies evaluated the effect of ginkgo extract on the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Some participants reported an improvement in vision, but this wasn’t statistically significant across the board (21).
Many of these positive results seem to be related to increased blood flow to the eye.
It’s unclear if ginkgo would improve vision in those who don’t already suffer from vision impairment.
More research is needed to determine whether ginkgo can increase vision capacity or slow the progression of degenerative eye disease.
Very little research is available on ginkgo’s ability to treat headaches. However, depending on the root cause of the headache, it may help.
For example, it’s well known that ginkgo has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. If a headache or migraine is caused by excessive stress, ginkgo may be useful.
Additionally, if a headache is related to reduced blood flow or constricted blood vessels, ginkgo’s ability to dilate blood vessels may improve symptoms.
On the contrary, some migraines are caused by the excessive dilation of blood vessels. In this situation, ginkgo may have little to no effect.
But these examples are just inferences and don’t substitute hard evidence.
If you want to try ginkgo for your migraines, it’s unlikely that it will cause much harm. Just be aware that it may not necessarily help.
Some research indicates that ginkgo may improve symptoms of asthma and other inflammatory respiratory diseases like COPD.
This is attributed to the anti-inflammatory compounds in ginkgo, which may allow for reduced inflammation of the airways and increased lung capacity (23).
One study in 75 people evaluated the use of ginkgo extract alongside glucocorticosteroid medication therapy for managing asthma symptoms (24).
The levels of inflammatory compounds in the saliva of those who received ginkgo were significantly lower than those who received traditional medication alone.
Another study in 100 people evaluated the use of a mixture of Chinese herbs, which included ginkgo, for treating COPD symptoms.
Those who used the herbal formula reported a considerable reduction in cough and bronchitis at a three-month follow-up, compared to the control group (25).
At this point, it cannot be determined if this improvement can be attributed to ginkgo alone, or if it was a synergistic effect of the other herbs used in the treatment group formula.
While these results are encouraging, more research on this specific application of ginkgo is needed.