Ginkgo biloba is derived from the leaves of the ginkgo biloba tree, which is predominantly grown in China, South Korea and Japan. Ginkgo is available as a liquid extract, in capsule or tablet form or as a tea. The nuts, which are contained within the seeds of the ginkgo tree, may be consumed and are a common ingredient in Asian cuisine. Consumption of ginkgo biloba has certain health implications; therefore, it is imperative that you consult with your medical adviser prior to consuming ginkgo biloba.
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that ginkgo improves blood circulation and may help treat blood-related conditions, such as blood vessel disorders, high blood pressure and blood clots. In addition to improvements in blood flow, UMMC states that ginkgo also may be beneficial for eye health. Ginkgo contains flavonoids, which scientists believe prevent against macular degeneration and glaucoma. Ginkgo also is purported to improve memory and symptoms of Alzheimer's and dementia; however, Mayo Clinic internist Brent A. Bauer notes that further research is required to validate these claims.
The benefits commonly associated with ginkgo also pose certain health risks. According to UMMC, ginkgo is an anticoagulant, or blood thinner. This explains why ginkgo has the ability to improve overall circulation. However, the anticoagulant effect also may lead to serious medical conditions, such as hemorrhaging, constant nosebleeds or internal bleeding. For this reason, ginkgo should not be taken alongside blood-thinning medication.
Foods Containing Gingko
While ginkgo biloba leaf extracts are traditionally consumed by way of supplements, the gingko seeds are a common ingredient for many Asian dishes. The Chinese incorporate gingko seeds into congee, or rice porridge, as well as in many vegetarian dishes to celebrate Chinese New Year. The Japanese prefer to integrate the gingko seeds in a traditional Japanese dish known as chawanmushi, which is a steamed egg custard. Although ginkgo seeds may be found in a variety of Asian cuisine, Medline Plus warns that ginkgo seed consumption is potentially fatal. Eating in excess of 10 roasted ginkgo seeds per day may result in breathing difficulties, seizures and loss of consciousness. Furthermore, Medline Plus notes that fresh ginkgo seeds may prove more toxic than the roasted seeds because they are poisonous and may lead to death.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate over-the-counter herbal supplements, UMMC notes that dosage requirements may vary from individual to individual. For instance, individuals wishing to improve memory impairment or cardiovascular health may require a daily dose of 120 mg while those wishing to treat intermittent claudication, or peripheral artery disease, may require 120 to 240 mg per day. Medline Plus states that ginkgo biloba supplements should not be taken two weeks prior to surgery or by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, children and individuals with a history of diabetes, seizures, infertility or bleeding disorders. Consult with your medical practitioner before consuming ginkgo, either as a supplement or in food products.
- National Institute of Health: Ginkgo
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Ginkgo Biloba
- "Journal of General Internal Medicine"; Spontaneous Bleeding Associated with Ginkgo Biloba; Stephen Bent, M.D.; July 2005
- "The Journal of the American Medical Association"; Ginkgo Biloba for Preventing Cognitive Decline in Older Adults; Beth E. Snitz, Ph.D.; 2009
- MayoClinic.com; Ginkgo Biloba and Alzheimer's Disease; Brent A. Bauer, M.D.