Ginkgo biloba is one of the world's oldest surviving tree species, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. For hundreds of years, traditional healers have used ginkgo biloba as a treatment for a diverse array of common conditions. In modern naturopathy, naturopaths recommend ginkgo biloba primarily as a treatment for dementia, memory loss and age-related cognitive decline. Ginkgo biloba supplements can help to enhance circulation, particularly among those with medical conditions. Consult your health care provider before using any medicinal herb.
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According to the National Institutes of Health, most of ginkgo biloba's medicinal effects relate to its efficacy as a circulatory enhancer. Compounds in ginkgo leaf appear to dilate blood vessels, thereby increasing blood flow to the legs, ears, eyes and brain. Ginkgo's other effects are under-researched; it may affect brain chemistry, blood clotting and infectious bacteria in ways that science does not fully understand.
Effects on Brain and Nerves
Ginkgo biloba temporarily increases blood flow to the brain, and this may explain the herb's famous memory-enhancing effects. The NIH regards ginkgo biloba as "possibly effective" as a method for improving memory, mood and cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s, vascular or mixed dementias. Ginkgo biloba can also enhance cognitive function in both young people and elderly people. Although evidence is not conclusive, ginkgo biloba may help to enhance eyesight in people with glaucoma and diabetes.
Other Circulatory Benefits
By increasing circulation to the extremities, ginkgo biloba may help to treat several painful conditions. The NIH states that ginkgo biloba may reduce symptoms of claudication, or leg pain, caused by poor blood flow. Compounds in ginkgo biloba appear to increase the distance that a person with peripheral vascular disease can walk before experiencing pain, and it may also reduce the need for surgery to treat this condition. Additionally, the NIH regards ginkgo as "possibly effective" as a method for reducing the number of attacks in people with Raynaud's syndrome, which causes severe discomfort in response to cold.
Several doses of ginkgo leaf can be used to improve circulation, although there is no clear consensus regarding the safest, most effective dose. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends a daily intake of 120 to 240 milligrams, divided into two to three doses. The most effective formulas are standardized to contain 24 to 32 percent flavone glycosides and 6 to 12 percent triterpene lactones, which are the primary active compounds found in ginkgo leaf. This dose is appropriate for healthy adults who weigh roughly 150 pounds; you should consult your health care provider for specific guidelines.
The side effects of ginkgo biloba are rare and mild. The UMMC lists stomach problems, headaches, skin reactions and dizziness among the most common problems associated with ginkgo biloba supplements. In theory, it may also increase the risk of bleeding, particularly among people with certain medical conditions. Do not use ginkgo biloba if you have a bleeding condition or seizure disorder. Ginkgo is not appropriate for use by pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, or people taking medications with blood-thinning properties. Never use any herbal supplement except under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.