Standardized extracts of Ginkgo biloba, produced from the leaves of the Ginkgo tree, have been promoted for more than 30 years as an effective way to improve memory, and avoid age-related cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Ginkgo extract has been utilized in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for more than 500 years, according to the American Botanical Council. But new research questions the benefits of taking Ginkgo biloba extract. A research study published in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the popular herbal supplement Ginkgo biloba was ineffective in preventing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The study, titled “Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory trial,” followed a group of more than 3,000 healthy participants aged 75 or older. They periodically completed dementia assessments over a period of about six years, to measure whether a daily dose of 240 mgs. of Ginkgo biloba extract could delay or prevent dementia. One of the authors of the study, Dr. Steven DeKosky, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, stated that, based on findings in this study, “Ginkgo biloba cannot be recommended for the purpose of preventing dementia.” Representatives of the supplement industry criticized the study, suggesting that the middle-aged, rather than the elderly participants, would be a more reliable way to analyze ginkgo’s effects on the aging brain. They pointed out that dementia develops over many years and that the participants in this study were already at the highest age risk for developing the disorder, due to advanced age.
Should You Continue Taking a Ginkgo Biloba Supplement?
The study authors cautioned that because Ginkgo biloba has an anti-coagulant effect, elderly patients with a history of cardiovascular disease should always consult with their physician before starting a Ginkgo biloba regimen. If you are otherwise healthy and find that taking Ginkgo biloba helps you feel more focused and alert, then the latest study is further evidence that Ginkgo biloba is safe for healthy people to consume, even if seemingly ineffective as a preventative for Alzheimer’s disease. The latest research study is by no means the final verdict on Ginkgo biloba. The scientific community hasn’t reached a consensus on the effectiveness of Ginkgo biloba in protecting cognitive functioning. A 2008 study sponsored by the government’s National Institute of Health demonstrated that regular, prolonged use of standardized ginkgo extract had a beneficial effect on the risk of developing dementia. On the other hand, a 2007 study which examined several smaller clinical trials, found them “inconsistent and unconvincing” proof that ginkgo biloba had a significant benefit for people with dementia or cognitive impairment. There is another large 5-year study being conducted in France, the GuildAge study, and those results are expected to be published sometime in 2010. In the meantime, here are current recommendations to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease:
• Consume a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, nuts and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna.
• Exercise regularly and aerobically to increase blood circulation and oxygen supply to the heart and the brain.
• Avoid and reduce excess stress.
• Stay connected with other people because social isolation is a risk factor.
• Learn new things and use your sense of humor to keep your mind sharp.