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Ginkgo Biloba: Does It Prevent Memory Loss and Dementia

This article was written as a response to the question:
Ginkgo biloba is an herbal extract that has been said to preserve memory and help prevent memory loss with dementia and AlzheimerÂ’s disease. Does it really work

Ginkgo biloba is an herbal extract that has been said to preserve memory and help prevent memory loss with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Does it really work, that is the question. In Europe and the United States, Ginkgo biloba is one of the best selling herbal supplements and in Germany and France it is a top selling medicine.

What is Ginkgo Biloba Used For

The Ginkgo biloba tree is the one of the oldest living tree species, and its leaves have been used to treat fatigue, ringing or roaring noise in the ears (tinnitus), sexual dysfunction, multiple sclerosis, intermittent claudication (pain caused by inadequate blood flow in the leg), bronchitis and asthma. Today, it is most popular for treating memory loss, treating and preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Ginkgo biloba is thought to work by increasing the blood flow and it is high in antioxidants and is an anti-inflammatory. The increased blood flow is supposed to help the health of the brain increasing memory and other brain functions. The high levels of antioxidants clean out the free radicals reducing the damage to the brain and the rest of our body.

New Study Shows Ginkgo Biloba Does Not Work, or Does It

A new study released on December 29, 2009 by the Journal of the American Medical Association is actually a new study of previously published data. This study was to find out if Ginkgo biloba slows the rate of cognitive decline in aging [1].

This JAMA study was a double-blind, placebo controlled study of 3069 people with ages between 72 and 96 years old conducted between 2000 and 2008 and a follow-up of 6 years. This study used a twice-daily dose of 120 mg (milligrams) of Ginkgo biloba. The study looked at and scored memory, attention, language, executive functions and visual-spatial construction.

The results found that there were no differences in the scores in any of these areas tested. Their conclusion was that when compared with a placebo, Ginkgo biloba did not result in less cognitive decline in older adults with normal or with mild cognitive impairment.

Arguments Against this Study

As soon as this study was published, the arguments were out stating that this study was flawed. The US government funded this study and Schwabe Pharmaceuticals supplied the Ginkgo biloba and placebo pills. Schwabe is disputing the findings of this study [2]. One important point is, as many as 40% of the participants didn’t take the pills at the end of the study, they had dropped out prior to the completion of the study. This inconsistency affected the reliability of the test. At the end of the study, it was found that the placebo group had a rather unexpected low decline in cognitive functions, which made the comparison to the Ginkgo biloba group worse. Prof. Michael Habs, Director of Dr. Willmar Schwabe GmbH & Co. KG, Karlsruhe had this to say about the recent study, “The current paper, describing secondary analyses of data from a previously published study, is methodologically so weak that it is of limited relevance”.

The American Botanical Council (ABC), a nonprofit research and education organization has said these findings are very limited. ABC said that the study is flawed for several reasons. The 40% that quit the study early never had final testing done before leaving the test. The average age of those in the study was 79 years old at the beginning of the study, and most people start taking Ginkgo biloba long before that age to ward of dementia and memory problems.

This new study was originally to find out if Ginkgo biloba would prevent the onset of dementia. This new study used the old finding to study the decline in cognitive function, not the original reason.

More Studies Showing Ginkgo Biloba Does Not Work

A six-week random double-blind placebo controlled study with 230 adults 60 years of age and older and in good health showed no difference in learning, memory, concentration or attention was found between the two groups. This study took place between 1996 and 1998 [3].

Another study of 118 adults with a mean age of 87 found no difference between the placebo and Ginkgo biloba groups with memory decline and a follow-up of 3.5 years [4].

Studies That Show Ginkgo Biloba Does Work

The proponents of Ginkgo biloba point to the Cochran Review of numerous studies published in 2003 [5]. The review found that there were no adverse side effects with Ginkgo biloba when compared to a placebo. The main results found improvement when taking Ginkgo biloba with cognition, mood and emotional function and activities of daily living. The reviews conclusion was that “overall there is promising evidence with improvement in cognition and function when taking Ginkgo biloba. However, the three more modern trials showed inconsistent results.” More studies are needed.

A study published in July 2004 found that 120 mg per day of Ginkgo biloba significantly improved sustained attention and pattern-recognition memory tasks. There was no improvement in planning, working memory or mood [6].

A 2000 study using healthy young adults, found that Ginkgo biloba produced a sustained improvement in attention [7].

Ginkgo Biloba and Drug Interactions

There is some concern that Ginkgo biloba can interact with blood thinners like Warfarin or Coumadin. If you are taking a blood thinner or any prescription medicine, talk to your doctor before taking Ginkgo biloba.

For more on safety and drug interactions with Ginkgo biloba, go to the University of Maryland Medical Center web site.

 © 2009 Sam Montana

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Resources

[1] JAMA Vol. 302 No. 24, December 23/30, 2009

[2] Schwabe Statement on JAMA Article

[3] Paul R. Solomon, PhD; Felicity Adams, BA; Amanda Silver, BA; Jill Zimmer, BA; Richard DeVeaux, PhD JAMA. 2002;288:835-840

[4] Dodge HH, Zitzelberger T, Oken BS, Howieson D, Kaye J. A randomized placebo-controlled trial of Ginkgo biloba for the prevention of cognitive decline. Neurology. 2008;70(19 pt 2):1809-1817

[5] Cochrane Review Birks J, Grimley Evans J, Van Dongen M

[6] Sarah Elsabagh, David E. Hartley, Osama Ali, Elizabeth M. Williamson and Sandra E. File

[7] Ginkgo biloba Cognitive enhancement Healthy young volunteers

American Botanical Council (ABC)

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Comments (6)

Thanks for this information, as I have/had maternal and paternal Altzheimer sufferers in the family it might be wise for me to take this.

Ranked #1 in Supplements

Your welcome Glynis. It is very frustrating when studies are either flawed or contradicted by other studies. Hard for a consumer to know what is correct. Hopefully they will do an extensive study once and for all. Sometime this week I will have another article about Alzheimer's that could be of interest to you.

I look forward to it, thanks

Ranked #1 in Supplements

Glynis, I just published another article about Alzheimer's and dementia that could be of interest to you at: http://factoidz.com/misdiagnosed-alzheimers-could-be-curable-nph/

It seems I can't remember what I did yesterday half of the time. I have heard of this helping with memory loss. I need to go ahead and give it a try and see. Thanks for the very helpful information.

Ranked #1 in Supplements

I think short term memory loss is common. I cant remember last week unless something big happened. But I can clearly remember 26 or 22, etc years ago like it was yesterday.

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