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Herbal Benefits of Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba is an herb that grows in southern France, Korea, China and the eastern and southern United States.  The Ginkgo biloba tree is the oldest species of tree still living today.  The tree can live to be 1,000 years old, making the leaves very hardy and resistant to inclement weather.  In addition to its use in modern herbal medicine, Ginkgo biloba has been used by traditional Chinese medical practitioners for over 5,000 years. 


The health benefits of Ginkgo biloba are possible because of two of its active ingredients.  Terpene lactones, which occur in Ginkgo biloba as bilobalide and ginkgolides, promote increased circulation and have a protective effect on the nerve cells of the body.  Ginkgo flavone glycosides act as antioxidants and can also reduce the stickiness of platelets, which can help prevent clogged arteries and poor circulation. 

Proven Health Benefits 

Several of the claimed health benefits of Ginkgo biloba have been proven with placebo-controlled, double-blind research studies conducted by major universities and government agencies. The University of Michigan published an article on Ginkgo biloba, which ranked its benefits with a star ratings system.  Three stars indicates that the herb has “reliable and relatively consistent scientific data”  that prove the herb is effective in treating a specific ailment.  Ginkgo biloba received a three-star rating for use in treating age-related cognitive decline, glaucoma, early-stage Alzheimer's disease and intermittent claudication, which is pain in the legs caused by blocked arteries. 

Research Opportunities 

Ginkgo biloba has a number of potential benefits that need to be researched further to determine if the herb can effectively be used to treat other conditions.  Insufficient evidence has been found to support the use of Ginkgo biloba in treating erectile dysfunction, schizophrenia, vitiligo, depression, macular degeneration, vertigo and altitude sickness.  Ginkbo biloba is also traditionally used for type 1 and 2 diabetes, retinopathy, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), asthma, atherosclerosis, migraines, tinnitus, Reynaud's disease and Meniere's disease. 


While Ginkgo biloba can often be used safely, there are some possible side effects.  In some people who use this herb, excessive bleeding can occur.  This is possibly due to the action of the Ginkgo flavone glycosides reducing the stickiness of blood platelets, which can clot together to prevent bleeding.  Mild upset stomach and mild headaches can also occur as side effects of using this herb.  Ginkgo biloba should be used with caution in people with diabetes, as a small clinical trial of the herb found that using it for 90 days could increase insulin secretion by the pancreas.