Ginkgo Biloba (Ginkgo or Maidenhair) is one of the oldest species of trees on earth. Scientists consider it a “living fossil” dating back 270 million years.[i] It has continued to survive even after major extinction events.
Gingko tress can grow to 130 feet (39.6 meters). Some Ginkgo trees in China are thought to be over 2,500 years old. And a 3,000-year-old tree reportedly stands in the Chinese province of Shandong.
Four Ginkgo trees survived the atomic explosion in Hiroshima. Only 1,130 meters from the bombs epicenter.
Gingko Biloba has been used for medicine in China for several millennia. In the oldest Chinese Materia Medica (2800 B.C.), Ginkgo biloba was recommended for asthma, swelling of the hands and feet, coughs, vascular disorders, aging and for the brain.[ii]
An extract of Gingko leaves called EGb 761 is standardized to 24% flavone glycosides (flavonoids) and 6% terpenes (ginkgolides and bilobalides).
This Gingko extract regulates neurotransmitters, protects from brain cell degeneration, increases blood vessel microcirculation (blood flow in the smallest of blood vessels). And has antioxidant activity.[iii]
Ginkgo Biloba Benefits
* Gingko Biloba can increase Dopamine in the brain. Ginkgo acts as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) which reduces levels of monoamine oxidase (MAO) in the brain. MAO breaks down Dopamine.[iv] One of the benefits of boosting dopamine is to reduce anxiety.[v] And to treat ADHD.[vi]
* Ginkgo Biloba increases cerebral blood flowImproving oxygen and glucose availability to neurons for neuronal health. Improving memory, recall, cognition and learning.[vii] [viii]
* Ginkgo Biloba helps boost cerebral blood flow, reduces oxidative stress by eliminating free radicals, and increases nitric oxide which dilates blood vessels.[ix]
Ginkgo Biloba (Ginkgo or Maidenhair) is one of the oldest species of trees on earth. This “living fossil” has survived major extinction events for as long as 270 million years.
Gingko, also known as Maidenhair, has been used in Chinese medicine for millennia. Many of Ginkgo’s modern applications are based on research by German and Chinese scientists where it is a prescription drug.
The leaves have been used for thousands of years to boost mental alertness, improve cerebral circulation, and overall brain function.
As a Nootropic, Ginkgo has been shown to be particularly effective in elderly memory loss, slow thinking and reasoning, and tinnitus. One study shows significant improvement in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients.[x]
EGb 761 is the standard extract of the Gingko referred to in the studies and clinical trials referred to in this article. It is standardized to 24% flavone glycosides (flavonoids) and 6% terpenes (Ginkgolides and Bilobalides).
How does Ginkgo Biloba Work in the Brain?
Ginkgo Biloba boosts brain health and function in several ways. But two in particular stand out.
1. Ginkgo boosts several brain functions by improving blood circulation in the brain.
A study in the Department of Radiology, at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine used MRI’s to measure blood flow in 9 healthy men. MRI’s were done before and after the men took Gingko Biloba Extract 60 mg twice a day for 4 weeks.
The study concluded that overall, all regions of the subject’s brains showed a significant change in cerebral blood flow after using Ginkgo.[xi]
Cognition and mental performance
2. Gingko is well known as a memory booster in the nootropics community. Studies have shown Ginkgo helps attention, mood and processing speed.
One large study at Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia was conducted with 262 healthy adults. This 6-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial had volunteers taking 180 mg of Ginkgo Biloba extract, or a placebo daily for 6 weeks.
The subjects were put through several standardized tests. At the end of the 6-week trial, those using Ginkgo showed significant improvement in verbal and visual recall and memory.[xii]
How things go bad
As we get older, our brain chemistry and energy metabolism changes. Blood vessels in our brain shrink and get narrower. Preventing the free flow of oxygenated blood to neurons. Toxic waste and free radicals accumulate within brain cells.
↓ Memory, recall, reaction time and mood diminish
↓ Critical neurotransmitters decline
↓ Chronic stress reduces memory capacity
All of these age-related changes are contributing factors to the neurodegenerative diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.
But even if you’re not concerned with the effects of aging, Ginkgo Biloba can help.
Ginkgo Biloba (which goes by the scientific name Salisburia Adiantifolia) is a natural extract derived from the leaf of the Chinese ginkgo tree, also called the maidenhair tree. EGb761 and GBE are the scientific terms for standardized extract of the green Ginkgo Biloba plant, which is often noted for its cerebral-enhancing effects.
Ginkgo has been studied for decades in France, Germany and China. And although Chinese herbal medicine has used both the dried ginkgo leaf and seed for thousands of years, today the focus in clinical studies is on the effectiveness of standardized Ginkgo Biloba liquid extract made from the plant’s dried green leaves.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine and current clinical studies, Ginkgo Biloba is safe, effective and benefits the body in numerous ways because it exerts protective effects against mitochondrial damage and oxidative stress. It’s been used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat a variety of medical conditions since ancient times, especially circulatory problems and those related to declining memory.
Ginkgo Biloba extract contains two constituents (flavonoids and terpenoids) that have strong antioxidant properties. It’s believed these may help slow down the progression of age-related diseases by combating oxidative stress that usually worsens as someone ages.
According to the University of Maryland,
Scientists have found more than 40 components in ginkgo. But only two are believed to act as medicine: flavonoids and terpenoids. Flavonoids are plant-based antioxidants. Laboratory and animal studies show that flavonoids protect the nerves, heart muscle, blood vessels, and retina from damage. Terpenoids (such as Ginkgolides) improve blood flow by dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of platelets.
For people of all ages, its ability to increase vascular dilation and improve health of blood vessels means it supports brain activity, development, detoxifying mechanisms and immune function.
Many of Ginkgo’s most prominent benefits are tied to brain function like focus and memory as well as mental performance. In fact, according to a report in the International Journal of Phyotherapy and Phytopharmacology, Ginkgo Biloba is “currently the most investigated and adopted herbal remedy for cognitive disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.”
One theory is that because it can help increase uptake of glucose (broken down sugar) by brain cells, it has the potential to improve the transmission of nerve signals responsible for memory, mood, task completion, heartbeat regulation and eye health — in addition to many other vital functions.
Research shows that ginkgo can help combat poor concentration, reverse cognitive decline and and heal fatigue. It’s even useful for helping to treat cerebral insufficiency — a condition characterized by chronically low concentration, confusion, decreased physical performance, fatigue, headaches and mood changes.
Many of the brain-boosting Ginkgo Biloba benefits that researchers have discovered rest on the fact that it’s an effective anti-inflammatory that increases antioxidant activity, lowers oxidative stress and improves circulation — all important factors for maintaining cognitive health.
When researchers from the Institute for Medical Psychology at the University of Munich tested the effects of ginkgo on healthy adults’ mental performance over a four-week period, they found significant differences in self-estimated mental health as well as self-estimated quality of life between those taking ginkgo and the placebo group. This is true even though there were no existing differences between the two groups in terms of general health.
The group taking ginkgo experienced better motor performance and emotional health, and reported no known drug-induced side effects or intolerance. No serious adverse events were observed during the study overall, which suggests that Ginkgo is a safe and effective way to boost mental capabilities with little risk.
Ginkgo might be able to help people recover from strokes and traumatic brain injuries, too. In extract form, it’s widely used in the treatment of acute ischemic stroke in China. When researchers from Beijing University of Chinese Medicine reviewed evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials involving brain injury patients, they found mixed results but reported that Ginkgo Biloba extract had positive effects on patients’ neurological impairment and quality of life in nine of the trials.
Some studies have even found that in combination with antipsychotic drugs, Ginkgo might be an effective supplemental treatment for people with schizophrenia and serious mental disorders. It also has the potential to improve cognitive function in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) — making it a potential natural treatment for multiple sclerosis — although more formal studies are still needed.
If you suffer from chronically high stress that’s killing your quality of life, nervousness, depression or mood swings, ginkgo might be able to help.
Research suggests Ginkgo Biloba benefits the body’s ability to handle stressors and counteracts the effects of high levels of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline.
Known as an adapotgen herb that naturally raises the body’s ability to cope with trouble and worry, it might be especially helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and possibly seasonal depression, panic attacks and social phobias, too.
Some early research has shown positive effects of taking ginkgo on reducing PMS symptoms, including mood swings, headaches, anxiety, fatigue and muscle pain. It also appears to have beneficial effects on mood and cognition in postmenopausal women and can help improve similar symptoms.
One 2008 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine compared the effects on Ginkgo Biloba in two groups of women that were similar in terms of demographic characteristics and baseline overall severity of PMS symptoms. After a six-month intervention with ginkgo, there was a significant decrease in the overall severity of physical and psychological symptoms in both the group taking 40 milligrams daily of ginkgo extract and the placebo group; however, a higher percentage of the ginkgo group (23.7 percent) had improvements compared to the placebo (8.7 percent).
While more evidence is still needed, ginkgo appears to be beneficial for eye health since it improves blood flow to the eyes and fights free radial damage that can harm the cornea, macula and retina. It might be especially beneficial for older adults in preserving vision and lowering UV damage or oxidative stress to eye tissue.
Some studies have found ginkgo to be effective at lowering the risk for age-related macular degeneration thanks to its platelet-activating factors and prevention of membrane damage caused by free radicals. Vascular factors and oxidative damage are thought to be two primary causes of vision loss and other age‐related eye disorders, but antioxidant plants and herbs like ginkgo help mitigate these effects.
Ginkgo Biloba to the rescue
Research from hundreds of studies have shown that Ginkgo Biloba will:
* Improve memory and cognition
* Increase reaction time
* Restore the availability of Dopamine and other neurotransmitters
* Improve cerebral blood flow
* Reduce stress
* Boost mood
* Help repair brain cells
* Act as an antioxidant to eliminate free radicals
How does Ginkgo Biloba feel?
Gingko improves circulation including in the brain. Thinking, reaction time, energy, and memory should improve. Cold hands and feet are often an indication of poor circulation and Ginkgo could help.
Ginkgo has a reputation for helping reduce the symptoms of tinnitus. And it’s also developed a good rep for helping erectile dysfunction (ED) in men.
Many neurohackers report it takes several weeks of continued use of Gingko to experience all the benefits this healing herb provides.
Age-related cognitive decline is expected as a normal part of aging in our society. This decline can lead to difficulty performing everyday activities like concentrating on what your loved one is saying. Or remembering to attend a family function you’ve been looking forward to for months.
This decline will affect your quality of life and affect your mood. And it’s happening to younger and younger people. But many of us in the nootropics community refuse to accept cognitive decline as “standard”.
Note: One important consideration we found in the research on Gingko Biloba. Some of the findings have been contradictory. Some indicating that Gingko does not work.
But the overwhelming impression we got from looking at decades of research was that Gingko Biloba takes a while to work. Often it can take many months of supplementation to see results. And extracts work far better than plain, powdered, ground Ginkgo.
Ginkgo Biloba Improves Cognition
Researchers in Germany set out to study the effects of Ginkgo Biloba in healthy adults. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial worked with 66 health volunteers for 4-weeks. One group was given a placebo, and the other group took 240 mg of Ginkgo Biloba extract daily.
At the end of the trial, those taking Ginkgo Biloba extract saw significant improvements in their “self-perceived” mental health and quality of life. They performed far better on action and reaction tests. And reported a significant improvement in mood compared to those in the placebo group.[xv]
Ginkgo Biloba Improves Quality of Life
Another study with 1,570 men and women in England took either no dietary supplement or 120 mg of Ginkgo Biloba extract daily for 4, 6, or 10 months.
Participants who took Ginkgo extract experienced improvement in activities of daily living, mood and alertness compared to the control (who took nothing).
Activities of daily living included multi-tasking, completing household tasks, concentrating during a conversation, remembering important dates, and giving and following directions.
Measures of their mood included ratings of anxiety, depression, energy, drowsiness, sadness and happiness. Alertness factor rated whether they felt alert, clumsy, dizzy, relaxed and tired.
Participants in this study who took Ginkgo Biloba extract the longest reported the greatest improvement in all ratings measured. 10 continuous months of supplementing with Ginkgo extract was more effective than 4 months. Their life improved even more the longer they took Ginkgo Biloba extract.[xvi]
Gingko Biloba Improves Attention and Memory
Researchers at the University of Northumbria in the UK set out to determine if a single dose of Gingko would improve attention and memory in healthy volunteers. This placebo-controlled, multi-dose, double-blind trial worked with 20 people.
Participants were given either a placebo or single-dose of Gingko Biloba extract of 120, 240 or 360 mg. They were tested for their speed of attention, attention accuracy, memory speed and quality of memory. They were tested before the dose or placebo, and again at hours 1, 2.5, 4, and 6 hours.
The scientists reported that Ginkgo improved multiple cognitive performance measures. Most dramatic were with “speed of attention”. And results were better with the highest dose of 360 mg compared to the 240 mg dose.
This improvement was noted at the 2.5-hour mark. But was still noticeable 6 hours after supplementing with Gingko.
The researchers concluded that Ginkgo dosing can produce “sustained improvement in attention in healthy young volunteers”.[xvii]
There is the potential for an increased risk of bleeding when Ginkgo Biloba is used concurrently with Antiplatelet agents (e.g., Aspirin, Clopidogrel (Plavix®)), anticoagulants (e.g., warfarin (Coumadin®), Enoxaparin (Lovenox®), Heparin) or herbs with coumarin constituents (e.g., Angelica, anise, Capsicum, Celery, Chamomile, Clove, Danshen, Garlic, Ginger, Horseradish, Licorice, Onion, Papain, Red Clover).
Hypomania has been reported in patients with depression when Ginkgo leaf extract was used in combination with Fluoxetine (Prozac®)/Buspirone (BuSpar®), St. John’s wort, and melatonin.
Ginkgo leaf extract can alter insulin secretion. So patients taking insulin should monitor glucose levels closely.
There have also been reports of seizures associated with Ginkgo use with patients using medication used to lower seizure threshold. These drugs include propofol (Diprivan®), mexiletine (Mexitil®), amphotericin B (Fungizone®), penicillins, cephalosporins, imipenem/cilastatin (Primaxin®), bupropion (Wellbutrin®), cyclosporine (Neoral®), fentanyl (Sublimaze®), methylphenidate, and theophylline.
Ginkgo should be used with caution during pregnancy, due to the potential for increased bleeding risk. Ginkgo should be avoided during breastfeeding, due to a lack of sufficient data.
Gingko leaf produce is produced from green, picked leaves grown on plantations specifically developed for pharmaceutical purposes.
Ginkgo Biloba extract is available in capsules, tablets, concentrated liquids, sublingual sprays, bars and cola drinks.
Standardized products should contain at least 24% flavone glycosides and 6% terpenes (Ginkgolides and Bilobalides). The products most commonly used in clinical trials are Ginkgo Biloba standardizes extracts EGb 761 (Tanakan) and LI 1370 (Lichewer Pharma).