What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Ginkgo?

Traceable back 300 million years, the ginkgo is the oldest surviving species of tree. Although it died out in Europe during the Ice Age, ginkgo survived in China, Japan, and other parts of East Asia. It has been cultivated extensively for both ceremonial and medical purposes, and some particularly revered trees have been lovingly tended for more than 1,000 years.

In traditional Chinese herbology, tea made from ginkgo seeds has been used for numerous problems, most particularly asthma and other respiratory illnesses. The leaf was not used. But in the 1950s, German researchers started to investigate the medical possibilities of ginkgo leaf extracts rather than remedies using the seeds. Thus, modern ginkgo preparations are not the same as the traditional Chinese herb, and the comparisons...

Fairly good evidence indicates that ginkgo is effective for Alzheimer's disease and other severe forms of memory and mental function decline; when used for this purpose, it appears to be as effective as standard drugs. 1 Inconsistent evidence hints that ginkgo might be helpful for enhancing memory and mental function in seniors without severe memory loss as well. 2 Weak evidence hints that ginkgo (alone or in combination with ginseng or vinpocetine ) may be helpful for enhancing memory or alertness in younger people. 3 Combining phosphatidylserine (another substance used to enhance mental function) along with ginkgo might increase its efficacy. 4 In addition, ginkgo may be effective for the treatment of restricted circulation in the legs due to hardening of...

Safety Issues

Ginkgo appears to be relatively safe. Extremely high doses have been given to animals for long periods of time without serious consequences, and results from human trials are also generally reassuring. 5 6 Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease, however, has not been established.

In all the clinical trials of ginkgo up through 1991 combined, involving a total of almost 10,000 participants, the incidence of side effects produced by ginkgo extract was extremely small. There were 21 cases of gastrointestinal discomfort, and even fewer cases of headaches, dizziness, and allergic skin reactions. 7 However, there are few potential problems. Perhaps the most serious have been the numerous case reports of...