What is Ginkgo biloba ?
The Ginkgo Biloba tree is the only living descendant of many species in the family Ginkgoaceae that flourished for more than 200 million years ago when dinosaurs were roaming. It is the oldest known plant and earned the name “the living fossil.” The characteristic shape of Ginkgo biloba leaves, fan-shaped, flat, and have an indentation in the middle, gave birth to a species name “Biloba,” a Latin word meaning bi-lobed. Ginkgos can live longer than 1,000 years and have been a beloved plant in Asian countries as an ornamental tree in the gardens and as a medicinal plant, particularly in China, Korea, and Japan.
Ginkgos were growing everywhere on earth a long time ago, but it became almost extinct during the last ice age, and only the Ginkgo biloba survived in Asian regions. Ginkgos are deciduous trees and grow into separate male and female trees, and both trees commonly stand facing each other at some distance. Male flower pollens are carried by the wind to the female tree, which produces ovules that fertilize and grow into yellowish seeds about half to one inch long. Ginkgo fruits have a rancid, nasty odor.
Ginkgo Biloba was introduced from Japan to the Botanical Gardens, Utrecht, Holland in 1727, and to the United States in 1784. Ginkgo is known for its ability to promote mental alertness by stimulating blood circulation to the brain and to the extremities of the body. Ginkgo biloba is one of the world’s most common herbs.
History Of Ginkgo Biloba
Since Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living creatures, presumably Ginkgo biloba has been familiarized to many animal species, including our own ancestors, for a long time. It is possible that primates in prehistoric times tried and used ginkgo leaves, fruits, and seeds for medicinal food.
Ginkgo biloba was recorded in one of the oldest Chinese classical Shennong Ben Cao Jing [The Herbal Classic of the Devine Plowman]. Sheng Nung [the Devine Plowman], a legendary person who started an agrarian society about 5,000 years ago, used Ginkgo biloba as a medicinal plant to prevent memory loss due to aging and for various other purposes. Ginkgo has been one of the most favored herbs in Chinese medicine for asthma, coughs, allergies, aging, circulatory disorders, and memory problems. Ginkgo is an ingredient of the traditional Hindu medicine called “Soma.”
It was the 1980s when Ginkgo became widely known and used in the United States for medicinal purposes. Extracts were made from the bulk of ginkgo leaves in large quantities. Ginkgo is a typical medicinal herb that requires standardization for practical use. 50:1 extracts of the ginkgo leaves (or 50 fold concentration from original ginkgo leaves) are common used for manufacturing ginkgo supplement products.
Ginkgo Biloba Usage
Ginkgo biloba leaf extract is being widely used for memory improvement and mental alertness, vertigo, and tinnitus, allergies – through Ginkgo’s ability to antagonize or inhibit platelet-activating factor(PAF), altitude sickness – through improved blood flow to the brain to compensate for low oxygen levels at high altitude, early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, impotence, intermittent claudication(lameness), macular degeneration, migraines, to deter aging overall – through anti-oxidant-nature of chemical compounds in Ginkgo, as a mood enhancer, and more.
Dose: Usually, 120-240 mg standardized dry extract per day is recommended. 120 mg dose should not be used for people under age 12.
Side Effects: Very seldom, cases of stomach or intestinal upsets, headaches, or allergic skin reactions are reported. No harmful interaction with other drugs has been known. Very seldom, cases of stomach or intestinal upsets, headaches, or allergic skin reactions have been reported. No harmful interaction with other drugs has been known.
Ginkgo Biloba Chemistry and Pharmacology
A complete chemical composition list of Ginkgo can be found in Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Ginkgo biloba leaf contains diterpenes including ginkgolide A, ginkgolide B, ginkgolide C, and ginkgolide J, and sesquiterpene bilobalide; flavonols, including kaempferol, quercetin, and isorhamnetin; flavones, including luteolin and triacetin; biflavonoids, mainly bilobetin, ginkgetin, isoginkgetin, and sciadopitysin; catechins; proanthocyanidines; sterols; and 6-hydroxykynurenic acid (6-HKA). Following pharmacological effects have been experimentally established: [Herbal Medicine – Expanded Commission E monographs, by Mark Blumenthal, Alicia Goldberg, and Josef Brinckmann, first edition, 2000].
Because Ginkgo enhances blood supply to the brain as well as other parts of the body and fights cellular damages caused by free radicals, it is believed to be very helpful for problems with visual and hearing systems. Healthy eyes are the basis for good vision, and many of the eye problems are associated with poor blood supply to the eyes. Unlike skin cells, eye and optic nerve cells hardly repair or regenerate. The age we age or expose our eyes to environmental contaminants or UV irradiation, or due to infections, our eyes deteriorate inevitably. About a person goes blind every 11 minutes in the US. Every minute, more than a person goes blind in the world.
Approximately 9 million Americans have trouble hearing, and more than 300,000 of these people are completely or nearly deaf. The majority of them lost their hearing due to the cumulative effects of noise during a lifetime. The ear is a sensitive organ, and like vision, hearing gradually deteriorates as we age. The process called presbycusis [meaning old hearing, like presbyopia means old vision] starts sometime in the age ’20s.
There is an overwhelming number of anecdotal evidence on the safety and medicinal effects of Ginkgo Biloba, especially in China and other Asian countries. Since the introduction to Europe and the US, Ginkgo has gained tremendous popularity for its fabulous medicinal properties. This living fossil could have helped so many herbivores with their medicinal abilities since the Jurassic era, but unfortunately, this is just pure speculation.
Scientific and Clinical Research
More than 400 scientific studies have been conducted on standardized Ginkgo Biloba extracts in the past three decades. Very few scientific data or clinical reports are available for the health benefit of a non-standardized, crude ginkgo leaf. Clinical studies demonstrate that taking doses of 120-240 mg daily of standardized Ginkgo Biloba extract can lead to an improvement in the following medical conditions: circulatory problems in the elderly, especially cerebral insufficiency and the consequent cognitive effects, peripheral circulatory impairment, particularly intermittent claudication (poor circulation to the lower legs), vertigo and tinnitus, altitude sickness, and erectile dysfunction in males. Improvements in memory loss, depression, and tinnitus could be achieved within 8-12 weeks.
Herbal marketers were often criticized for claiming ginkgo Biloba in relation to Alzheimer’s disease, which was believed to be unfounded. However, recent studies suggested that ginkgo Biloba indeed has therapeutic potential in slowing the early stages of Alzheimer’s development [Kanowski, S., W.M. Hermann, K. Stephan, W. Wierich, R. Horr. (1997) Proof of efficacy of Ginkgo Biloba extracts EGb761 in outpatients suffering from mild to moderate dementia of the Alzheimer’s type or multi-infarct dementia. Phytomedicine 4(1):3-13.].
Ginkgo biloba is arguably the world’s most interesting medicinal tree. Those who have taken Ginkgo Biloba supplements mostly agree with the power of this botanical. Ginkgo leaf helps our brain and elderly people remember the past; ginkgo root and seed are used for safe bodily tonic and astringent in Chinese medicine.