The Ancient Tree of Health
Feeling a little foggy these days? Having a hard time remembering those little details? Doing overtime in the intellectual arena? Now is a good time to start "thinking" about supplementing that power station on top of your shoulders!! One of the best choices is one of the oldest medicinal plants: Ginkgo.
Ginkgo is one of the oldest tree species on the planet. Today it survives in natural habitats only in Asia. Specimens are found in the Western world planted along roadsides and highways because of its resistance to pollution. Its beautiful large, green leaf is predominantly used today in modern phytotherapy. For centuries the leaf has been used in the Asian household as a tea as well as in traditional Chinese herbalism.
For several decades, Ginkgo has been the subject of several hundred scientific studies, many of which are high quality European clinical trials with human subjects. It is perhaps the best researched herbal medicine available today, with few drugs having as large a body of literature.
The majority of these studies have focused on its significant benefits for memory and brain function. A large portion of these studies focused on the elderly suffering from mild confusion to more severe forms of senility, including Alzheimer’s disease. Because of its proven efficacy, Ginkgo continues to be one of the most frequently used medicinal preparations in Europe, where herbal medicine and conventional drug therapy exist side by side in most physicians’ practices. More than 5 million prescriptions for Ginkgo are written, per year, in Germany alone! It is also one of the most frequently prescribed herbs in France and Italy annually as well. Ginkgo has also caught on in the United States where it has become a household word.
There are other Ginkgo studies showing benefits in healthy individuals of improved memory, alertness and attention due to significant increases in alpha brain wave power. Dementia studies have found improved learning facility. These findings have led some herbalists to recommend it for hyperactivity.
Ginkgo is different from many other "boosters" in that its benefits do not come from stimulant effects. A variety of psychological and other brain tests show it creates different types of patterns than classical stimulant substances. Instead, Ginkgo’s benefits can be explained predominantly by regulating the flow of blood to the brain, head, skin and limbs as well as the breast area in women. The improvement in circulation is accompanied by a slight increase in temperature.
Ginkgo has other modes of action that have been less publicized to date. It helps to regulate many neurotransmitters, (chemicals that help the brain and nervous system to function properly), including those that are associated with depression, anxiety and stress. It also has mild relaxing effects and tones the sympathetic nervous system.
The action of increasing nutrient flow and oxygen to the brain, as well as its ability to decrease blood clotting, helps prevent and speed recovery from strokes.
Ginkgo for the Heart
Ginkgo is a heart healthy herb as well. Its aforementioned ability to inhibit blood clotting can help protect against stress-triggered cardiovascular accidents. Ginkgo also has benefits for irregular heart beats, atherosclerosis and tissue damage from loss of oxygen during heart attacks. It also provides general antioxidant protection against free radical damage from toxins caused by daily metabolic processes, heart attacks and external toxins, including pharmaceutical medications. It tones the wall of the blood vessels to improve tissue cleansing and prevent capillary leakage, which causes poorer mental function and swelling in the legs and feet. This tends to be more of a concern as we age.
The Many Uses of Ginkgo
Ginkgo also has shown benefits for dizziness; hearing loss or ringing in the ears due to poor blood flow to the head; macular degeneration and glaucoma; head injuries and postoperative swelling; allergies, asthma and bronchitis; PMS bloating; Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis; pancreatitis and ulcers; neuropathy and nerve injuries; the circulatory complications of diabetes; impotence from poor blood flow; cancer; as an immune system modulator and to protect against nerve problems caused by cancer chemotherapy drugs.
Ginkgo is traditionally enjoyed as a tea as a preventive measure enjoyed throughout adult life. However, encapsulated preparations or extracts may be more quickly effective for therapeutic situations.
With this wide array of effects and an excellent safety record, Ginkgo needs to be viewed as an all around tonic herb on par with Ginseng and Green tea. It can provide broad-based preventive and therapeutic effects against the ravages of aging and the increased risk of the catastrophic degenerative diseases mentioned above.
There is a principle which pervades all of the world’s many systems of traditional healing. In Western Herbalism, it is called the Doctrine of Signatures: Whatever the hallmark characteristic in observing a plant, thus will be its gift to man as a medicine. With Ginkgo’s capacity to live up to several thousand years, we would be wise to pay attention to the metaphor that can be derived from this tree’s signature!!
- Auguet, M. et al. The Pharmacological Basis for the Vascular Impact of Ginkgo Biloba Extract. Rokan (Ginkgo biloba); Recent Results in Pharmacology and Clinic. Funfgeld, E.W., ed. Springer-Verlag 1988.
- Barth, S. A. et al. Influences of Ginkgo Biloba on Cyclosporin A-Induced Lipid Peroxidation in Human Liver Microsomes in Comparison to Vitamin E, Glutathione and N-Acetyl Cysteine. Biochem. Pharmac., Vol. 41, No. 14, pp. 1521-1536, 1991.
- Bauer, U. 6-Month Double-Blind Randomised Clinical Trial of Ginkgo Biloba Extract Versus Placebo in Two Parallel Groups in Patients Suffering from Peripheral Arterial Insufficiency. Arzneimittel-Forschung/Drug Research 34(1), No. 6, 1984.
- Bauer, U. Ginkgo Biloba Extract in the Treatment of Arteriopathy of the Lower Limbs: 65 Week Study. Rokan (Ginkgo biloba); Recent Results in Pharmacology and Clinic. Funfgeld, E.W., ed. Springer-Verlag 1988.
- Bombardelli, E. et al. Activity of Phospholipd-Complex of Ginkgo biloba Dimeric Flavonoids on the Skin Microcirculation. Fitoterapia, Vol. LXVII, No. 3, 1996.
- Bruno, C. et al. Regeneration of Motor Nerves in Bilobalide Treated Rats. Planta Medica 59, 1993.
- Brown, D. Ginkgo biloba Extract Increases Serotonin Receptors. Quarterly Review of Natural Medicine, Winter 1994.
- Brown, D. Phytotherapy Review & Commentary: Ginkgo. Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, October 1996.
- Claussen, C. Diagnostic and Practical Value of Craniocorpography in Vertiginous Syndromes. Rokan (Ginkgo biloba); Recent Results in Pharmacology and Clinic. Funfgeld, E.W., ed. Springer-Verlag 1988.
- Clostre, F. From the Body to the Cellular Membranes: The Different Levels of Pharmacological Action of Ginkgo Biloba Extract. Rokan (Ginkgo biloba); Recent Results in Pharmacology and Clinic. Funfgeld, E.W., ed. Springer-Verlag 1988, pp. 180-1988.
- Della Loggia, R. et al. Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Ginkgo biloba Flavonoids. Planta Medica 59, Supplement Issue 1993.
- DuVerger, D. et al. Effects of Repeated Treatments with an Extract of Ginkgo Biloba (EGB 761) on Cerebral Glucose Utilization in the Rat: An Autoradiographic Study. Ge. Pharmac., Vol. 26, No. 6, pp. 1375-1383, 1995.
- Guinot, P. et al. Effect of BN 52021, a Specific PAF-Acether Antagonist, on Bronchial Provocation Test to Allergens in Asthmatic Patients: A Preliminary Study. Prostaglandins, Vol. 34, No. 5, November 1987.
- Guinot, P. et al. Tanakan Inhibits Platelet-Activating-Factor-Induced Platelet Aggregation in Healthy Male Volunteers. Haemostasis 19: 219-223, 1989.
- Hindmarch, I. Activity of Ginkgo Biloba Extract on Short-Term Memory. Rokan (Ginkgo biloba); Recent Results in Pharmacology and Clinic. Funfgeld, E.W., ed. Springer-Verlag 1988.
- Hobbs, C. Ginkgo: Elixir of Youth. Botanica Press, 1991.
- Jerusalinsky, D. et al. Effect of Antagonists of Platelet-Activating Factor Receptors on Memory on Inhibitory Avoidance in Rats. Behavioral and Neural Biology 62, 1-3, 1994.
- Kleijnen, J. & Knipschild, P. Ginkgo biloba. Lancet, November 7, 1992, pp. 1136-1139.
- Michel, P. Chronic Cerebral Insufficiency and Ginkgo biloba Extract. Effects of Ginkgo Biloba Extract on Organic Cerebral Impairment. Agnoli, A. et al. Libbey, 1985.
- Miller, L. et al. Platelet Activating Factor Antagonists Interact with GABA Receptors. Research Communications in Chemical Pathology and Pharmacology, Vol. 74, No. 2, November 1991.
- Murray, M. & Werbach, M. Botanical Influences on Illness. Third Line Press, 1994.
- Rapin, J. et al. Demonstration of the "Anti-Stress" Activity of an Extract of Ginkgo biloba (EGB 761) Using a Discrimination Learning Task. Gen. Pharmac., Vol. 25, No. 5, pp. 1009-1016, 1994.
- Vesper, J. & Hansgen, K. Efficacy of Ginkgo biloba in 90 Outpatients with Cerebral Insufficiency Caused by Old Age. Phytomedicine, Vol. 1, pp. 9-16, 1994.
- Vorberg, G. Ginkgo Biloba Extract (GBE): A Long -Term Study of Chronic Cerebral Insufficiency in Geriatric Patients. Clinical Trial Journal, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1985.
- White, H. et al. Extracts of Ginkgo biloba Leaves Inhibit Monoamine Oxidase. Life Sciences, Vol. 58, No. 16, pp. 1315-1321, 1996.
From fall 1998 Herbal Insights.
<< back to articles