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Ginkgo for Memory? Think Again
Ginkgo biloba is one of the world’s most popular herbs, accounting for over $1 billion in global sales each year. A plant used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, it is touted as a treatment for conditions as diverse as asthma, tinnitus, and poor circulation. In the United States, ginkgo is most commonly marketed as a memory enhancer, accounting for its rapid rise in popularity since the 1980s. Can we believe the hype?
For years, the public and medical professionals alike relied on a series of small, generally scientifically suspect, short-term studies that appeared to substantiate ginkgo’s effect on brain health. However, the data just wasn’t good enough for doctors and their patients to make smart decisions.
In 2008, a six year multi-center study of over 3,000 seniors aged 75 and up, sponsored in part by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In this landmark study involving five well respected U.S. medical centers, ginkgo (at relatively high doses of 120 mg twice daily) had absolutely no impact on the incidence of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2009, the same group released a second evaluation of the same group of patients, in which the incidence of cognitive decline, a milder and more subtle form of memory loss and mental incapacity, was explored.
The verdict? Still no benefit. There was also no impact on heart attacks, stroke, or overall risk of death. While ginkgo probably won’t hurt you, it simply does not appear to offer any benefit.
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