Ginkgo biloba: Cure for Altitude Sickness?
Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Ginkgo biloba for Prevention of Acute Mountain Sickness

The fourth issue of Volume 18 of the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine has recently been published. The lead article is entitled "Ginkgo biloba Decreases Acute Mountain Sickness in People Ascending to High Altitude at Ollague (3696 m) in Northern Chile," authored by Fernando A. Moraga and his associates.

The article describes a study, the objective of which was to determine the effect of Ginkgo biloba in preventing acute mountain sickness (AMS) at an altitude of 3696 meters (12,126 feet) in participants without high-altitude experience. Thirty-six persons who reside at sea level were transported by ground transportation over 8.5 hours to an altitude of 3696 meters. The study participants were divided into three equal groups of 12 persons each. One group received Ginkgo biloba in a dose of 80 milligrams every 12 hours by mouth, one group received acetazolamide (Diamox, a drug commonly used to hasten acclimatization to altitude or to treat AMS) in a dose of 250 milligrams every 12 hours by mouth, and the final group received a placebo (e.g., no active drug). Each group began its treatment 24 hours before ascending and continued treatment during the 3-day stay at altitude. A standard Lake Louise Questionnaire was administered to determine the Self-Report Score, which is an accepted method for determining the presence and degree of AMS. In addition, selected physiological measurements were taken.

The results are the most compelling data to date supporting the efficacy of Ginkgo biloba in prevention of AMS. The group taking the Ginkgo biloba had no increase in their AMS score (which is remarkable), while the acetazolamide and placebo groups showed increases of 36% and 54%, respectively. The authors concluded that their study provides evidence supporting the use of Gingko biloba in the prevention of AMS, demonstrating that 24 hours of pretreatment with Gingko biloba and subsequent maintenance during exposure to high altitude are sufficient to reduce the incidence of AMS in participants with no previous high-altitude experience.

No doubt, others will attempt to replicate this investigation. If the results are corroborated, then Ginkgo biloba may prove to be a very useful adjunct in the prevention and treament of AMS.

Ginkgo biloba plant image courtesy of

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Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.