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Can Ginkgo Prevent Alzheimer’s?

Ginkgo

Overview

Key points

  1. Ginkgo has been used for thousands of years to treat many conditions, particularly blood disorders and memory issues.
  2. Some side effects of using ginkgo include internal bleeding, so be sure to talk to your doctor before taking it.
  3. Research as to its effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s is conflicting.

As we age, new health considerations arise. One major issue concerning the health of senior citizens is dementia.

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, and there’s no known cure for it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2013 Alzheimer’s affected 5 million in the United States and is projected to affect 14 million by 2050.

Faced with these large numbers, many people look to herbal remedies such as ginkgo to prevent and treat symptoms. In North America and Europe, ginkgo is a widely used herbal remedy for cognitive disorders and Alzheimer’s disease, despite inconsistent findings from studies.

Ginkgo and Alzheimer’s

Derived from the Ginkgo biloba tree, ginkgo extract has a long history in medicine.

In China, ginkgo seeds have been used to treat different ailments for thousands of years, including blood disorders as well as memory issues. These two traditional uses are the basis for the belief that ginkgo can help with Alzheimer’s by improving blood circulation to your brain. This has led to debate in the medical community.

Some of ginkgo’s supposed benefits for people with Alzheimer’s include:

  • helping cognitive function
  • improving memory
  • making daily tasks more manageable
  • decreasing the occurrence of depression

A 2014 meta-analysis composed of 2,625 patients found that ginkgo extract was significantly more effective than a placebo in treating dementia. A second meta-analysis published in 2015 found the same results. Another study found it to be as effective as donepezil (Aricept), a prescription medication.

This is in contrast to a 2012 study that sampled considerably more people for a longer period of time. Researchers on this study found no difference between ginkgo and a placebo in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, more recent research analyzing multiple studies supports the claim that ginkgo can improve cognitive performance. This research also indicates it can stabilize or slow the decline in cognitive functions in people with dementia.

Although some debate continues, a growing body of literature suggests ginkgo may be helpful in improving memory and function in patients with dementia. That said, more research is needed to determine ginkgo’s effectiveness in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Other uses for Ginkgo

Ginkgo may have other possible benefits. It’s shown a positive effect on people with symptoms of intermittent claudication. This condition causes leg pain due to poor or inadequate blood flow. However, more research is needed.

When compared with betahistine, an antivertigo drug, researchers found that ginkgo was similarly effective and better tolerated in people with vertigo.

Ginkgo may also help treat and alleviate symptoms of:

Additional research is needed to prove ginkgo’s effectiveness.

Risks and side effects of ginkgo

As with any supplement, consult your doctor before taking ginkgo. Side effects might include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • allergic reactions in your skin
  • upset stomach
  • dizziness

Ginkgo can interfere with other supplements and medications, particularly antidepressants and blood-related medications.

Ginkgo also has been linked to increased bleeding and possible internal bleeding. As a result, you should stop taking ginkgo supplements at least 36 hours before a surgery or dental procedure.

Ginkgo may cause seizures in people with epilepsy. People with diabetes should consult their doctor before taking the supplement. Pregnant and breastfeeding women shouldn’t take ginkgo.

Ginkgo fruits and seeds contain ginkgolic acids, which are known to be toxic.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements.

Outlook

Ginkgo has been used in medicine for thousands of years to treat many different conditions. Some use it to treat symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. A growing body of literature suggests an improvement in symptoms for people with dementia. However, it’s still unclear whether it could help in preventing the disease. More research needs to be done to determine the supplement’s true effectiveness.

As with any supplement, always talk to your doctor first before taking it.

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