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Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba

By Mala Srivastava

Ginkgo biloba, one of the oldest living tree species on Earth, consists of short branches with fan-shaped leaves and inedible, foul-smelling fruits. Ginkgo biloba fruit also has a seed, which may be harmful. While ginkgo has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo biloba extract made from dried green leaves has attracted the attention of modern-day researchers.

Helping to Walk Without Pain

The arteries supplying blood to the legs may become blocked in the progressive stages of atherosclerosis -- hardening of the arteries. This can cause serious pain while walking because muscle cells are deprived of oxygen. This condition is known as intermittent claudication. A meta-analysis of eight studies published in the “American Journal of Medicine" in March 2000 assessed the effect of ginkgo biloba extract in people with intermittent claudication. Seven of the eight studies showed that ginkgo beat a placebo when it came to increasing pain-free walking distance. The results of only four of those studies were statistically significant, however. When all eight studies were put together, ginkgo increased the walking capacity by 34 meters, reports the "Journal of Family Practice." While the results suggest that ginkgo biloba is effective in treating intermittent claudication, the overall effect was modest and of uncertain clinical significance.

Easing Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms

If you experience uncomfortable symptoms during your menstrual cycle, taking ginkgo biloba may give you some relief. A study published in the August 2009 issue of the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" investigated the benefits of ginkgo biloba for women with premenstrual syndrome symptoms. In the study, participants who took the ginkgo supplements three times daily from the 16th day of their menstrual cycle until the fifth day of the next cycle reported relief of their PMS symptoms. Further research, however, is needed to confirm the efficacy and safety of doses and treatment durations of the supplement.

May Improve Cognition and Thinking

Several studies suggest that ginkgo biloba may protect against nerve damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study that appeared in the October 2004 edition of "Human Psychopharmacology," people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease who received ginkgo biloba extract for three months experienced significant improvements in attention, memory and cognitive function. Furthermore, several studies have shown that ginkgo biloba may be as effective as drugs for Alzheimer's disease in delaying dementia symptoms, the medical center reports. It has not been tested against all the medications used to treat Alzheimer's disease, however.

Other Health Benefits

Ginkgo may help ward off anxiety, according to a study that appeared in the “Journal of Psychiatric Research" in 2007. Participants with generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder who took a ginkgo extract experienced a significant reduction in their anxiety symptoms than those who took a placebo. Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health condition in which a person lives in a constant state of worry, tension and nervousness, whereas adjustment disorder is an unexpectedly strong reaction that happens in response to a stressful event. Ginkgo also may help people with glaucoma, a disease that causes damage to the optic nerve. In a study published in the February 2003 issue of the journal “Ophthalmology,” researchers noted that people with glaucoma who took 120 milligrams of ginkgo biloba every day for eight weeks reported improvements in their vision.

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