Also known as ginkgo biloba, ginkgo is one of the oldest living tree species on Earth. It consists of short branches with fan-shaped leaves and foul-smelling fruits. The fruit encloses a seed, which may be toxic, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Both the seed and leaf have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries, but attention has also been given to ginkgo leaf extracts by modern-day researchers.
May Improve Cognition
According to the UMMC, several studies suggest that ginkgo may protect nerve cells against damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Various studies have also found that ginkgo can help improve thinking and memory in people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's. Other benefits of the herb include improved learning, enhanced social behavior, better physical function in daily activities and improved mood. In addition, numerous studies have shown that ginkgo may work in the same way as some prescription Alzheimer's medications in postponing the symptoms of dementia. However, the herb has not been tested against all the drugs approved for Alzheimer's disease.
Helps Fight Free Radicals
Flavonoids and terpenoids, phytochemicals found in ginkgo leaves, behave as antioxidants. These antioxidants help inhibit the harmful effects of free radicals. As you grow older, toxic substances called free radicals build up in your body and have the potential to damage your cells and genetic material. These rogue particles may also play a role in the development of serious health problems, including cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease, notes the UMMC.
Helps Boost Blood Circulation
People with intermittent claudication experience intense pain while walking. The pain arises because of inadequate blood supply to the legs. Laboratory studies have shown that ginkgo dilates blood vessels and makes blood platelets less sticky, thereby improving blood flow, reports the UMMC. An analysis of eight studies reported in the March 2000 issue of “The American Journal of Medicine" found that people who took ginkgo were able to walk 34 meters farther than those who took a placebo. However, the UMMC points out that walking workouts are better at improving walking distance than ginkgo.
May Provide Other Health Benefits
A study published in the September 2007 issue of “Journal of Psychiatric Research" found that ginkgo may help ward off anxiety. Subjects with generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder who ingested a ginkgo extract reported better anxiety relief than individuals who took placebo. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by tension, constant worrying and nervousness, while adjustment disorder is an excessive response to a stressful event. In addition, ginkgo biloba may help improve vision in people suffering from glaucoma, which causes damage to the optic nerve. In a study published in “Ophthalmology” in February 2003, researchers found that people with glaucoma who took 120 milligrams of ginkgo per day for eight weeks achieved improvements in their vision.