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Ginkgo Biloba & St John's Wort

By M. Gideon Hoyle

Gingko biloba and St. John’s wort are two commonly available herbal supplements. You may use ginkgo biloba to improve your memory or to treat ailments such as dementia and leg pain due to reduced blood flow. You may use St. John’s wort to treat ailments such as mild or moderate depression.

Gingko Biloba

Gingko biloba, also called gingko, is derived from the leaves of the gingko tree, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). It contains two types of antioxidants, terpenoids and flavonoids, that can neutralize or reduce the effects of damaging particles in your body called free radicals. Specifically, terpenoids can help improve your blood flow, while flavonoids can protect your blood vessels, nerves, retinas and heart.

St. John's Wort

St. John’s wort is an extract derived from the plant species Hypericum perforatum, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). It contains a number of potential active ingredients, such as the compounds hyperforin and hypericin. While doctors do not fully understand how St. John’s wort achieves its effects, they believe that it might reduce your body’s amounts of a certain protein related to immune function, or alternatively block the normal reabsorption of a chemical in your brain called serotonin.

Gingko Biloba Uses

If you have Alzheimer’s disease, gingko biloba may help improve several areas of mental function, including memory, thinking and learning, the UMMC reports. It may also improve your daily living skills and social interactions and reduce any symptoms of dementia-related depression. Additional health conditions that may benefit from the use of gingko include painful reduction of blood flow in your legs, glaucoma and a disease of the retinas called macular degeneration. Be aware that gingko may not help prevent normal age-related declines in memory.

St. John's Wort Uses

You can use St. John’s wort to treat both mild and moderate depression, according to the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus. In some cases, it can produce treatment benefits that are equal to those gained from use of standard tricyclic antidepressants. It may also provide similar benefits as another class of medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. However, if you have symptoms of major depression, St. John’s wort may not provide effective treatment, the NCCAM notes. Current evidence does not support the use of St. John’s wort to treat any form of depression in children younger than 18.

Gingko Biloba Considerations

Potential side effects of gingko biloba include headaches, gastrointestinal distress, dizziness and skin reactions, according to the UMMC. Gingko use may also trigger an increased risk of internal bleeding, although evidence here is unclear. You should consult your doctor before using certain drugs in combination with gingko, including blood pressure medications, antidepressants, insulin, anticonvulsants, blood thinners and cyclosporine.

St. John's Wort Considerations

Potential side effects of St. John’s wort include nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, dizziness and increased light sensitivity, the NCCAM reports. Consult your doctor before using St. John’s wort in combination with medications such as birth control pills, antidepressants, blood thinners, cyclosporine, digoxin and certain medications for the treatment of cancer and control of the HIV virus.

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