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Is Gingko Biloba Safe?

By Marcia Veach

Ginkgo biloba is a nutritional supplement made from the Ginkgo biloba tree. It is often just called ginkgo, but may also be known as maidenhair tree, kew tree, ginkyo, yinhsing, or the Japanese silver apricot. Two components in the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree may provide some medical benefit. Flavonoid antioxidants help clear the toxic byproducts of cell production out of your system. Terpenoids keep blood flowing by keeping the vessels open. Ginkgo has been used to treat or prevent circulatory conditions, such as peripheral vascular disease, heart disease and high blood pressure. It is also purported to slow or prevent dementia or Alzheimer's. Ginkgo biloba has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine but only recently has its effectiveness and safety been rigorously studied. Early results of those studies indicate that ginkgo may be effective for some medical conditions, but it also has a few potential safety issues.

Common Side Effects

Some common, but generally mild, side effects from ginkgo include stomach ache, nausea, gas, diarrhea, dizziness, and headache. If these become persistent, talk to your doctor. While ginkgo supplements are generally safe, some people are allergic to this herbal compound. If after ingesting it, you develop hives or a rash, have difficulty breathing, or your mouth, face, lips, or tongue become swollen, seek medical help immediately. You should also get immediate attention if you become faint, have trouble speaking or your heart feels like it is pounding after taking this supplement.

Ginkgo Safety Concerns

Ginkgo should not be used by people who have bleeding disorders, because it could make your condition worse. You also need to stop taking ginkgo if you expect to have a surgery or dental work, because there is danger of bleeding too much. People with seizure disorders may experience more seizures after using this supplement. If you are pregnant or breast feeding, you should talk to your doctor before taking any medication or supplement, including ginkgo.

Drug Interactions

As with all herbal supplements, ginkgo may not be safe to take with other medications. This is especially true of blood thinning drugs, including heparin, warfarin, which is often sold as Coumadin, and aspirin. Ginkgo should not be taken with anti-seizure medications or antidepressants.

Forms and Dosages

Ginkgo biloba can be purchased as tablets, capsules, extracts or dried leaves. However, the contents and active ingredients in each preparation may vary. While researchers are studying a wide array of potential uses for ginkgo, no recommended dosages have been suggested, according to Peggy Stanfield and Y. H. Hui in their book, "Nutrition and Diet Therapy." Keep in mind that nutritional supplements such as ginkgo do not require approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so always purchase supplements from a reputable supplier.

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