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For thousands of years, ginkgo biloba or ginko has been known for its benefits and uses related to the treatment of a variety of physical and psychological conditions. It's so popular that you can now find ginko memory supplements, extract, and pills.
So, what exactly is ginkgo tree used for and which benefits of this plant are actually backed up by science? In this article, we'll get to know more about what ginko is, its benefits, and side effects, based on research.
Ginkgo tree comes from China, and it's the only living species of the Ginkgophyta plant division -so in this sense, ginko is considered to be a sort of living fossil.
Also known as 'maidenhair tree,' ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest species in the word, and a single tree can live for more than a thousand years. Currently, there are ginkgo trees in China that are more than 2,500 years old.
According to current research, ginkgo hypothetically has a number of therapeutic benefits and uses, including improved cardiovascular function, visual health, and in treating blood-related disorders and memory loss.
Among the many nutrients and elements that characterize it, ginkgo biloba contains high flavonoid levels -specifically terpenoids. These metabolites are potent antioxidants that effectively protect against damaging oxidative free radicals and premature cell aging.
Ginko extract is sold as a supplement for memory that can be taken on a daily basis. Besides, you can also find ginkgo biloba tea on the market made from the tree's dried leaves.
Gingko has many health benefits and uses, including its antioxidant properties, helping to improve cognitive function and psychological issues like anxiety and depression, visual health or its beneficial effects in fighting asthma, inflammation, and other health conditions.
Below we take a look at the main benefits of the ginkgo leaf that are currently undergoing research or that are already backed up by science.
One of the reasons that ginkgo biloba is so beneficial for health, in general, is due to its high concentration of natural antioxidants, and specifically flavonoids.
Flavonoids fight the harmful effects of the free radicals. The body produces these highly reactive particles naturally. However, they have the potential to damage the healthy tissue, contributing to accelerated aging and the appearance of certain health conditions.
Although this benefit is still under investigation, ginko apparently can increase blood flow in different areas of the body, improving circulation and making the heart's work easier.
These reported properties have the potential to be highly beneficial when it comes to heart health and preventing or relieving the symptoms of heart disease.
Inflammation is part of the body's natural response to an injury or foreign substance. Throughout the inflammatory response many components of the immune system act to fight against the invader and cure the injured area.
However, some chronic health conditions cause inflammatory responses even when there aren't injuries or invaders present. Some animal testing shows that ginkgo biloba extract could reduce inflammatory markers associated with this type of disease.
Some health conditions that have seen reduced inflammation as a result of ginko intake include arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, some types of cancer and heart disease.
There is a whole slew of research that shows that gingko extract could improve asthma and other inflammatory respiratory disease symptoms, like (COPD) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
These properties are attributed to the activity of anti-inflammatory compounds present in gingko, which could favor reduced inflammation in the airways and improved lung capacity.
Although for right now, this still has yet to be proven, some studies suggest that ginkgo supplements could improve memory in healthy individuals and even increase mental performance and perceived well-being.
Among these results, there is the possibility that this medicinal plant could improve cognitive functions such as memory, focus and attention span.
Some research on animals shows a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms that could be related to the high concentration of antioxidants present in ginkgo biloba.
On the other hand, the same effects have also been observed in psychological conditions like depression. However, this mental health condition is so complex that said effects could occur for many reasons.
There is very little research focused on ginko's relationship with improved ocular health. However, the results up to date are promising.
These incredible results seem to be related to improved blood flow in the eyes, which could help to treat eye conditions like glaucoma or macular degeneration which is related to age.
Some research on the psychological benefits of ginkgo biloba suggests that this plant can help to treat the psychological symptoms associated with pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), as well as physical ones.
Besides, studies reveal a 23% decrease in PMS symptoms in those people that took ginko supplements or drank gingko leaf tea on a regular basis.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo biloba is an effective treatment to relieve headaches and migraines.
Although there is relatively little research in this area, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of this plant can relieve headaches or migraines caused by too much stress.
On the same note, if this pain is related to reduced blood flow or constricted blood vessels, ginko's dilating abilities could improve these symptoms.
Although there still aren't reliable scientific studies in this area, gingko is expected to enhance nitric oxide levels in the bloodstream which could help with many sexual dysfunction symptoms.
This is because nitric oxide improves circulation by dilating the blood vessels, which helps blood to reach all areas of the body, favoring erection.
Just like with medications or other medicinal plants, consuming ginkgo biloba has some side effects and risks, starting with possible pharmaceutical interactions.
Since it increases blood flow, ginko isn't recommended for those with circulation disorders or for people that take blood thinners.
On the other hand, people that take selective serotonin reuptake antidepressants (SSRI) shouldn't consume this medicinal herb either since it is a monoamine inhibitor, which reduces the effectiveness of the treatment.
Finally, the list below includes some of the possible gingko biloba side effects:
A rash or allergic reaction
Evans, J. R. (2013). Ginkgo biloba extract for age-related macular degeneration. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Systematic review), 1(1).
Laws, K. R., Sweetnam H. & Kondel, T. K. (2012). Is Ginkgo biloba a cognitive enhancer in healthy individuals? A meta-analysis. Human Psychopharmacology, 27(6): 527–533.
Van Beek A. (2000). Ginkgo Biloba (Medicinal and Aromatic Plants: Industrial Profiles), CRC Press. p.37.