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Gingko Biloba: A Natural Nootropic and Stress Reliever

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The Ginkgo Tree is among the most ancient living plants on earth. The oldest specimens date back to nearly 200 million years and its leaves have been used for medicinal purposes for at least 5,000 (Mckenna et. al 2001). Gingko’s primary active compounds are flavonoids and the terpenoids. These molecules improve cognition and memory for young and old alike. While it is in the popular mind most closely associated with supporting cognitive function in healthy people, ginkgo has also been explored as a treatment for cardiovascular disease, a way of alleviating cognitive decline as well as neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, anxiety, vertigo, PMS, and assorted complaints of old age  (Ramasamy et. al, 2007).


In a study conducted at the University of Munich students were given gingko for a 6 week period. The verum group not only reported a better sense of well-being, but also performed better on motor function (Cieza et. al, 2003). As mentioned in a previous article, ginseng has its own impressive set of benefits. When combined with ginkgo, however, it becomes even more efficacious (Wesness et. al, 2000). The ginseng used in this study was not top quality extract already shown to work in peer reviewed studies like Cereboost©, nevertheless an average improvement of 7.5% in different aspects of memory was observed in the group, which was composed of healthy middle aged participants. It was, in the team’s words, “the first substantial demonstration of improvements to the memory of healthy middle-aged volunteers produced by a phytopharmaceutical.” Like green tea catechins and, ginkgo reduces beta amyloid accumulation.


Because of this exciting finding it has been investigated as a means of slowing down the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. As an antioxidant and an anti-platelet activating factor, it has also been researched as a neuroprotectant and heart health supporter. For example, a standardized extract successfully extended the lifespans of rats and appeared to have a neuroprotective effect (Winters, 1998). Stress alleviation is partially achieved through the stimulation of endothelium derived relaxing factor (EDRF), leading to improved circulation. Ginkgo increases cerebral blood flow, presumably by stimulating norepinephrine production (Yang et al, 2005).

While it raises norepinephrine, gingko does not appear to produce adrenal fatigue or substantially raise other stress hormones (Rai et. al, 2003). Rai’s team concluded that whereas ginseng is better for acute stress, ginseng is preferred for dealing with chronic stress. They concluded that “the extracts of G. biloba and P. ginseng have potent adaptogenic activity that is mediated by regulation of cortical cells of adrenal and pituitary ACTH secretion, respectively, to target stress.” Spikes in glucocorticoid production and the resulting memory dysfunction, lowered immunity, and negative effects on cardiac and gastrointestinal dysfunction are all part of a wider stress epidemic. Ginkgo’s positive impact on mood can throw a wrench into this vicious cycle (DeFeudis and Drieu, 2004).

By improving blood flow to the inner ear gingko has a pronounced effect on chronic tinnitus (persistent ringing in the ears). As an antioxidant ginkgo can indirectly support cardiac health. However, it also appears to reduce blood cell adhesion to the endothelium. These endothelial cells can “induce arterial or venous thrombosis.” The activation of smooth muscle cells also, based on animal studies may help prevent  restenosis following angioplasty (Zhou, 2004). Cases of bleeding complications have been reported, so those with a history of these disorders or on blood thinners should first consult their physicians before taking any amount of ginkgo.  

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Cieza, Alarcos, Petra Maier, and Ernst Pöppel. “Effects of Ginkgo biloba on mental functioning in healthy volunteers.” Archives of medical research 34.5 (2003): 373-381.


Kennedy, David O., Andrew B. Scholey, and Keith A. Wesnes. “Modulation of cognition and mood following administration of single doses of Ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and a ginkgo/ginseng combination to healthy young adults.” Physiology & behavior75.5 (2002): 739-751.


Kotakadi, Venkata S., et al. “Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 has anti-inflammatory properties and ameliorates colitis in mice by driving effector T cell apoptosis.” Carcinogenesis 29.9 (2008): 1799-1806.


Mahadevan, S., and Y. Park. “Multifaceted therapeutic benefits of Ginkgo biloba L.: chemistry, efficacy, safety, and uses.” Journal of food science 73.1 (2008).


Rai, Deepak, et al. “Anti-stress effects of Ginkgo biloba and Panax ginseng: a comparative study.” Journal of pharmacological sciences 93.4 (2003): 458-464.


Snitz, Beth E., et al. “Ginkgo biloba for preventing cognitive decline in older adults: a randomized trial.” Jama 302.24 (2009): 2663-2670.


Zhou, Wei, et al. “Clinical use and molecular mechanisms of action of extract of Ginkgo biloba leaves in cardiovascular diseases.” Cardiovascular Therapeutics 22.4 (2004): 309-319.