Points - Ask the Doctor

Q: Can a person of any age take ginkgo to improve brain function?

A: Yes! Ginkgo is one of the most widely studied plants. The leaf of the ginkgo tree is shaped like a human brain, and some believe this is why, in Asia, it has always had a reputation of benefiting the mental processes. Decreased memory and difficulty concentrating is largely due to decreased blood flow to the brain and loss of brain cells; ginkgo has been confirmed to boost circulation to the brain and other organs, therefore improving memory and cognitive functions. In the past, scientists believed that dementia was caused by a reduced blood and oxygen supply to the brain. Because ginkgo appears to improve circulation, European physicians assumed that ginkgo was simply getting more blood to brain cells and thereby making them work better. However, advances in the understanding of age-related mental decline have led scientists to move away from this theory. Ginkgo is now believed to function by directly stimulating nerve cell activity and protecting nerve cells from further injury.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported the results of a yearlong, double-blind trial of ginkgo in over 300 people with Alzheimer’s or non-Alzheimer’s dementia. Participants were given either 40 mg of the ginkgo extract or a placebo 3 times daily. The results showed that 27% of the treated group showed significant improvement on an overall rating scale that evaluates the severity of Alzheimer’s disease, compared to only 14% in the placebo group. Also, 40% of those given placebo worsened over the course of the study, whereas only 19% of the treated participants worsened.

The study’s authors interpret these statistics to mean that in about 20% of cases, ginkgo may slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease by 6 months to 1 year. These results do not make ginkgo out to be a miracle cure, but they do confirm that it is a useful treatment for dementia.

Additionally, ginkgo is a popular longevity tonic in Asia and Europe. The best-known and most commonly available form of ginkgo is in teas and as herbal extracts; but ginkgo nut, used in the culinary traditions of Asian cultures, has therapeutic properties and is also said to strengthen lung function.

About our Doctors

This month's Ask the Doctor question was answered by:

Dr. Mao Shing Ni, PhD, D.O.M., Dipl. ABAAHP . from his website:


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