Ginkgo extract, from the
leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree, has been used for
thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. It also is the most
commonly used herbal medicine in Europe. Although the benefits of ginkgo are
not entirely understood, it is known that ginkgo has properties that may help
treat certain conditions. Ginkgo may:
Improve blood flow in the brain and elsewhere
in the body.
Act as an
antioxidant (like vitamin E) to fight cell
Improve memory in people with memory impairment.
In the United States, ginkgo is considered a dietary
What is ginkgo used for?
People have used ginkgo
to treat a variety of health conditions. There is some evidence that ginkgo may
be helpful in the treatment of:
Memory and concentration
problems, anxiety, stress, and mood problems.
Many people take ginkgo hoping to improve and preserve
memory. But some studies show that there is no convincing evidence that it can
help improve memory and prevent dementia.3, 1, 2
Ginkgo is widely used
throughout Europe to treat age-related dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
Is ginkgo safe?
Ginkgo appears to be safe and has
few side effects. Direct contact with the pulp of the ginkgo tree may cause a
skin reaction similar to
poison ivy, but this is not a problem with ginkgo that
is taken by mouth (oral supplements). Experts don't know whether ginkgo is safe
for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, so these women should consult a
doctor before taking ginkgo.
Bleeding problems are the only major
complication that has been linked to use of ginkgo, and the risk seems to be
very low. Ginkgo is not recommended for people who are taking medicines that
thin the blood (anticoagulants), such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin,
NSAIDs. This is because ginkgo may reduce the blood's
ability to clot. The combined effect of ginkgo and these medicines may be
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not
regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. A dietary
supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works or on
Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary
supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with
your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your
conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is
especially important for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:
Like conventional medicines, dietary
supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact
with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you might
be taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may
make other health conditions worse.
The way dietary supplements are
manufactured may not be standardized. Because of this, how well they work or
any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different
lots of the same brand. The form of supplement that you buy in health food or
grocery stores may not be the same as the form used in research.
Other than for vitamins and minerals, the long-term effects of
most dietary supplements are not known.
DeKosky ST, et al. (2008). Ginkgo biloba for
prevention of dementia. JAMA, 300(19):
Solomon PR, et al. (2002). Ginkgo for memory
enhancement. JAMA, 288: 835–840.
Birks J, Grimley Evans J (2009). Ginkgo biloba for
cognitive impairment and dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1).
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.