Do Ginkgo products help?
Ginkgo biloba could possibly help some people with Alzheimer’s disease to perform daily activities better again. Side effects are rare, but interactions with other medications cannot be ruled out.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. A number of different medications and other treatment options aim to relieve the symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. Available medications for treating Alzheimer’s include cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine, as well as herbal medications based on extracts from the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree.
These different products are said to have various effects, such as improving blood circulation and protecting nerve cells. Ginkgo products are available without a prescription. In Germany and other countries, they can also be prescribed in a 240 mg dose for the treatment of Alzheimer's.
Research on Ginkgo biloba products
Various systematic reviews have looked into whether Ginkgo products can relieve symptoms in people with Alzheimer's disease. In the studies included in the reviews, people with Alzheimer’s disease were randomly assigned to one of two or more groups and given either Ginkgo, a fake medication (placebo) or a different medication.
The studies mostly tested one particular product containing the extract EGb 761. The doses used in the studies ranged between 60 mg and 600 mg per day. Most of the participants had mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. The total of 60 studies lasted up to one year.
They looked into whether Gingko extracts had led to an improvement in memory, and whether the participants were better able to perform everyday tasks such as shopping, washing themselves and doing household chores. The studies also looked into whether the Ginkgo product improved mental health problems like depression or hallucinations, and whether it influenced quality of life.
Ginkgo extract EGb 761 is effective in high doses
The studies showed that taking a higher dose of the Ginkgo extract (240 mg per day) could improve participants' memory. There was also an improvement in their ability to manage activities of daily life, such as doing household chores or washing themselves. However, these effects varied widely from study to study, so it isn't possible to draw any clear conclusions about how many people could actually benefit from Ginkgo and how strong its effect is. The lower dose of the Ginkgo extract (120 mg per day) did not clearly influence the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
The studies also suggest that Ginkgo can reduce mental health problems. It seemed to reduce emotional stress for caregiving family members and friends too. Further research is needed to be sure of this, though.
Side effects and interactions can't be ruled out
People who took Gingko products didn't have more side effects than those who took a placebo, but they stopped taking the products due to side effects more often than people in the comparison group. The possible side effects include stomach problems or headaches.
It can't be ruled out that Ginkgo may interact with other medications. For instance, it is believed that it can increase the effect of blood-thinning medications such as acetylsalicylic acid (the drug in medications like Aspirin) and warfarin. So it is important to let doctors know about any other medicines you are on before starting treatment with Ginkgo.
Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany). Ginkgo compounds in Alzheimer's disease: Final report; commission A05-19B. September 29, 2008. (IQWiG reports; Volume 39).
Yuan Q, Wang CW, Shi J, Lin ZX. Effects of Ginkgo biloba on dementia: An overview of systematic reviews. J Ethnopharmacol 2017; 195: 1-9.
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