What are the benefits of Ginkgo Biloba?

The ginkgo biloba tree, a living fossil that has flourished for over 200 million years, is the oldest tree species surviving today.

An extract from its bark has also been used for 5,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine, and now it's starting to turn up in modern-day medicine cabinets.

Governments, health agencies and the general population are taking note. After all, orthodox medicine is second-to-none for many acute and life-threatening conditions, but it serves us less well for some of the chronic problems such as the arthritis, low back pain and IBS.

Its not all hocus pocus!

This is where herbal medicine (such as ginkgo) comes in, and actually it has the strongest evidence base of all complementary therapies.

This isn't surprising if you know that many conventional drugs, such as morphine, digoxin, and quinine, are derived from naturally-occurring vegetation. The effectiveness of a number of herbal remedies is supported by scientific analyses and clinical trials, not to mention testimony from people who have tried them.

Ginkgo's new popularity

Ginkgo's new popularity is probably due to recent studies showing that it can improve memory and brain function, by increasing blood flow in the brain.

In fact, numerous European studies have repeatedly shown that ginkgo improves blood circulation in the brain, the transmission of nerve signals, and the use of glucose by brain cells.

For example, a review of ginkgo biloba trials published in the Archives of Neurology in 1998 revealed that from over 200 patients with Alzheimer's disease, those given ginkgo each day for three to six months, showed a small but significant improvement in mental ability. For this reason, ginkgo's benefits may be tailor-made for elderly people.

Ginkgo Biloba - good for old people

This is particularly important now, because Western populations are aging. Scientists predict that at least 7 percent of Americans over the age of 65 will be affected by Alzheimer's disease by the year 2020, with the number afflicted climbing to 15 percent by 2050.

In fact, it is the fourth leading cause of death among American adults, accounting for about 10,000 each year. But, while declining brain function is often thought of as a "natural" part of ageing, it's actually often due to impaired blood flow to the brain and oxidative stress. Few scientific breakthroughs have occurred with Alzheimer's disease since 1907, until recently. Studies now show that ginkgo biloba may be one of the most promising answers for the prevention and treatment of it.

The reason for ginkgo's success seems to lie in a group of ingredients called flavonoids. These are antioxidants which you can also find in vegetables and fruits, and the majority of ginkgo formulas contain around one quarter flavonoids.

Together with ginkgo's other major component, terpene lactones, the flavonoids work to keep the blood from clotting unnecessarily. This enhances the blood flow, and its oxygen, around the blood vessels.

Not just old people - Good for anyone's memory

But it's not just elderly people who benefit from ginkgo. It can also improve the retention of learned behavior for anyone, with profound effects on learning, recall and short term memory formation.

A study of 80 healthy women in Germany showed that those taking gingko experienced significant improvement of short-term memory only one hour later.

Ginkgo is also valued for its antioxidative properties.

Countless studies show that ginkgo protects neuronal cell membranes from the free-radical damage caused by, among other things, smoking. Research has shown that it can improve slow thinking, concentration, energy levels and reduce depression.

It's also been seen to significantly lessen the symptoms Parkinson's disease, and can also help reduce brain damage from stroke.

Ginkgo biloba can also benefit varicose veins, as well as the tiny capillaries in the ears, and is one of the few promising treatments for tinnitus (buzzing in the ears).

Lecithin - A competitor to Ginkgo

Ginkgo actually has competition in its effectiveness from a substance called phosphatidylserine (a fat derived from lecithin). This chemical can help you improve your concentration, mood and short-term memory, and may be even more effective than ginkgo.

Phosphatidylserine (lecithin) has enormous effects on the brain's functions because it is a critical natural constituent of the cell membranes.

Of all the dietary supplements available for the brain, Phosphatidylserine (PS) is probably the most universally beneficial.

PS benefits learning, memory, word skills, concentration, mood and coping with stress. PS is the only substance actually proven to reverse brain ageing.

The ginkgo biloba extract is a good antioxidant preparation due to its flavonoid constituents. But ginkgo does not have the deep benefits for the aging brain that PS does, probably because it cannot get into the nerve cells the way PS does.

Combine Ginkgo Biloba with Phosphatidylserine (PS)

The best approach is to find a high quality supplement that provides both Ginkgo and PS.

As with all nutritional supplements is is best to understand their safety. PS is thoroughly evaluated for its safety and is very well tolerated by the majority of people.

Similarly, ginkgo has virtually no side effects in contrast to many synthetic drugs (although it is a blood-thinner, so consult your doctor before taking it if you're already using an anticoagulant, such as aspirin or a prescription medication like Coumadin).

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