Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is the sole survivor of the oldest known tree genus, Ginkgoaceae, which dates back more than 200 million years. “Perhaps its status as a veritable living fossil accounts for its remarkable ability to help with memory and recall,” quips herbalist Rosemary Gladstar in her book Herbs for Common Ailments. More likely, it’s the unique combination of circulation-enhancing, cell-protective antioxidants and phenolic compounds in ginkgo that make it a celebrated memory booster. But there’s so much more to this multi-tasking herb. Ginkgo has been found to benefit a long list of conditions, including ringing in the ears, chronic fatigue syndrome, and eye conditions such as glaucoma.
5 Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba
1. Boosting mood
Ginkgo contains a compound called kaempferol, considered an MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor). MAO (monoamine oxidase) is an enzyme that breaks down feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. MAOIs stop this breakdown from happening—the same mechanism by which many antidepressants work. The effects are subtle, so it is recommended to combine ginkgo with other mood-boosting supplements such as rhodiola, tyrosine, and 5-HTP.
2. Reducing PMS symptoms
A six-month study of college-aged women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), published in the Journal of Complementary Medicine, concludes that ginkgo can reduce the severity of PMS symptoms. Participants were randomly assigned to either a placebo or 40 mg ginkgo leaf extract supplements three times per day. Although both groups reported a decrease in the severity of symptoms, the mean decrease was significantly more in the ginkgo group compared to the placebo group. “Ginkgo has shown effective for PMS in several clinical studies, reducing the severity of PMS symptoms including breast tenderness and congestion, fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, headache, and muscle discomfort,” says Mary Bove, ND, an herbalist and naturopathic physician with more than 25 years of experience, and director of medical education for Gaia Herbs in Brevard, N.C. Bove recommends taking ginkgo for several months when addressing PMS.
3. Helping asthma
Ginkgo acts as a bronchodilator. It has been used to treat asthma and bronchitis as far back as 2600 BC, and is thought to work by decreasing inflammation and reducing hyperresponsiveness (characterized by airway wall and lung tissue inflammation). “Ginkgo reduces bronchial airway hyperactivity via its action on reducing platelet-activating factor,” says Bove. One study indicated that patients who used ginkgo showed a 10–15 percent improvement in lung function compared to those taking a placebo over a 4- to 8-week period.
4. Reducing headaches
Ginkgo is a natural vasodilator, blood-thinner, and anticoagulant, all of which can help to relieve headaches. Anecdotal evidence supports headache relief at around 60 mg. One study published in Neurological Sciences looked at 50 women who suffered from migraines who were given ginkgo supplements over a period of four months. The total number of migraine attacks was significantly reduced. “With migraine headache,” says Bove, “ginkgo can reduce platelet accumulation and stickiness, reducing migraine attacks and pain. Headaches related to poor circulation or vascular constriction can be aided by ginkgo’s action to improve cerebral circulation, acting to reduce free-radical production and oxidation.”
5. Improving erectile dysfunction
Ginkgo has been shown to improve blood pressure and vascular dilation, both of which improve blood flow to the penis. For many men, erectile dysfunction (ED) is also an indicator of poor heart health; there is a close relationship between blood flow, heart health, and the ability to get and maintain an erection. There is some evidence that ginkgo may also help to boost testosterone. “The vasodilatory effects of ginkgo act to impact sexual dysfunction due to compromised circulation,” says Bove. “In fact, many men do not realize that ED is a sign of circulation compromise. Ginkgo has also been helpful for ED due to the side effects of antidepressant drugs.”
How to Take Ginkgo Biloba
Use standardized capsules, tinctures, or teas. Recommended dosages range from 60 mg to 600 mg daily. “Ginkgo must be used with consistency for several weeks before you will notice benefits,” says Gladstar. Some research has suggested the possibility of liver damage with long-term use. However, critics point out that the dosages used in the 2013 studies were much higher than would be taken as a supplement, and the research was conducted on rats. A more recent survey that evaluated data of nearly 30,000 adults, published in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, contradicts those findings. The review concludes that moderate doses of commercial preparations of ginkgo do not alter markers of liver function, while alcohol intake does. The researchers stated, “The data presented show moderate alcohol consumption alters biomarkers of liver function, but the herbal dietary supplement Ginkgo biloba, in formulations and doses typically consumed by adult Americans, does not affect the same enzymes.”