Go For The Ginkgo!

Ginkgo biloba is the world’s oldest living species of tree — they can live as long as 1,000 years! The leaves of the tree are used in modern herbal medicine, and with as long as it has been around, no wonder the list of uses for this herb is a mile long.

Although the list of uses for ginkgo biloba is long, there are three health related conditions in which there’s fairly reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a health benefit.

Age-Related Cognitive Decline

Because ginkgo biloba seems to effect the brain, many of its uses involve issues related to memory. If you evaluate the research out there on this subject, it is conflicting whether or not ginkgo may slow down Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or age-related cognitive decline — one large study found it ineffective, but several smaller studies have shown it effective.

When shown effective, taking ginkgo leaf extract by mouth seemed to improve thinking skills in some elderly people with mild to moderate age-related memory loss or thinking problems. Ginkgo leaf extract also modestly improved short-term visual memory and speed of mental processing in non-demented people with age-related memory loss.


In a particular type of glaucoma called normal tension glaucoma, ginkgo may help improve vision; more specifically it may partially reverse visual field damage. The double-blind study used a supplement of standardized extract ginkgo biloba in the amount of 40 mg three times a day for four weeks.  

Intermittent Claudication

Claudication is muscle pain (ache, cramp, numbness or sense of fatigue) caused by narrowing arteries which results in too little blood flow during exercise. It generally affects the blood vessels in the legs (typically in the calf muscle), but claudication can also affect the arms.  

One research trial that compared dosages of 120 mg and 240 mg of ginkgo demonstrated a substantial therapeutic benefit on pain-free walking distance with the higher dosage. Two placebo-controlled trials,with a total of 190 patients with intermittent claudication, showed improved walking distance and decreased pain in patients with peripheral vascular disease.

It may take longer than three months for ginkgo to have a beneficial effect in people with intermittent claudication.

Bottom Line: As with many supplements, there is promising research taking place, and more time and more research are still needed before coming to a definite conclusion. If you are interested in taking ginkgo biloba, talk to your health care provider.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods



U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Medline Plus. Ginkgo.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Herbs at a glance; Ginkgo.

Quaranta L, Bettelli S, Uva MG, et al. Effect of Ginkgo biloba extract on preexisting visual field damage in normal tension glaucoma. Ophthalmology 2003;110:359-62.

Schweizer J, Hautmann C. Comparison of two dosages of ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in patients with peripheral arterial occlusive disease Fontaine's stage IIb. A randomised, double-blind, multicentric clinical trial. Arzneimit-telforschung. 1999;49:900–4.

Peters H, Kieser M, Holscher U. Demonstration of the efficacy of ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 on intermittent claudication—a placebo-controlled, double-blind multicenter trial. Vasa. 1998;27:106–10.

Bauer U. 6-Month double-blind randomised clinical trial of Ginkgo biloba extract versus placebo in two parallel groups in patients suffering from peripheral arterial insufficiency. Arzneimittelforschung. 1984;34:716–20.

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