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Let’s Take a Closer Look at Ginko Biloba

At Maryland’s School of Pharmacy research is being conducted to either validate or refute the theory that the extract of ginkgo biloba leaves can at best prevent or at least delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. These symptoms are memory loss, cognitive decline and personality change. Researchers are currently analyzing data from a five-year clinical trial, “The Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory,” sponsored by the National Institute of Health. About 3,000 people at four clinics have been participating.

For over a decade scientists have believed that an extract made from leaves of an ancient tree from the Far East, ginkgo biloba, might help alleviate some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding the biochemistry of this ginkgo extract could help doctors expand treatment options for other medical conditions.

In ongoing studies, a research team led by Dr. Luo found that giving mice that had developed the human Alzheimer’s gene the ginkgo extract improved the hippocampus, by making new nerve cells. Dr. Luo’s team claims that the protective effect of the extract could be due to decreasing senile plaques or the clumping of beta-amyloid in brain tissue.

Dr. Luo said, “By finding out how it works, it might help drug discovery researchers and doctors learn how other herbal and conventional drugs work in multiple ways. When herbal medicines are effective, it’s often because of a synergy of different biological effects. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by multiple factors, not just one thing that has gone wrong.” Basically, what Dr. Luo is saying is that drugs targeting multiple sites would be a good treatment approach.

However, this past July 17, 2008 a study carried out by the Imperial College of London found that ginkgo biloba has no significant impact on mental function or quality of life. The patients in their study had the same results taking a placebo as they did with Ginko biloba – no improvement.

Yet many people swear by the benefits of this herbal extract. One of them is Dr Wendy Morrow executive director of the Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia. She says, “It has the same effect on memory or cognition as many of the anti-dementia drugs. And that would be measured by commonly used dementia scales, so, and the research has actually shown that there is quite significant benefit to using ginkgo biloba in those cases.”

Based on my analysis, the reason researchers are still studying this herb is because scientists currently believe that oxidative stress is part of the disease process in Alzheimer's and since gingko has antioxidant properties, it could help reduce the inflammation of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is important to keep in mind that daily use of ginkgo biloba extracts may cause harmful side effects, like excessive bleeding, especially when combined with daily use of aspirin or other anti-coagulant drugs. Supplements can be as potent as drugs and can interact with other medications. Before you take a supplement, discuss it with your doctor and have a family member monitor the results.

The jury is still out on ginko biloba. On a personal note when my father took the daily supplement, it made no difference in his Alzheimer’s symptoms. However, perhaps some interesting combination of herbs might be on the horizon or a more effective dosage.
For more information on alzheimer's prevention read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show





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