Go For Ginkgo Biloba

Words: Dr Richard FIRSHEIN 

Traditional Chinese medicine [TCM] considers the ginkgo leaf as one of its prized medicinal treasures. This tree dates back to the time of the dinosaurs and has been found among fossils over 200 million years old. Its ancestry makes it a mix of a fern and a modern-day tree. Today, there is only one species remaining; it does not grow in the wild.

It is in the leaf of the ginkgo tree that the most prized medicinal properties are found. It was a Harvard University team that made this momentous discovery in 1988 when they finally isolated the mysterious active ingredient that had eluded researchers for so long. They named this extract, which is distilled from plant chemicals called ginkgolides, ginkgolide B. Ginkgolide and a host of other substances in the leaf are part of classes of compounds known as terpenoids and flavonoids [also found in many fruits and vegetables, from oranges to raspberries], which allay free radical damage and potent inflammatory factors in the body.

Dual Action

Ginkgo biloba has two primary properties: it is a potent anti-inflammatory herb and a platelet inhibitor. A platelet is a crucial part of the healing process because of its ability to promote clotting, repair damaged blood vessels, and seal leaks in those vessels. Without platelets, our wounds would not heal. Platelets adhere to blood vessels that are injured, and once they stick to a site, they send out chemical messengers that attach to other platelets, causing them to cluster and to secrete an inflammatory chemical. Inflammation signals the body to rush in its troops of white blood cells [WBCs], which then kill any bacteria that may have entered the wound, or leak. Clotting and inflammation are key steps in wound healing. However, when there are too many platelets, or the platelets are too active, blood clotting occurs more easily, predisposing the body to conditions, such as heart attacks and stroke. Heart attacks can be triggered by long-term, chronic, excessive platelet build-up that blocks the crucial small coronary arteries.

Obviously, everyone needs platelets, but it’s the proper balance that’s most important. This is particularly true when we consider the role of platelets in inflammatory disease. As I said, platelets release substances that promote inflammation. Although some inflammation is necessary, for example, to protect areas of the body where blood vessels are being repaired, excessive, or chronic inflammation can be extremely damaging. Every day our own inflammatory cells release chemicals that do more than just kill invaders — they damage our own tissues, and our body must repair the damage and expel the toxic waste by-products. Ginkgo can help regulate this process when it veers out of control.

Flavonoid Effect

Ginkgo also keeps one other trick up its herbal sleeve: it contains flavonoids, healing compounds found in many different plants. The human body cannot produce these. There are many different flavonoid compounds that are essential to our diet. Originally, flavonoids were thought to be useless plant pigments that simply gave the world of fauna their beautiful greens, reds, purples, and yellows. Research has shown that these pigmented substances offer significant health benefits, because they are potent free radical quenchers.

Ginkgo helps improve circulation in other somewhat mysterious ways. It seems to directly stimulate the release of two important substances in the body, both of which relax blood vessels: an endothelium-derived factor and prostacyclin. This is yet another reason that ginkgo holds great promise in the treatment of vascular disease.

It’s this one-two-three-four-and-more punch that makes ginkgo such a star. By reducing inflammation and excessive platelet activity, the herb protects blood vessels, helps keep the blood thin and flowing easily, controls excessive inflammation, and offers the body potent free radical quenchers to help repair any damage done by illness, or toxins. 

Ginkgo Is Valuable 

Ginkgo is surprisingly effective in a wide range of conditions. Here are a few examples of its powerful effects:

Alzheimer’s disease. A study of 50 patients with Alzheimer’s found that ginkgo improved their sociability and overall mood. In research on 112 patients with memory problems, elderly patients who received ginkgo showed significant improvements in short-term memory and alertness. The impact of ginkgo actually increased as time went on.

Asthma. Ginkgo has long been a treatment for asthma in Chinese medicine, and now that we are beginning to learn of its profound ability to inhibit platelet activity and, therefore, inflammation, we understand how it can help in inflammatory diseases like asthma. A study in Barcelona, Spain, showed that ginkgo could not only reduce airway constriction, it even stopped the bronchial tubes from contracting when they were challenged by allergens.

Brain. Studies on brain tissue show that ginkgo can protect the neurons that conduct information through your brain and spinal cord from suffering stress due to free radical damage.

Cellular repair. Intriguing studies around the world have found other potential uses for ginkgo, including liver and blood repair, indicating that ginkgo’s benefits may extend far beyond circulatory problems. Ginkgo may even be useful in radiation exposure, according to one study that looked at damage to the blood in Chernobyl victims. Excessive exposure to radiation can be traced as clastogenic factors, which damage chromosomes and are thought to be triggers for cancer. In another study in China, 86 patients suffering from chronic hepatitis took ginkgo for three months. This condition, which is sometimes fatal and is notoriously hard to treat, improved simply through the use of this herb. After three months of treatment, the majority of patients were in remission.

Cerebral insufficiency. Many elderly patients suffer from a lack of oxygen to the brain. Some have suffered from strokes. They often show symptoms such as depression, forgetfulness, and distractability. A German study of 50 such patients found that ginkgo improved both mood and recall. Another study of 19 patients evaluated the effect of ginkgo on the brain and found that the herb improved blood flow as well as sugar consumption in the brain. Since sugar is the brain’s main fuel, this was remarkable news.

Circulation. Ginkgo exhibits antioxidant abilities and inhibits the oxidation of the fatty acids in our cell membranes, which occurs when free radicals attack a cell’s membrane and damage its fat content. Also, as discussed, ginkgo guards against heart disease.

Claudication. This is a condition in which poor circulation results in muscle pain. A study in Germany showed that ginkgo increased the ability of patients to walk without suffering claudication pain.

Depression. In patients with depression, ginkgo showed a 50 per cent reduction in symptoms after 6-8 weeks. In a study of 40 middle-aged patients with mild to moderate depression that did not respond to medication, patients were given either ginkgo or placebo [dummy pill]. In the ginkgo group, there was a 50 per cent reduction in the severity of depression after four weeks and a 68 per cent reduction after eight weeks. In the placebo group there was only a ten per cent reduction in four weeks.

Heart. Studies have shown promising evidence that ginkgo has a protective effect on an oxygen-starved heart. In a study using rabbits with damaged hearts, ginkgo significantly reduced levels of lipid peroxide, substances associated with permanent heart damage following heart attack.

Impotence. Blood flow is crucial in impotence, an increasingly common problem today, as prostate conditions are on the rise. 50 patients with impotence were given ginkgo, and after six months, an astonishing half of them had regained potency. That’s almost as high a success rate as some drugs on the market. My only caveat is that individuals taking ginkgo for this problem should be patient, since significant results may take several months.

Dr RICHARD FIRSHEIN, DO, is the Founder-Director of The Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. He is a leading innovator and authority in the field of preventative and nutritional medicine, integrating Western and Eastern medical practices. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has served as professor of family medicine. An internationally recognised leader in the field of integrative medicine and healthy aging, a cancer researcher, prolific author and writer, Dr Firshein has written several ground-breaking books, including the bestselling Reversing AsthmaYour Asthma-Free ChildThe Nutraceutical Revolution and The Vitamin Prescription [For Life]. This article is ©Dr Richard Firshein.

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