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Ginkgo – what d'ya thinko?

Dear Alice,

Do you recommend the natural remedy Ginkgo as a dietary supplement for good health?

— What D'Ya Thinko About Ginkgo

Dear What D’Ya Thinko About Ginkgo,

Ginkgo (Latin name: Ginkgo biloba) is a species of tree native to China where it's been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Historically, ginkgo seeds and leaves were used to treat respiratory disorders, kidney and bladder infections, and hearing loss. Today, ginkgo leaf extract is commonly found in dietary supplements, where it's used for its reported benefits in relieving anxiety, improving cardiovascular health, and enhancing memory. 

Now you may be wondering: how exactly does this plant do so much? Well, ginkgo extract contains terpenoids and flavonoids, and these act as antioxidants in the body. When your body breaks down food or when you're exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation, your body naturally produces free radical species. When there are high levels of these free radical species, they can negatively disrupt your body’s biochemical processes. As an antioxidant, ginkgo can reduce the number of free radical species, which can be beneficial for your health. Additionally, ginkgo has been shown to decrease inflammation by inhibiting your interleukin-6 proteins. 

Although there have been some studies demonstrating that ginkgo extract is beneficial, there's no consensus within the scientific community. While some studies have found that ginkgo extract had positive effects on Alzheimer’s disease, memory, and cognitive disorders, other studies found that ginkgo didn't help with memory, high blood pressure, or cognitive performance. In fact, some studies have even found that ginkgo use can increase the risk of stroke in older adults. Due to the conflicting information in these studies, there hasn't been any conclusive evidence on the benefits of ginkgo use, nor has ginkgo been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Because of this, ginkgo isn't recommended for everyone. If you have a history of stroke, blood clotting disorders, or you currently use insulin, you may want to speak with your health care provider before starting ginkgo, as its use can negatively interact with some medication. Side effects of ginkgo use include headaches, upset stomachs, dizziness, palpitations, constipation, and allergic skin reactions. 

It may be helpful to consider what about ginkgo, in particular, are you interested in? There may be other ways to achieve these outcomes if ginkgo isn't the right fit for you. If it’s the memory benefits you seek, HelpGuide has a number of recommendations that can help you to improve your memory. If you want an antioxidant boost, the Go Ask Alice! Q&A Antioxidants a lot more information about what they do and where you can find them in your diet. If you’re interested in learning more about supplements in general, it may be helpful to check out the section on supplements in the Go Ask Alice! archives. It's always recommended to research potential supplements before taking them, so props to you for taking this first step. 

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Last updated Dec 31, 2021
Originally published Oct 02, 1998

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