Ginkgo biloba: An aid for sexual dysfunction?

Dear Alice,

I'm interested in taking Ginkgo Biloba, used to facilitate peripheral circulation, to aid in physiological impotence. Are there side effects? Could it work? Any feedback?


Dear Reader,  

Some people swear by ginkgo biloba, or gingko, calling it a miracle herb with the power to fix anything from Alzheimer's to erectile dysfunction. Traditional Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of year, but there is less peer reviewed research on the subject. Though it shows some potential with treating sexual dysfunction, current research is unclear. While some individuals may choose to use gingko, it’s a good idea to talk with your health care provider before doing so, as there may be some conditions that make its use less safe.  

Because gingko has a long history of being used as an herbal remedy, studies have examined its benefits for several health conditions. According to available research, there has been mixed evidence supporting its role in improving cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, improving memory in healthy adults, and treating peripheral vascular disease. That being said, there is insufficient evidence of its use as an effective treatment for any of these conditions. When it comes to sexual dysfunction, ginkgo’s effectiveness appears to be limited to relieving dysfunction caused by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants and not more generalized physiological causes. Some of ginkgo’s success with treating sexual dysfunction is believed to be the result of the placebo effect, in which a person believes they're seeing an improvement, despite there being no clinical effectiveness. 

Although current research has yet to validate gingko as an effective therapeutic agent, it’s the oldest living plant specimen and has endured throughout the ages. In fact, scientists consider it a living fossil since it’s been around for more than 250 million years. The earliest records of gingko’s medicinal use can be traced back to China around 2800 BC. The leaves were used for brain disorders, circulatory disorders, and respiratory diseases. Gingko nuts were traditionally used for coughs, sputum, fever, diarrhea, toothaches, skin diseases, gonorrhea, and reducing the frequency of urination. Its use didn’t just apply to medicine, though; ginkgo nuts have been used as a side dish in Japan since the 1600s, and fallen leaves were used as insecticide and fertilizer.  

Even though gingko hasn’t yet received official approval from the scientific community, it remains a popular herbal remedy in traditional Chinese medicine. If you’re considering adding it as part of your health routine, there are some side effects that you may want to consider. Though using ginkgo is considered low risk, you may experience the following: headache, nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, heart palpitations, and skin irritation. Because of ginkgo’s ability to thin the blood, it’s advised that you don’t take ginkgo if you’re currently taking aspirin, ibuprofen, anticoagulant drugs such as heparin and warfarin, or medication for diabetes. Health care providers also advise caution for patients with bleeding disorders or those who are taking drugs, herbs (such as garlic, ginseng and red clover), or supplements that may increase the risk of bleeding. Finally, older people, people with epilepsy or those prone to seizures and pregnant people are also advised to avoid gingko. 

If you decide you’d like to utilize gingko, then you can usually find it in the form of a tablet, extract, capsule, or tea. It’s usually sold in a refined form because many of the plant's parts, especially its seeds, are considered poisonous and their consumption could lead to seizures and death. Therefore, it’s a good idea to avoid a raw form of the plant altogether and only seek gingko products from reliable manufacturers.  

Overall, ginkgo could work for you either through the placebo effect or because of actual biochemical interactions — however, it might not be the only treatment you use. If you’re interested in alternative solutions to impotence, you may want to speak with a health care provider. They can help you determine possible causes, the best treatment options, as well as answer any other questions you may have about ginkgo biloba and its effects.  

Last updated Jun 25, 2021
Originally published Feb 21, 1997

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