Ginkgo biloba, or
maidenhair, is a tree native to China that has been
grown for thousands of years for a variety of uses.
Because it’s the only
surviving member of an ancient order of plants, it's
sometimes referred to as a living fossil.
While its leaves and
seeds are often used in traditional Chinese
medicine, modern research primarily focuses on
ginkgo extract, which is made from the leaves.
Ginkgo supplements are
associated with several health claims and uses, most
of which focus on brain function and blood
content may be the reason behind many of its health
Ginkgo contains high levels of flavonoids and
terpenoids, which are compounds known for their
strong antioxidant effects .
Antioxidants combat or neutralize the damaging
effects of free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive particles that
are produced in the body during normal metabolic
functions, such as converting food to energy or
Yet, they also have the potential to damage
healthy tissues, contributing to accelerated aging
and disease development.
Research on ginkgo’s antioxidant effects is
promising. However, it remains unclear exactly how
it works and how effective it may be at treating
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural
response to injury or invasion by a foreign
In the inflammatory response, various components
of the immune system are recruited to fight against
the foreign invader or heal the injured area.
Some chronic diseases trigger an inflammatory
response even when there is no illness or injury
present. Over time, this excessive inflammation can
cause permanent damage to the body’s tissues and
Years of animal and
test-tube research shows that ginkgo extract can
reduce markers of inflammation in both human and
animal cells in a variety of disease states .
Some specific conditions in which ginkgo extract
has shown to reduce inflammation include:
- Irritable bowel disease (IBD)
- Heart disease
While this data is encouraging, human studies are
needed before drawing concrete conclusions about
ginkgo’s role in treating these complex diseases.
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo seeds
were used to open “channels” of energy to different
organ systems, including the kidneys, liver, brain
Ginkgo’s apparent ability to increase blood flow
to various parts of the body may be the origin of
many of its supposed benefits.
One study in people with heart disease who
supplemented with ginkgo revealed an immediate
increase in blood flow to multiple parts of the
body. This was attributed to a 12% increase in
levels of circulating
nitric oxide, a compound responsible for dilating
blood vessels .
study showed the same effect in older adults who
were treated with ginkgo extract .
also points to ginkgo’s protective effects on heart
health, brain health and stroke prevention. There
are multiple potential explanations for this, one of
which may be the anti-inflammatory compounds present
in the plant .
More research is needed to fully understand how
ginkgo affects circulation and heart and brain
Ginkgo has been repeatedly evaluated for its
ability to reduce anxiety, stress and other symptoms
associated with Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive
decline associated with aging.
Overall, research results are inconsistent in
Some studies show a marked reduction in the rate
of cognitive decline in people with dementia using
ginkgo, but others fail to replicate this result.
A review of 21 studies
revealed that when used in conjunction with
conventional medicine, ginkgo extract may increase
functional capabilities in those with mild
evaluated four studies and found a significant
reduction in a spectrum of symptoms associated with
dementia when ginkgo was used for 22–24 weeks .
These positive results could be related to the
role that ginkgo may play in improving blood flow to
the brain, especially as it relates to vascular
types of dementia.
Overall, it’s too soon to definitively state or
refute ginkgo’s role in treating dementia, but
recent research is beginning to make this piece
There is some speculation that ginkgo may
enhance brain function in healthy individuals.
A handful of small
studies support the notion that supplementing with
ginkgo may increase mental performance and perceived
Results from studies like these have given rise
to claims linking ginkgo to improved memory, focus
and attention span.
However, a large review
of research on this relationship concluded that
supplementing with ginkgo did not result in any
measurable improvements in memory, executive
function or attention capacity.
While supplementing with ginkgo may improve
mental capability, there are no guarantees.
Some research indicates that supplementing with
reduce symptoms of anxiety.
A handful of animal
studies have observed reductions in anxiety symptoms
that may be attributed to the antioxidant content of
In one study, 170
people with generalized anxiety were treated with
either 240 mg or 480 mg of ginkgo or a placebo. The
group treated with the highest dose of ginkgo
reported a 45% greater reduction in symptoms of
anxiety, compared to the placebo group.
While supplementing with ginkgo may reduce
anxiety, it’s still too early to draw any definitive
conclusions from the available research.
A review of animal
studies suggests that supplementing with ginkgo may
help treat symptoms of depression .
Mice who received ginkgo before an unavoidable
stressful situation were less emotionally affected
by the stress than the group that did not receive
The study indicated that this effect was related
to ginkgo’s anti-inflammatory properties, which
improve the body’s ability to cope when stress
hormone levels are high.
Nonetheless, depression is a complex condition
that may have a variety of root causes.
More research is needed to better understand the
relationship between ginkgo and how it may affect
depression in humans.
Very little research has investigated how ginkgo
relates to vision and
eye health. However, early results are
One review showed that
people with glaucoma who supplemented with ginkgo
experienced increased blood flow to the eye, but
this didn’t necessarily translate to better vision .
Another review of two
studies evaluated the effect of ginkgo extract on
the progression of age-related macular degeneration.
Some participants reported an improvement in vision,
but this wasn’t statistically significant across the
Many of these positive results seem to be related
to increased blood flow to the eye.
It’s unclear if ginkgo would improve vision in
those who don’t already suffer from vision
More research is needed to determine whether
ginkgo can increase vision capacity or slow the
progression of degenerative eye disease.
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo is a very
treatment for headaches and migraines .
Very little research is available on ginkgo’s
ability to treat headaches. However, depending on
the root cause of the headache, it may help.
For example, it’s well known that ginkgo has
anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. If a
headache or migraine is caused by excessive stress,
ginkgo may be useful.
Additionally, if a headache is related to reduced
blood flow or constricted blood vessels, ginkgo's
ability to dilate blood vessels may improve
On the contrary, some migraines are caused by the
excessive dilation of blood vessels. In this
situation, ginkgo may have little to no effect.
But these examples are just inferences and don’t
substitute hard evidence.
If you want to try ginkgo for your migraines,
it's unlikely that it will cause much harm. Just be
aware that it may not necessarily help.
Some research indicates that ginkgo may improve
symptoms of asthma and other inflammatory
respiratory diseases like COPD.
This is attributed to
the anti-inflammatory compounds in ginkgo, which may
allow for reduced inflammation of the airways and
increased lung capacity .
One study in 75 people evaluated the use of
ginkgo extract alongside glucocorticosteroid
medication therapy for managing asthma symptoms.
The levels of inflammatory compounds in the
saliva of those who received ginkgo were
significantly lower than those who received
traditional medication alone.
Another study in 100 people evaluated the use of
a mixture of Chinese herbs, which included ginkgo,
for treating COPD symptoms.
Those who used the
herbal formula reported a considerable reduction in
cough and bronchitis at a three-month follow-up,
compared to the control group .
At this point, it cannot be determined if this
improvement can be attributed to ginkgo alone, or if
it was a synergistic effect of the other herbs used
in the treatment group formula.
While these results are encouraging, more
research on this specific application of ginkgo is
Preliminary research indicates that ginkgo may
help treat both the physical and psychological
symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
One study in 85 college
students revealed a 23% reduction in reported PMS
symptoms when consuming ginkgo .
Interestingly, the placebo group in this study
also experienced a slight reduction in PMS symptoms,
though it was much lower at 8.8%.
Further research is needed to better understand
the cause and effect relationship between ginkgo and
Some sources indicate that ginkgo may treat
sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction or
Ginkgo has the ability
to improve blood levels of nitric oxide, which
improves circulation via the dilation of blood
As a result, ginkgo may also be useful for
treating various symptoms of sexual dysfunction by
improving blood flow to those areas of the body.
Some research has investigated using ginkgo to
treat sexual dysfunction caused by the use of
antidepressant drugs (SSRIs). Results indicated that
ginkgo wasn’t any more effective than a placebo in
Additionally, there may be an interaction between
ginkgo and SSRI medications, which could render them
One study evaluated the
use of ginkgo to increase sexual desire and
contentment in women who were concurrently
undergoing sexual psychotherapy .
The combination of ginkgo and therapy were
effective over a longer term compared to a placebo,
but supplementing with ginkgo alone was not.
The rationale for using ginkgo to treat sexual
dysfunction makes sense, but research does not
support it at this time.
It’s important to talk to your doctor before
including ginkgo in your routine.
For most adults, the risk associated with taking
ginkgo is relatively low, but there are cases in
which ginkgo could cause serious harm.
If you are allergic to plants that contain
alkylphenols or taking certain medications, you
should not take ginkgo.
Ginkgo has the potential to interact unfavorably
with certain medications. Some interactions could
increase the risk of bleeding.
Possible adverse medication interactions include:
- Blood thinners (Warfarin, aspirin)
- SSRIs/MAOIs/antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft)
- NSAIDS (ibuprofen, Tylenol)