Ginkgo biloba Information, Uses, Benefits and Side Effects

Gingko is the most frequently prescribed herbal medicine in Germany and one of the most commonly used over-the-counter herbal preparations in the USA. It promotes good health by protecting all the important body organs. It is good for brain, memory, sensory organs, eyes and blood. Gingko boosts memory and delays dementia. It is a brain tonic that increases memory and boosts oxygen level in brain. It is a strong antioxidant and protects against free cell damage. Ginkgo leaf extract is believed to improve cognitive function in people with symptoms of age-related mental decline. Ginkgo regulates neurotransmitters, increases blood flow and metabolism. It reduces migraine and vertigo.

Ginkgo biloba medicinal uses

Ginkgo biloba is the world's oldest living tree species native of Chekiang in East China. It has remained practically unchanged for over 200 million years in the wild and in sacred Buddhist monasteries of China. It is contemporary of dinosaurs of the Jurassic period. It is known as living fossil because of its primitive characters. In Ginkgo the male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. The fan-shaped leaf, has veins that arise from the stem base, branching dichotomously out to the edges.

This living fossil and its extract are over 200 million years old and are used extensively in Chinese and Japanese medicine. The nuts are edible and used against cancer in China. This tree was introduced into Europe as ornamental tree in parks, gardens and city streets in early 1730 and later in America. Modern researches has discovered a range of medicinally active compounds in various parts of tree.

General Information

Ginkgo is an ancient dioecious slow growing tree with pyramidal form, reaching a height of 30 m. Its leaves are petiolar with lamina fan-shaped and bilobed. It is dioecious. The mature seeds are orange-coloured and are about the size of an apricot.

Ginkgo is a Gymnosperm. Gymnosperms were dominant in the Mesozoic Era (about 252.2 million to 66 million years ago). They are vascular plant that reproduces by means of an exposed seed, or ovule. They bear naked seeds which are borne in cones and are not visible until they are mature whereas in Angiosperms, seeds are enclosed by mature ovaries, or fruits.

Ginkgo is dioecious with separate female and male sexes.

Male tree

Male plants produce small pollen cones with sporophylls, each bearing two microsporangia spirally arranged around a central axis. Male tree leaves has higher phenolic content and higher antioxidant capacity.

Female Tree

Female tree do not produce cones. Two ovules are formed at the end of a stalk, and after pollination, one or both develop into seeds. The seed is 1.5-2 cm long. Its outer layer, the sarcotesta is light yellow-brown, soft, and fruit-like. It is fruits is plum like in appearance but the seed coat contains butanoic acid, and smells like rancid butter when fallen on the ground. The Ginkgo tree does not reproduce until it is about 20 years old and continues to do so after it has reached 1000 years of age.

Scientific Classification

The botanical name of Ginkgo is Ginkgo biloba Linn. It belongs to plant family Ginkgoaceae. Below is given taxonomical classification of plant.

  1. Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
  2. Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
  3. Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
  4. Division: Ginkgophyta – Ginkgo
  5. Class: Ginkgoopsida
  6. Order: Ginkgoales
  7. Family: Ginkgoaceae – Ginkgo family
  8. Genus: Ginkgo L. – ginkgo
  9. Species: Ginkgo biloba L. – maidenhair tree
  10. Group: Gymnosperm
  11. Family: Ginkgoaceae
  12. Duration: Perennial
  13. Growth Habit: Tree
  14. Specialty: Living fossil

Distribution: Native of China. Only a few trees occur in India, Darjeeling (West Bengal).

Habitat: drought-resistant, adaptable species, and is very cold hardy thriving.

Flowering and Fruiting: Summer

Part(s) used:

  1. Seeds are expectorant and sedative. The seeds are cooked and eaten as food.
  2. Leaves are used in cardiovascular disorders, increased cerebral blood circulation and Parkinson’s diseases.
  3. Nuts are used against cancer.

Why Ginkgo is called Living Fossil?

Ginkgo biloba is regarded as a living fossil.

Living fossils are those species which appeared on earth in prehistoric ages as evidenced by the discovery of their fossils from some places and are still living with very little or no change.

Ginkgo has no close living relative. The fossilized ginkgoes which are found are 100 million years old. All species, except this tree are wiped during the last glacial period. This tree is the only existing species of its genus. Some living specimens of this plant may be as much as 3,000 years old.

Since it is the single existing, living species of the plant family Ginkgoaceae, which appeared in Permian age, it is known as living fossil.

Vernacular Names

  1. Latin name: Ginkgo biloba
  2. English: Maiden hair tree called Living Fossils, Kew tree, Fossil tree, Japanese silver apricot
  3. Hindi: Balkuwari
  4. Trade name: Ginkgo

Constituents of Ginkgo

  1. Root-bark: Ginkgolides A, B, C & M
  2. Plant: bilobalide, bilobanone sesquiterpene; Leaf: flavonols, biflavonoids, diterpenes, sesquiterpene bilobalide A, β-sitosterol, ginkgolides A, B & C, shikimic acid, sequoyitol, 1,5-MeObilobetin
  3. Fruit: anacardic acids, ginnol, bilobols, cardanols.
  4. Leaf: Flavonoids glycosides, terpenoids

Dosage of Gingko Extract

It is most commonly available as capsules, which contains extracts of Ginkgo Biloba. The capsules can be taken in dose of 1-2 capsules daily or as directed by health care professional.

The most suitable dosage according to condition is given below:

  1. Age-related memory impairment: 240-600 milligrams extract for many ears.
  2. Altitude (mountain) sickness: 160 milligrams of ginkgo once daily or 120 milligrams of ginkgo twice daily 4-5 days.
  3. Autism: 100 milligrams of ginkgo for four weeks.
  4. Blood pressure control: 120 milligrams of ginkgo extract for many years.
  5. Cancer prevention: 120 milligrams of ginkgo extract twice daily for many years.
  6. Cerebral insufficiency: up to 160 milligrams of ginkgo daily 12 weeks in up to three divided doses.
  7. Claudication (leg pain from clogged arteries): 80-320 milligrams of ginkgo extract daily in single or divided doses up to six months.
  8. Cocaine dependence: 120 milligrams of ginkgo daily 10 weeks.
  9. Macular degeneration (eye disease): up to 480 milligrams in single or divided doses up to six months.
  10. Decreased libido and Erectile dysfunction (impotence): up to 240 milligrams of ginkgo extract daily up to 18 months.
  11. Hearing loss: 120 milligrams twice daily.
  12. Quality of life: 120 milligrams extract daily for 4-10 months.
  13. Vertigo (dizziness): 160 milligrams daily for three months.
  14. Vitiligo: 120 milligrams in two or three divided doses for up to six months.
  15. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): 40-120 milligrams daily in single or divided doses for six weeks.
  16. Dyslexia: 80 milligrams daily for a month.

Important Medicinal Properties

Gingko is rich in medicinal properties. The understanding of these properties will help us to better utilize this herb. These also indicate the conditions in which we should avoid it. For example, it is thrombolytic, antiplatelet and its oral intake may raise the risk of bleeding especially while taking blood-thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and aspirin.

Below is given medicinal properties along with the meaning.

  1. Antiplatelet / Antiaggregant: decrease platelet aggregation and inhibit thrombus formation.
  2. Anti-inflammatory: Reducing inflammation by acting on body mechanisms.
  3. Anti-allergic: prevents, or relieves an allergy.
  4. Anti-asthmatic: treat or prevent asthma attacks.
  5. Anticancer: protects against cancer.
  6. Anticonvulsant: prevent or reduce the severity of epileptic fits or other convulsions.
  7. Antitussive: prevent or relieve a cough.
  8. Antiseptic: Capable of preventing infection by inhibiting the growth of infectious agents.
  9. Antioxidant: neutralize the oxidant effect of free radicals and other substances.
  10. Cardioprotective: protects heart
  11. Cerebral Stimulant: stimulants act on the central nervous system and provide a temporary sense of alertness and well-being as well as relief from fatigue.
  12. Neuroprotective: serving to protect nerve cells from injury or degeneration
  13. Radio protective: protect or aiding in protecting against the injurious effect of radiations.
  14. Thrombolytic: destroying or breaking up a thrombus / blood clot.
  15. Vasodilator: widening of blood vessels.
  16. Vasoprotective: Acting to alleviate certain conditions of the blood vessels.

Health Benefits of Ginkgo biloba Extract available in market

  1. It is an antioxidant.
  2. It stimulates peripheral circulation or increases blood flow to the hands and feet.
  3. It prevents degeneration of sensory organs.
  4. It promotes memory. It can be used as adjunctive therapy for schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  5. It increases cerebral blood flow.
  6. It increases the flow of glucose and energy unit into all cells.
  7. It slows dementia resulting from hardening of cerebral arteries.
  8. It prevents spasm of bronchial smooth muscle.
  9. It prevents platelet aggregation.
  10. It reduces plasma and blood viscosity.
  11. It decreases the permeability of capillaries and protects the cell membrane by trapping deleterious free radicals.
  12. It is good for reproductive health and helps in sexual dysfunction.
  13. It has significant neuroprotective effects.

The oil containing Ginkgo is used in treatment of Alopecia as it improves cerebral microcirculation and hence increases oxygen supply. The drug is extracted in coconut oil and is massaged for at least 2 minutes to prevent hair fall.

Medicinal Uses of Ginkgo biloba Extract

Ginkgo biloba Extract is used in treatment of variety of diseases including:

  1. As an Antioxidant
  2. Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia
  3. Anxiety and depression
  4. Attention deficit–hyperactivity (ADHA) disorder
  5. Acute mountain sickness
  6. Bronchial asthma
  7. Cerebral insufficiency, cognitive performance and memory loss
  8. Cognitive enhancement
  9. Dementia
  10. Diabetes and related circulatory disorders
  11. Decreased libido
  12. Glaucoma and macular degeneration
  13. Intermittent claudication (cramping pain in the leg is induced by exercise, typically caused by obstruction of the arteries)
  14. Impotence or erectile dysfunction of vascular origin (relating to vessel)
  15. Memory enhancement
  16. Sexual dysfunction related to SSRI antidepressants
  17. Sudden unilateral hearing loss
  18. Tinnitus of vascular origin
  19. Prevention and treatment of high altitude sickness (hypoxia) and related ailments
  20. Prevention and treatment of circulatory system/ heart disease
  21. Vitiligo (chronic skin condition characterized by portions of the skin losing their pigment. It occurs when skin pigment cells die or are unable to function)

Availability in India

Ginkgo biloba extract are made from the leaves of the tree. Ginkgo leaf extracts are used in brain disorders such as dementia, disturbance in concentration, depressive emotional conditions, dizziness, tinnitus and headache. The extract has beneficial effects on the circulatory system especially in geriatric patients. Recently a pill containing extracts from Ginkgo has been launched for eliminating excess fat (cellulite) in women.

Ginkgo Biloba extracts are available in India in form of tablets / capsules.

  1. HealthVit Ginkgo Biloba Capsules 60mg
  2. HealthAid Gingko Vital (Ginkgo Biloba) capsules
  3. Vista Nutritions Ginkgo Biloba Capsules 60 mg
  4. Zenith Nutrition Ginkgo Biloba 60 mg Capsules
  5. GNC Ginkgo Biloba 60 mg Capsules
  6. Nature's Bounty Standardized Extract Ginkgo Biloba 60mg
  7. Nutrilite Siberian Ginseng with Ginkgo Biloba
  8. Schwabe Homoeopathy Ginkgo Biloba Tablets

Contraindications, Interactions, and Side Effects / Adverse effects of Ginkgo

  1. Few side effects of Ginkgo include risk of bleeding, gastrointestinal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, and restlessness.
  2. The seed contain toxin 4-O-methylpyridoxine. Eating many edible seeds can cause serious problems.
  3. It has antiplatelet activity.
  4. It should not be taken by people with a clotting disorder.
  5. It should not be used by people who are taking the antidepressant drugs, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) or by pregnant women.
  6. Very large doses may cause thinning of the blood, restlessness, diarrhea, nausea, and other mild discomforts.
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