Ginkgo biloba is one of the most widely used herbs in natural medicine. The idea that it can help improve cognitive function is far from new. However, new research is shedding light on how ginkgo works in the body and suggesting new uses for this fascinating herb.
It has long been known that ginkgo biloba increases blood flow to the brain. However, that in and of its self is not sufficient to explain the clinical benefits of its supplementation. In mouse models ginkgo decreases oxidative damage in brain tissues and increased levels of brain derived neurotropic factor, a protein necessary for nerve health. Similarly, a study looking at the oxidative damage and apoptosis triggered by beta-amyloid in mouse hippocampal cells showed that a ginkgo extract could inhibit the creation of reactive oxygen species and the activation of caspace-3 thus inhibiting cell death. Another new study provided evidence that bilobalide provides neuroprotective effects that help prevent reperfusion injuries by down regulating the expression of inflammatory mediators and decreasing programmed cell death. In the peripheral nervous system ginkgo has been shown to increase nerve repair and neovascularization in experimental models of nerve damage.
Beyond ginkgo’s traditional uses newer research is showing that ginkgo may have a role in managing blood lipids and blood sugar. In a recent German study on patients with metabolic syndrome, two months of treatment with a ginkgo extract led to significant decreases in C-reactive protein levels (by 44.4%) and insulin resistance. The authors also noted a decrease in the formation of nano-plaques. Ginkgo appears to also protect and restore insulin sensitivity and signaling pathways in type 2 diabetes. It also decreased food intake, body fat and blood lipids in this particular study. In models of plaque formation ginkgo has been shown to decrease the pro-inflammatory effects of oxidized low density lipoprotein and decrease matrix metalloproteinases in blood vessel endothelial cells.
Safety is always a concern when putting a substance in your body. A recent meta-analysis of existing data found “that G. biloba extract is well tolerated and safe for humans.” Newer research is confirming what has long been known in practice, that ginkgo is a safe and effective herb for improving nervous system health and cognitive function. It also supports the emerging use of this herb in the management of insulin-sensitivity and cardiovascular health.
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