What Is the Scientific Evidence for Ginkgo?

December 7, 2010

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Alzheimer’s Disease and Non-Alzheimer’s Dementia The scientific record for ginkgo in these conditions is extensive and impressive. According to a 1992 article published in Lancet, over 40 double-blind controlled trials had been performed by that date, evaluating the benefits of ginkgo in treating severe age-related mental decline.2 Of these studies, which involved about 1,000 participants, eight were rated of good quality and all but one produced positive results. Most of these studies were performed prior to a full recognition of the identity of Alzheimer’s disease, but they are presumed to have involved both Alzheimer’s and non-Alzheimer’s cases. The authors of the Lancet article felt that the evidence was strong enough to conclude that ginkgo extract is an effective treatment for severe age-related mental decline.

Studies since 1992 have provided additional evidence for this conclusion.3,4 Interestingly, German physicians are so certain that ginkgo is effective that they find it difficult to perform scientific studies of the herb. To them, it is unethical to give a placebo to people with Alzheimer’s when they could be taking ginkgo instead and have additional months of useful life ahead.5 This objection does not apply in the United States, where ginkgo is not an approved treatment.

A recent study  results of a year-long, double-blind trial of ginkgo in over 300 people with Alzheimer’s or non-Alzheimer’s dementia.6 Participants were given either 40 mg of the ginkgo extract or a placebo 3 times daily. The results showed that 27% of the treated group showed significant improvement on an overall rating scale that evaluates the severity of Alzheimer’s disease, compared to only 14% in the placebo group. Also, 40% of those given placebo worsened over the course of the study, whereas only 19% of the treated participants worsened.

The study’s authors interpret these statistics to mean that in about 20% of cases, ginkgo may slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease by 6 months to 1 year. These results do not make ginkgo out to be a miracle cure, but they do confirm that it is a useful treatment for dementia.

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