HJ: There are a few medicinal plants that have been around since prehistoric times — millions to hundreds of millions of years – and all of them have simply incredible health benefits – unparalleled nutrition and impressive healing properties. When a plant is able to survive and thrive for that long, there are usually unique and highly beneficial compounds in it which can also benefit human longevity and wellness. The history of the Ginkgo tree is nothing short of miraculous. It is truly fascinating and attests to its incredible legacy and reputation. Long recognized as one of the treasures of herbalism and Chinese medicine, this ancient plant has many benefits to offer those in search of greater health and healing.
The Healers Journal recommends Gaia Herbs Ginkgo Leaf Extract
By Brittini Nelson | Herbal Legacy
History of Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is a “living fossil” as was stated by Charles Darwin (1959). It is the oldest living tree species in the world. The Ginkgo species dates all the way back to the Permian Period some 286 to 248 million years ago. Ginkgos began increasing in number a great deal in the middle of the Jurassic Period through the Cretaceous Period approximately 213million to 66.4 million years ago. During this era of the first flowering plants and the height of the Dinosaurs, fossils revealed several different Ginkgo species. These species were common and outspread in Asia, Europe, and America. This era along with its incredible kingdom of plants and animals ended with complete extinction. Scientists had thought that Ginkgo, along with the rest of the prehistoric plants and animals, had too ceased to exist. It was not until 1691 that Englebert Kaempfer (1651-1692), a German Physician and Botanist, made a most amazing discovery in China. Ginkgo had somehow survived the devastating Ice Age, although it was not quite the same as its ancient ancestors. Due to environmental changes, the ancient Ginkgo had evolved. Today, Ginkgo biloba is the only surviving member of the Ginkgo family. This survival is said to be owed to its remarkable adaptability, resistance to disease, and to Buddhist monks who cultivated and preserved the trees on sacred grounds. In fact one particular story tells of a rather large, ancient Ginkgo tree in Hiroshima. It sat 1.1 km away from the where an atomic bomb landed on August 6th 1945 during the end of World War II destroying a religious temple. The tree continued to bud after the blast with no major deformations. After the war they considered cutting down the tree to rebuild the temple. Instead, the temple was rebuilt and adjusted around the giant Ginkgo tree with the front stairs splitting on either side of it. Engraved on the tree is “No more Hiroshima” and peoples prayers for peace. Interestingly, four atomic bombed Ginkgo trees are still alive today.
In 1778 Ginkgo was brought into North America by William Hamilton for his own personal garden. Credit for its popularity is given to Frank Lloyd Wright, a well known architect of the 20th century. It was a favorite of his and soon made its way into city landscapes across the United States. Modern day streets of New York City are still lined with the beautiful trees and it has become popular in landscapes worldwide.
Landscape is not the only use mankind has found for this primeval plant. The recorded medicinal uses of Ginkgo in China can be tracked back nearly 5000 years, chiefly as a treatment for asthma. The use of Ginkgo nuts has been recorded in Japanese text books since 1492. They were used at weddings and tea ceremonies as sweets and deserts. Medicinal uses of the seeds were not recorded until around 1578 in the ‘Great Herbal’ or Pen tsao kang mu by Li Shin-chen. The leaves were later used for medicinal purposes in Asia but became more of a western medicine practice in the 1950’s. The first extract from the leaves was produced in 1965 by Dr. Willmar Schwabe. Since that time, the eminence of Ginkgo biloba has spread and its medicinal properties are desired through out populations all over the world. Ginkgo is today the most widely used herbal treatment for mind enhancement as well as treatment for other various diseases.
Medicinal Qualities of Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is the most frequently prescribed herbal medicine worldwide. Over 1.5 million prescriptions of ginkgo leaf extract per month are being dispensed by doctors in Europe (especially Germany and France) for various complaints including vertigo, tinnitus, short term memory loss, etc. In the United States, Ginkgo is not prescribed by medical physicians but is still considered a nutritional food supplement. In my personal opinion this is good because it is still available to be used freely and is not regulated by health officials. However, it is sad that because it is not prescribed its strength and abilities to make immense improvements on ones health is underutilized.
Ginkgo has been used and is still used for a numerous amount of health complaints and diseases. Its primary properties are considered to be antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, antitussive, astringent, circulatory stimulant, expectorant, kidney tonic, rejuvenative, and
sedative. Ginkgo’s most powerful effect is on the circulatory system. Ginkgo flavnoids directly dilate the smallest segment of the circulating system, the micro capillaries, which increase blood circulation and oxygen levels in the body. This is one of the main reasons it is so effective in certain ailments. Ginkgo also contains constituents that inhibit platelet activity factor (PAF), which is a common allergen in the body. Physical stress, and poor diet can over stimulate PAF production; in other words blood clotting. Platelets become excessively sticky causing them to cling to the blood vessel wall or to each other. The clot may stay attached to the vessel or break loose and float around the bloodstream until it encounters a vessel that it can not pass through. Blood clotting can be responsible for a large variety of devastating diseases. Ginkgo acts similar to Aspirin in the way that it thins the blood and reduces stickiness.
Below are several instances in which Ginkgo biloba has been effective in certain health and disease concerns. In order to understand why Ginkgo is effective in treating these particular diseases, we must first understand what causes the disease. Therefore, each disease will be followed by a brief description of the cause and then an explanation of how and why Ginkgo is effective.
Ginkgo biloba is highly sought after due to its medicinal properties and ability towards mind enhancement. Both Age related degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s as well as improving simple mind tasks such as Short term memory.
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder that manifests itself by progressive mental deterioration, loss of memory and cognitive functions, and the inability to carryout activities of daily life. This state of mind is often medically referred to as Dementia. In the United States, five percent of the population over the age of sixty-five suffers from severe dementia, while another ten percent of the population suffers from mild to moderate dementia. Although there are many contributors to the cause of Alzheimer’s, there are mainly two that are treatable with Ginkgo; free radical damage and oxidative damage. Because of its antioxidant properties Ginkgo improves blood circulation and increases oxygen levels in brain tissues. These antioxidants also scavenge and fight free radicals (highly reactive chemicals that attack molecules crucial for cell function causing damage in the brain and other tissues). As a result cell longevity and membrane stability is increased. It also increases metabolism and regulates neurotransmitters that are directly related to brain function. Other effects were demonstrated in a double blind study using EEG (test used to detect and record the electrical activity generated by the brain). This study showed that Ginkgo increases alpha rythem (which is the bio feedback frequency associated with mental alertness) and decreases the theta rhythm (which is related to the lack of attention) in elderly who were showing signs of mental deterioration. Other studies have shown that Ginkgo extract is not only able to increase the functional capacity of the brain; it also has been known to normalize the acetylcholine receptors in the hippocampus (the area of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s disease) of aged animals, to increase cholinergic transmission (neurotransmitters), and to address many of the other major elements of Alzheimer’s disease.   
Many clinical studies have been done proving the positive effects that Ginkgo has on Alzheimer’s patients. It has been proven that Ginkgo is most affective in early signs of Alzheimer’s and in the case of Alzheimer’s prevention.
Cognitive and Memory Improvement
Since Ginkgo increases oxygen flow to the brain, enhances glucose uptake and utilization of glucose (boosting brain metabolism and energy), it is also being researched for its role in senility, forgetfulness, headaches, improving alertness, and memory and mental performance.
Hindmarch (1988) reported on the effects of oral administration of the standardized Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) on the short term memory of healthy young volunteers ages 25-40 years. In a double-blind cross-over trial, Hindmarch found that, one hour following a single oral 600 mg dose of GBE, short –term memory parameters were significantly improved compared with controls. According to Hindmarch, the battery tests indicate a specific activity on central cognitive processes and he proposes the use of GBE in cases and conditions where memory problems are a feature.
Ginkgo is often added to nutrition bars, fruit smoothies, and other healthy snacks in order to achieve such results as improving cognitive and memory ability. Since I have begun to study herbs, I have had the largest number of individuals inquire about Ginkgo biloba than any other herb. I would assume that its popularity can be credited to its paramount ability of improving ones mind and capacity to retain information and think more clearly is an element to be desired by all. I always encourage individuals to put it to the test themselves and get back with me. Positive feedback has been returned by a majority of these individuals. Besides an increase in mind enhancement, other agreeable results have been achieved as well.
Vascular Disease or Intermittent Claudication
Vascular diseases refer to diseases of blood vessels outside the heart and brain. It is often a narrowing of vessels that carry blood to the legs, arms stomach or kidneys. Because of narrowed vessels to the legs blood flow is decreased and the disease impairs ones ability to walk causing a great deal of pain in the legs. Other complications become factors of health due to vascular diseases.
Intermittent Claudication is similar to vascular disease in that it too is caused by inadequate blood oxygen flow to the leg muscles. It commonly occurs during exercise or walking. Symptoms are pain in the legs, muscle cramping, and lameness. The simple task of walking becomes unbearable to some.
Due to the same antioxidant properties that assist with brain function, ginkgo seems to offer the same protection to vascular disorders. It increases blood flow, assists oxygen in being more thoroughly distributed to blood vessels and muscle tissue. It helps maintain integrity and permeability of cell walls by inhibiting lipid peroxidation (lipids breaking down to form free radicals). It also helps tone and nourishes vascular organs.
Other circulation disorders can also be treated with Ginkgo such as hemorrhoids, varicose veins, insufficient circulation as a result of a stroke or skull injury, etc.
Depression and Anxiety
I recently chose Ginkgo to add to a formula I created to naturally assist the body in overcoming Depression and Anxiety. I carefully chose Ginkgo in my formula for its brain and oxygen enhancers. A clear mind is very important in controlling mood and depression. Besides a clear mind, Ginkgo also helps stabilize mood and balance serotonin it the system. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter in the brain and systems that controls emotions, behavior and thought. Such abilities combined with several other select herbs provide a powerful combination that has in my experience, proved to be affective.
In the United States, an estimated 17 million people have or have had tinnitus to one degree or another. Tinnitus is not a disease. It is a symptom of nerve damage and certain blood vessel disorders. It creates the perception of ringing, hissing, or other sound in the ears or head when no external sound is present. In 1986, Christopher Hobbs proved the effectiveness of Ginkgo as a tinnitus treatment. Ringing disappeared in thirty-five percent of the patients tested, with a distinct improvement in seventy days. When 350 other patients with hearing loss and tinnitus due advance in age were treated with ginkgo extract, the success rate for improved hearing and tinnitus was eighty-two percent. Many patients taking Ginkgo for tinnitus, claim that it is inexpensive compared to other available treatments and that there are few side effects.
Eyesight, Glaucoma, Cataracts, and Macular Degeneration
Simply taking Ginkgo on a regular basis helps improve eyesight and can protect your eyes from a serious eye condition.
Glaucoma is a term used to describe a group of eye conditions usually involving increased pressure within the eyeball but does not have to. It can be related to damage to the optic nerve and retina. This is known as normal-tension Glaucoma. It is this form of Glaucoma that Ginkgo is most effective. Glaucoma is usually a condition that comes with age and can cause blindness in the worst case.
Cataracts are defined by a clouding or darkening of the lens in the eye causing blurry, hazy or distorted vision. It is a naturally occurring condition in the elderly but can also be caused by over exposure to ultraviolet rays.
Macular degeneration is an abnormality of blood supply to the light sensitive portion of the eye, or the macula. As a result, deterioration in the macula takes place causing a loss of focusing ability and central vision.
The flavnoids in Ginkgo helps to thin blood. Red blood cells become more flexible making it easier for them to move through the fine capillaries and increases blood supply to the retinal capillaries. This can slow retinal deterioiation, and results in an increase of visual acuity and preservation. Antioxidants present in ginkgo also protect the eyes.
This is another malfunction of the body due to inadequate blood oxygen flow and atherosclerosis (hardening and clogging of arteries) of the penis.
There have been several studies over the last fifteen years to see what effects Ginkgo may have on this disorder. For example, in 1991 a study published in the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy evaluated the effect of Ginkgo leaf extract in the treatment of erectile dysfunction in fifty patients. The men diagnosed with arterial erectile impotence received 240 mg of ginkgo leaf extract daily for a period of nine months. The patients were divided into two groups based on their response to conventional therapies. Twenty of the patients had previously experienced some success with conventional drug therapies. The second group had not experienced erection following conventional therapies. Following treatment with the ginkgo leaf extract, all patients in the first group (twenty men) regained full, sufficient, and spontaneous erections following six months of treatment. Improvement continued through the nine-month treatment period. Nineteen of the thirty patients in the second group responded positively to the treatment, while eleven remained impotent. No side effects were reported in the study. This was only the second study published on the use of ginkgo leaf extracts in the treatment of impotence. In another study, ultrasound examinations of sixty impotent men who took Ginkgo biloba showed improved penile blood circulation after just six weeks. After six months, fifty percent of the patients had regained potency. Studies continue to investigate Ginkgo in the treatment of impotence and the findings are quite satisfactory.
Relief from Asthma Attacks
Asthma is a lung disease in which tightening of the air passages can provoke wheezing and difficulty breathing. It is usually of allergic origin.
Ginkgo has been used for Asthma in China for a very long time. Ginkgo inhibits the activity of eosinophils (a type of white blood cells active in fighting parasites and allergies); an action attributed to Ginkgolide B. It seems to relieve the airway spasms and wheezing associated with this lung disease. In a trial conducted in Belgium, six out to ten children with sever asthma were found to improve “dramatically” within the first three to four days of taking Ginkgo. Three others in this same group made huge improvements but still required some other therapy.
Ginkgo is recommended for asthma treatment but not in the case of an acute attack.
Reduce the risk of Heart Attack or Stroke
Heart attack is the death of heart muscle due to loss of blood supply. The loss of blood supply is usually caused by complete blockage of a coronary artery, on the arteries that supplies blood to the heart. Heart attack is often fatal.
By inhibiting the inappropriate formation of blood clots by platelets and increasing overall blood flow and oxygenation, Ginkgo is and ideal herb for preventing and treating heart attack. (Ginkgo is not recommended to stop an acute heart attack. In this case Emergency Medical Attention is immediately required.)
A Stroke occurs when an artery in the brain becomes blocked or when a blood vessel breaks, interrupting the flow to an area in the brain. When a stroke occurs, it kills brain cells in the surrounding area. These brain cells control different functions such as moving a limb or speech. When those nerve cells are lost, so is the function.
By inhibiting the inappropriate formation of blood clots by platelets and increasing overall blood flow and oxygenation, Ginkgo is an ideal herb for preventing and treating heart attack and stroke. (Ginkgo is not recommended to stop an occurring heart attack or stroke. In case of Emergency, Medical care should be sought out immediately)
Other and New Breakthroughs
New studies and applications are being discovered for the use and positive effects of Ginkgo biloba. Some other diseases that are currently being tested and treated with Ginkgo are Vitilgo-a common auto immune skin disease, Protection from cell phone induced brain damage, anti-aging, toxic shock, improvement of social behaviors, and preventing the rejection of transplanted organs.