The most important and unique health benefits of ginkgo include its ability to improve memory, boost vision, treat depression, alleviate pain, boost circulation, reduce blood pressure, protect the nervous system, boost heart health, prevent cancer, and slow the signs of aging.
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What is Ginkgo Biloba?
When it comes to ancient plants, nothing on our planet is older than the ginkgo biloba tree. It is the last extant branch of the Ginkophyta division, all of which are now extinct. For more than 300 million years, Ginkgo biloba has managed to survive, if not thrive, and remains only mildly endangered. Due to its vast range of medicinal qualities, and its importance for research on the evolution of plants, ginkgo biloba trees are widely protected around the world. This tree is native to China and is still found primarily there, as it is difficult to produce saplings of the trees, and some ginkgo trees are over 2,500 years old.
It is a very important plant in traditional Chinese medicine, and the health benefits of ginkgo have been widely studied. Although still controversial, biloba is one of the most desired herbal supplements on the market. The nuts found inside ginkgo seeds are eaten in some cultures as delicacies, particularly for Chinese New Year, but the most common use of ginkgo is to make an herbal supplement from extracts of the seeds and leaves. In traditional medicine, ginkgo seeds were commonly recommended as an aphrodisiac, but those properties haven’t been proven in modern research. Ginkgo leaves contain rich amounts of phenolic compounds, flavonoids, terpenoids, and other organic chemicals from which the extensive list of ginkgo health benefits are derived.
Health Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba
Health benefits of this plant include:
If you are suffering from depression or chronic mood swings ginkgo biloba has been shown to be highly effective in remedying those feelings by balancing your hormonal levels and boosting your mood. While the most promising results have been shown in elderly people, particularly those suffering from depression as a result of cognitive difficulties, research on younger people suffering from depression have also been promising.
Improves Cognitive Abilities
One of the most commonly praised side effects of ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) is its impact on cognition. Certain studies have demonstrated ginkgo biloba’s ability to increase memory and retention, boost focus, and stimulate creative thinking. The controversy, of course, stems from whether this is a placebo effect, since the medicinal benefits of this old plant are commonly known, but millions of people around the world turn to GBE for a brain boost.
Treats Alzheimer’s & Dementia
What the medical community can agree on is that ginkgo biloba can have a positive impact on people who are suffering from cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. There have been measurable improvements in cognitive ability and activity, primarily due to the antioxidant compounds in GBE, including terpenoids and flavonoids that stimulate neural activity and keep cognitive pathways fresh and clear of amyloid plaque. This is by far the most popular use of ginkgo biloba, as there is the most research to back up these very important claims.
Improves Vision Health
The second most common reason for using ginkgo biloba is its powerful effect on vision. Not only do the antioxidants in ginkgo biloba help to keep the ocular system clear of oxidative stress, thereby preventing macular degeneration and cataracts, but for people who suffer from glaucoma and other vision issues, GBE has actually been shown to improve vision and increase long-distance sight capacity.
There are mild analgesic qualities to ginkgo biloba, likely resulting from anti-inflammatory properties in the organic compounds. In other words, when inflammation decreases, so too does the pain it causes. This makes it a popular option for people recovering from injuries or wounds, as well as those who suffer from chronic headaches.
Regulates Blood Flow
Research has definitively shown that ginkgo biloba extract is able to increase blood vessel dilation and stimulate blood flow to extremities in the body, including the skin and essential organs, properly oxygenating the entire body and boosting energy and strength. This increase in blood flow also helps people who suffer from claudication or poor circulation, allowing them to walk longer distances without pain. It is often taken by people who suffer from gout as well, benefitting from this anti-clotting effect and the anti-inflammatory properties.
Protects Heart Health
Ginkgo biloba extract has also been linked to lower blood pressure and an elimination of blood clots throughout the cardiovascular system. These two side effects, when combined, can be a major boost to heart health, as dilating blood vessels reduced the strain on the heart, while the anti-clotting capability significantly reduces your chances of suffering from a heart attack or stroke.
Prevents Nervous Disorders
Although the exact pathway is not completely clear, GBE seems to exert a positive influence on the nervous system, speeding up reaction time and lowering your chances of nervous disorders. This combination of chemicals and compounds is not found in any other plants, which is why many of the purported health benefits of ginkgo biloba are somewhat mysterious and difficult to “prove”, as there are no other types of plants on which to test comparative hypotheses. Reduction in symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and Raynaud’s disease have both been shown to be linked to ginkgo biloba consumption.
The high level of antioxidants found in ginkgo biloba, including the rich variety of terpenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenolic compounds, all combine to eliminate free radicals throughout the body, the dangerous byproducts of cellular metabolism that attack healthy cells and either cause apoptosis or mutation into cancerous cells. With such a diverse range of antioxidants, ginkgo biloba can help to keep the entire body protected from chronic disease, most notably cancer and heart disease because free radicals weaken the blood vessels walls of the cardiovascular system.
One of the most “pop culture” uses of ginkgo biloba is as an anti-aging secret. While many of the claims are a bit exaggerated, the antioxidants in GBE do help the skin remain tight and healthy, slowing the appearance of wrinkles and other age spots, as well as helping to speed up wound healing and lessen the appearance of scars.
Word of Caution: Due to the anticoagulant nature of ginkgo biloba, it can be dangerous to take for pregnant women, those who are menstruating, or anyone with blood disorders that don’t allow their blood to coagulate. Even small injuries can be dangerous when a person’s blood is unable to clot. Furthermore, allergic reactions to ginkgo biloba are moderately common due to the presence of ginkgolic acids, some of which are similar to those found in cashews or poison ivy. Be careful when first using ginkgo biloba and always discuss your potential risk factors with a medical professional before adding this powerful herbal supplement to your regimen.