Ginkgo Biloba - The Ageless Herb
By Debbie Bowman, RHN
Registered Holistic Nutritionist for Edible Island Whole Foods Market
One of the oldest surviving tree species on the planet, Ginkgo biloba is an extraordinarily hardy tree. Growing to a height of over 120 feet, the ginkgo is resistant to disease, insects, fungus and modern day pollution. In fact, Charles Darwin called the Ginkgo tree a "living fossil".
Though we never want to be called a fossil, we do want to be strong and hardy into old age - so it's interesting to note that this long surviving herb has been effectively used as an anti-aging supplement for over four thousand years. Chinese medicine doctors have used ginkgo through the ages to treat a wide range of ailments - from lung issues to digestive problems. Today, European physicians prescribe Ginkgo more than any other herb or drug, mainly for circulatory and neurological problems.
Ginkgo is a vasodilator - meaning it increases the size of the vessels in the circulatory system. As a result, ginkgo facilitates improved blood flow throughout the entire body, particularly the brain. This is especially important as we age, as restricted blood flow is extremely common among the elderly and is characterized by cognitive issues such as memory loss, decreased alertness, headaches and depression. When we increase blood flow to the brain we enhance oxygen levels, thereby improving memory and concentration. Gingko also increases the uptake of glucose to brain cells and improves the transmission of nerve signals.
Ginkgo also reduces blood viscosity, or stickiness. Some threads of evidence suggest that people with thicker (or more viscous) blood have higher chances of developing heart disease or having a heart attack or stroke. The theory is; the more viscous the blood, the harder the heart must work to move it around the body and the more likely it is to form clots inside arteries and veins.
Ginkgo is also rich in antioxidants. This is important, since aging is directly related to oxidative damage. Antioxidants neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, which can cause several serious or life-threatening diseases and health problems including heart disease, cancer, immune dysfunction, diabetes, and degenerative brain disorders (including dementia and Alzheimer's disease). Harmful free radicals exist everywhere in our environment, but they are concentrated in pollution, chemicals, radiation, pesticides, alcohol, drugs, unhealthy food and even sunshine. Antioxidants like those found in ginkgo help to keep our cells healthy and youthful, which can prevent age-related illnesses, relieve stress and increase one's lifespan.
Ginkgo is also beneficial to our eyes, especially for those who are battling age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma or cataracts. Specifically, studies confirm gingko increases blood flow to the retina and can slow retinal damage which causes macular degeneration. Ginkgo also increase blood flow to the fine capillaries of the eye so it is also beneficial to those with glaucoma, as glaucoma is thought to be caused by decreased blood flow. Finally, studies also confirm ginkgo inhibits the enzymatic pathway that causes cataracts.
Ginkgo has been found to be very effective and free from most side effects at dosages between 120 mg and 600 mg per day. Since ginkgo has a blood thinning effect, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist if taking any pharmaceuticals, particularly blood thinners.