What is Ginkgo Biloba? And which are the effects on our body?

Ginkgo is an extract from the leaves of Ginkgo Biloba, a plant which roots date back to very remote times, appearing on our planet about 200 million years ago. Its height can reach 30-40 meters with a trunk that can have 1 meter diameter. It was defined by Charles Darwin as a “living fossil” because it’s the only exemplar from the family belonging to the Ginkgoales family. These plants are gymnosperms with a tall trunk, characterized by fan-shaped leaves.

Ginkgo Biloba, beyond being the oldest tree present on Earth, is also one of the most long-lived, reaching also 1000 years. For these reasons, in Japan it’s considered a holy tree and it can be found very often near temples. It is also thought that the species survived while being protected by the Chinese Monks, who were using it to decorate sacred places. It is also a symbol of the city of Tokyo.

 

 

The name Ginkgo probably comes from a wrong transcription made by the German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer of the japanese word “ginkyō” (ぎんきょう) that comes from the chinese name "yin xing" (銀杏) and it means silver apricot. This name (Ginkgo) was given by the botanist Carlo Linneo in 1771, when he published his research works and he decided to keep the wrong transcription of the original name. The name of the species (Biloba) comes from latin “bis” and “lobus” and they refer to the leaf that is divided into 2 lobes.
The leaves are deciduous, 5-8 cm long, and light green in color.

 

 

Which are the benefits of the extract of this specific plant?

Ginkgo Biloba is often used to treat memory disorders and old-age problems that are associated with a reduction of the blood flow to the brain (such as headache, dizziness, difficulty to concentrate and mood swings). It’s also very used for circulatory problems, like legs pain while walking or Raynaud syndrome. 

It’s also used for cognitive problems associated with Lyme disease, depression, sexual dysfunction, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, or memory problems that lead to Alzheimer. 

The scientific evidence found until today suggests that Ginkgo extract might be very effective against anxiety, and it can improve mental performances in case of dementia. It can be useful also against premenstrual syndrome, schizophrenia, dyskinesia and dizziness.

The extract of the seeds, less analyzed, contains elements that could help killing pathogenic bacteria and fungi.
For other proposed uses there are not enough proofs to confirm those statements.

 

Ginkgo Biloba tree in Autumn


The phytotherapeutic properties of Ginkgo are known from thousands of years, and yet they became popular in the Western world just in the last years, thanks to the many benefits that are attributed to this plant. The used part of Ginkgo Biloba are the leaves, while the seeds have an external part that is edible but the core of them contains toxic substances (like the alkaloid ginkgotoxin). In oriental markets the pulp and the seeds of Ginkgo are traded as a medicine that kills the worms in the intestine. 

The main elements in the leaves are flavonoids (Ginkgo contains flavonoid glycosides such as kaempferol, quercetin, isorhamnetin, coumaric acid, catechins, proanthocyanidins, etc.) that are known for their antioxidant properties. The leaves are also rich in terpene derivatives (ginkgolides and bilobalide) and ginkgolic acids.

Flavonoids neutralize free radicals, which are now considered the biggest enemy of wellness. These small molecules, coming from pollution and unhealthy lifestyle, accelerate the aging process and the normal deterioration of the body, furthermore they can cause degenerative pathologies and different forms of tumors. Flavonoids, characteristic elements present in Ginkgo Biloba, and also in other plants like green tea, turmeric, milk thistle, have a good impact on the capillary network, reducing permeability and increasing thickness of the vascular wall. For these reasons, Ginkgo’s leaves and its extract are also used for peripheral circulation disorders such as varicose veins, cellulite and general water retention problems. Ginkgo’s extract is also universally known as a dietary supplement that increases mental capacities, thanks to the increase of blood circulation in the brain, which provides a greater supply of nutrients and speeds up waste disposal. 

Ginkgolide B is considered an effective antagonist to PF4 (Platelet Factor Four), and it’s essential for blood coagulation and for inflammatory processes. But the levels of Ginkgolide B in blood has to be under control if there is atherosclerosis, heart and vascular problems, because it might cause the formation and the rupture of thrombus and of the atherosclerotic plaques, increasing the risk of having serious cardiovascular accidents, such as heart attack and stroke.

PF4 is also an intermediary of bronchoconstriction, and this explains why Ginkgo Biloba it’s used to treat different asthmatic forms.


How exactly do we assume Ginkgo? 

 

 

Ginkgo biloba is commonly consumed orally as a leaf extract or, less often, as a seed extract. The dosage and length of treatment are determined by the problem being treated and can differ from patient to patient. 

In Western Countries, Ginkgo is sold in the form of standardized extracts (22% flavonoids and 5-7% turpentine derivatives) as drops, pills or tablets. The posologies are listed on the box, and for the types of extracts used in this examples, the dosage varies from 120-240 mg/day for a minimum usage of 8 weeks in case of chronics pathologies. 

Usually, Ginkgo Biloba formulations contain just leaf extract, which are mostly purified from ginkgolic acids, that can be allergenic and toxic.

Ginkgo Biloba leaf extract seems also beneficial for blood circulation and for the functioning of the brina, eyes and ears. 

Collateral effects to consider: 

Consuming the seeds or the fruits provokes allergic reactions and problems to the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems. Particularly, the seeds can cause serious food poisoning, including seizures, loss of consciousness and even death.

Due to rare and minor cases of side effects, and for its healthy benefits, Ginkgo Biloba products became successful worldwide. If taken according to the prescribed amounts, Ginkgo Biloba products are very safe, and they can cause minor side effects such as: 

  • Stomach ache
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Strong heartbeat
  • Allergic reactions on the skin

It is also considered safe for children if consumed for brief periods of time; however it can interfere with pregnancy.

Ginkgo Biloba leaf extracts is the only way to consume it, because other parts of the plant can provoke harmful effects and allergic reactions.

Before starting taking Ginkgo Biloba products we recommend to consult a doctor and to inform him:
- About allergies, including the ones to any drugs
- About any medicine that you are taking
- If you ever suffered from diabetes, convulsions and coagulation problems
- In case of pregnancy or breastfeeding, the use of Ginkgo Biloba is not recommended. 

 

 

It is also important to inform surgeons and dentists in case of consuming it, because it can interfere with coagulation and cause severe hemorrhage.
For this reasons, the consumption of Ginkgo Biloba products should be halted at least 2 weeks prior to a surgery. 


In Conclusion

This “elixir of long life” is a wonderful gift from Mother Nature, but has to be handled with good care, being an ancient type of plant. And when we speak about Ginkgo Biloba, it’s wise also to consider its side effects. 

However, we are dealing with an extraordinary natural element that survived natural and nuclear disaster (Hiroshima) and is connected with ancient religious ideas from oriental cultures, such as the correlation between the “bilobed” structure of the leaves, divided into 2 lobes, and the shape of human brain, Yin and Yang and the origins of masculine and feminine.

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