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Herbal Spotlight: Ginkgo Biloba

By Dr. Neil

Ginkgo Biloba is an herbal supplement that comes from the maidenhair tree - a tree that is considered to be one of the oldest tree species on the planet and even called a "living fossil". Naturally, the tree and its leaves have been used for generations for a variety of medicinal purposes and was first used and studied in ancient China. IN China, was thought to increase sexual libido as well as cognitive function.   So what's the truth and what does the literature suggest?

Well the literature suggests that ginkgo biloba has one extract - EGb 761 - that has been studied extensively in the treatment of Alzheimers dementia. That extract, according to a well conducted double-blind trial, was found effective in improving cognitive and social behavior in study participants[1]. That study was also followed up by a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) - one of the most respected journals in the world - suggesting that EGb 761/Ginkgo is both safe and effective in improving cognitive function. Both studies are dated, and all studies have problems - but they both show promise and safety[2].

The ancient Chinese suggested benefit in both cognitive function and potential erectile dysfunction. And progress on the human side? The literature is certainly limited - but one study showed promise in mice. The study, done in 2015, in the journal of Urology, suggested that in mice who had penile nerve damage, administration of ginkgo biloba, improved neuronal function and lead to increased erectile stimulation[3]! As a physician, I recognize that one study done on mice has minimal (if any) generalizability to human function - but the pragmatist in me knows that if it was shown to be safe - what's the harm?

Another potential benefit of ginkgo biloba has been found within it's function as an anxiolytic. A double blind, placebo-controlled trial found that when giving ginkgo biloba extract to patients with mental decline and underlying general anxiety disorder, there was a statistically significant reduction in anxiety when compared to the placebo. It was only one trial, and it was unfortunately limited to only 107 patients, but the promise was there[4].

So quickly going through current literature, there certainly seems to be some benefit with ginkgo biloba. It's been found effective in treating cognitive decline, anxiety, and potentially erectile dysfunction. Will it heal everything? Probably not. But, is there promise and safety? Definitely. Ginkgo biloba gets my seal of approval and I'll be keeping my ginkgo biloba on my favorite herbal list.


[1] Kanowski. S, Herrmann, WM. "Proof of efficacy of the ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in outpatients suffering from mild to moderate primary degenerative dementia or multi-infarct dementia". Pharmacopyschiatry, 1996 Mar; 29(2)

[2] Le Bars PL, Katz MM, Berman N, Itil TM, Freedman AM, Schatzberg AF. "A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia. North American EGb Study Group." JAMA. 1997 Oct 22-29;278(16):1327-32. Accessed October 19th 201

[3] Wu YN, Liao CH. "Effect of Ginkgo Biloba Extract on Recovery of Erectile Dysfunction in Bilateral Cavernous Nerve Injury Rat Model". Urology. 2015, March 12.

[4] Woelk H, Arnoldt KH, Kieser M, Hoerr R. "Ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder with anxious mood: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial." Psychiatr Res. 2007 Sep;41(6):472-80. Epub 2006 Jun 30. Accessed October 19th 2013.