• By Dana Sparks

Home Remedies: Can ginkgo biloba prevent memory loss?

November 7, 2018

a branch of a ginkgo tree with bright green leaves in the sunlight

Ginkgo biloba extract, derived from the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree, is often touted as a memory aid. But it appears unlikely that Ginkgo biloba extract can slow or prevent age-related memory problems, or memory loss associated with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease.

Several small, early studies showed modest improvements in cognitive function for older adults with dementia. However, a number of larger studies haven't confirmed that Ginkgo biloba extract prevents memory loss or slows the progression of cognitive decline or Alzheimer's disease in older adults. In adults with normal cognition or mild cognitive impairment, Ginkgo biloba does not slow cognitive decline.

Although some studies have shown slight improvements in cognitive function for people taking Ginkgo biloba, most experts feel that Ginkgo biloba hasn't lived up to its early promise and don't recommend its use as a memory aid.

Learn more about Ginkgo:

While ginkgo appears to be safe in moderate amounts, research doesn't support use of the supplement to prevent or slow dementia or cognitive decline. When used orally in moderate amounts, ginkgo appears to be safe for most healthy adults.

Ginkgo can cause:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Upset stomach
  • Constipation
  • Allergic skin reactions

Don't eat raw or roasted ginkgo seeds, which can be poisonous.

If you are epileptic or prone to seizures, avoid ginkgo. Large amounts of ginkgotoxin can cause seizures. Ginkgotoxin is found in ginkgo seeds and, to a lesser extent, ginkgo leaves.

If you are older, have a bleeding disorder or are pregnant, don't take ginkgo. The supplement might increase your risk of bleeding. If you're planning to have surgery, stop taking ginkgo two weeks beforehand.

Ginkgo might interfere with the management of diabetes. If you take ginkgo and have diabetes, closely monitor your blood sugar levels.

Some research has shown that rodents given ginkgo had an increased risk of developing liver and thyroid cancers.

Possible interactions include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax).
    Taking ginkgo with this drug used to relieve symptoms of anxiety might reduce the drug's effectiveness.
  • Anticoagulants and anti-platelet drugs, herbs and supplements.
    These types of drugs, herbs and supplements reduce blood clotting. Taking ginkgo with them might increase your risk of bleeding.
  • Anticonvulsants and seizure threshold lowering drugs, herbs and supplements.
    Large amounts of ginkgotoxin can cause seizures. Ginkgotoxin is found in ginkgo seeds and, to a lesser extent, ginkgo leaves. It's possible that taking ginkgo could reduce the effectiveness of an anticonvulsant drug.
  • Antidepressants.
    Taking ginkgo with certain antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem) and imipramine (Tofranil), might decrease their effectiveness.
  • Certain statins.
    Taking ginkgo with simvastatin (Zocor) might reduce the drug's effects. Ginkgo also appears to reduce the effects of atorvastatin (Lipitor).
  • Diabetes drugs.
    Ginkgo might alter your response to these drugs.
  • Ibuprofen.
    It's possible that combining ginkgo with ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) might increase your risk of bleeding.

This article is written by Dr. Jonathan Graff-Radford and Mayo Clinic staff. Find more health and medical information on mayoclinic.org.

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