The effects of ginkgo extract on dementia

More than half of the elderly with dementia are over age 80 in high-income countries. Alzheimer’s — a purportedly incurable disease starting with mild memory loss and ending with severe brain damage and death — is the most common form of dementia. Indeed, progress for treating such conditions has not had much haste. Perhaps something is hiding within the alternatives — some formula or combination that may change a dreary caterpillar into a fluttering  butterfly. Antioxidants, Asian ginseng, cat’s claw, ginkgo, and grape seed extract have all been proposed as alternatives for treating Alzheimers and dementia. Let us, for example, focus on the extract from the ginkgo biloba leaf from the ginkgo tree — a unique plant species widely known and particularly respected both for its use in traditional medicine and for its symbolism in China, Korea, and Japan.

In addition to its explored potential effects such as improved blood flow, prevention of oxidative cell damage from free radicals (i.e. “aging”), and prevention of platelet aggregation and blood clotting, ginkgo has been purported to act with nootropic, or memory enhancing, properties. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted by the National Institute on Aging and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), of the National Institutes of Health, USA, found some promising results for ginkgo extract as treatment for dementia. Ginkgo biloba extract in this study was able to show an indication of reduced risk of progression of dementia and a smaller decline in memory when compared to the placebo group. It followed 118 volunteers age 85 or older who used 80 mg of ginkgo extract three times per day over a time period of 42 months.

To conclude, ginkgo extract has large potential for treating dementia, but an evidence base just as large is required. Broad clinical trials must commence to address the effectiveness of this treatment.

References

NCCAM (2012) Alzheimer’s disease and CAM. Retrieved May 9th, 2012, from: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/alzheimers.htm

NCCAM (2012) Pilot study provides new insight on effect of ginkgo extract on dementia in the elderly. Retrieved May 9th, 2012, from: http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/022608.htm

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About Adrian Levitsky

Adrian is a Research Technician and Doctoral Student at Karolinska Institutet's ClinTRID department for Inflammatory (Autoimmune) Disease research. He is a blogger for the Silverevolution initiative by ACCESS Health International. He defended his Masters thesis in Global Health at Karolinska and worked together with the CAMbrella project's Swedish team (http://www.cambrella.eu/home.php) in analyzing global key stakeholders of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Traditional Medicine (TM). He has an avid interest in research. Particularly, he wishes to research CAM/TM and promulgate an evidence base for the potential effectiveness of integrative care -- as this communication still is lacking globally. Adrian has a background starting as a pilot at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which later evolved to studying Human Factors Psychology with a drive to understand how man and machine work together. This field often focuses heavily on research and involves testing available theories or finding new solutions to prevent work-related injuries, reduce stress, and emphasize usability/ergonomics. Teaching English in South Korea made him realize the need for innovation and imagination for all school curricula in order to solve today’s dilemmas.

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