The famous herbal plant the ginkgo biloba L. or the gingko tree is the only extant member of the Ginkgoaceae family of plants, which used to contain many other species - that are all extinct now. The gingko herb existed in the Chinese mainland for more than 200 million years; it has a long historical and traditional use as an herbal remedy in the Chinese system of medication. Europeans were first introduced to the ginkgo plant in the year 1730. In the west, the gingko attained its fame as a popular ornamental tree in parks and gardens, where it is still used in this role in cultivated gardens all around the world. The gingko is a rather hardy plant and its hardiness such that wild populations of the plant are even seen along heavily trafficked streets in some major cities of the American continent. Since at least 2800 B.C., the Chinese have valued the fleshy seeds of the gingko for their medicinal properties; traditional Chinese medication used the seeds in many remedies for a wide variety of conditions. The plant can be considered a living fossil as it belongs to an ancient family of plants, this extant fossil plant has gained a reputation in western medicine during the past forty years - remedies made from the leaves of the gingko are gaining recognition in the west. The gingko is mostly taken in a highly processed form, contrary to the way the majority of herbs are used today, ginkgo leaves are almost always used in the form of a concentrated and standardized ginkgo biloba extract or GBE in short - the fresh leaves are almost never used. Europeans have popularized the use of this standardized gingko extract in treating circulatory system related disorders. The beneficial effects of the gingko gauged by the fact that physicians in Germany, in the year 1988, prescribed approximately 5.4 million prescriptions for GBE to patients - this number is higher than the prescription for any other medication. Germany has also permitted the sale of GBE as an over the counter or OTC medication in drug stores around the country.
In countries such as the United States, France, Japan and South Korea where the gingko is cultivated in plantations, the GBE is manufactured from green freshly plucked leaves - the cultivated plants are specifically developed and grown for such pharmaceutical purposes and differ from wild gingko. GBE is extracted from the harvested leaves, using an acetone water mixture under a partial vacuum, following initial drying and milling of the leaves. The extract is then processed, subjected to drying and then standardized following the removal of the organic solvent. Standardization involves, the adjustment of the GBE to a potency of twenty four percent of the flavonoids - these compounds are mainly the flavonoid glycosides and the compound quercetin, standardization is also to six percent of the terpenes - the terpene compounds present in gingko are formed primarily of a peculiar group of diterpenes called the ginkgolides, these are compounds made from 2.9 percent bilobalide and 3.1 percent ginkgolides A, B, C, and J in their molecular structure. Other chemical constituents such as the ginkgolic acid, which is an allergen, are removed in the course of the extraction process during manufacture. Gingko products are commonly marketed in both the solid and liquid forms, about 40 mg of the herbal extract can be found in each tablet or capsule commonly available in the market.
The impressive effects of the GBE in treating patients, especially geriatric patients has been recorded and can be found in a vast body of clinical literature from studies attesting to the power of GBE - the extract is particularly effective against ailments in the body connected to a decrease in the cerebral blood circulation of patients. GBE has been proven to be effective against physical conditions such as short term memory loss, persistent headache and tinnitus, and in treating long term depression, and other related psychological disorders. The ability of the GBE to promote and enhance the rate of vasodilation as well as the speed of blood flow in the arteries and capillaries is attested by the results of many clinical and pharmacological studies conducted under rigorous clinical conditions. GBE is also believed to a potent scavenger of free radicals in the body of patients from the studies varied out in the laboratory. For this role, GBE needs to be given in large doses; this is the main reason for the use of the concentrated extract on patients, as the fresh herb may not guarantee similar results. Patients already on anti-coagulant medication need to be concerned about the ability of the GBE to reduce the clotting time of blood. Some other physical side effects from the use of the GBE are also seen, especially when the extract is used in very large doses, patients have been affected by long lasting bouts of restlessness, by disorders like diarrhea, and have reported nausea, vomiting, and various equally discomfiting secondary effects at high doses - these side effects on the whole are rather mild compared to the effects of some other extracts. At any rate, the presence of any of these side effects in the patient must be followed by the complete cessation of the dosage or the lowering of average daily intake dose.
Among all the well known botanical medicines in Europe and America, the ginkgo biloba herb takes the top spot, though the level of importance given to this herb by the traditional Chinese healers is astounding. The gingko herb has seen continuous use as an herbal medication for centuries in China, it was historically used in the treatment of asthma and physical problems such as cold injury of the fingers and the toes - this herb was also given as an aid to memory, known widely in China as a memory boosting plant. Patients affected by indigestion and intoxication were traditionally treated both in ancient cultures of China and Japan using the roasted gingko biloba seeds. These traditionally skills and the knowledge of how to obtain the seeds for roasting was developed over a period of time, as the foul smelling gingko fruit smells can cause a very nasty rash on the body of patients. Most of the present day gingko based herbal formulations are made from the extract of the leaves, which have been plucked specifically in the fall season - a time when the active ingredients in the herb are concentrated to the highest degree in the leaves of the plant. A complex and varied mixture of chemical compounds is found in the leaves of the ginkgo, this immense variety of chemicals is similar to what is seen in most other plant products. Gingko leaves contain at the least forty varieties of the class of compounds called flavonoids, also identified along with the flavonols are compounds like the quercitin and kaempferol at significant concentrations. Flavonol glycosides in the standardized leaf extracts of the gingko are at 22 and 27 percent of the total chemical constituents. A German and French consortium extensively studied the standardized 24 percent flavonol glycosides found in the extract - the knowledge about this class of compounds was obtained from these results. Gingko standardized extract also contains many terpene compounds, which have been called bilobalide and ginkgolides A, B, C, J, and M, with the most active being the compound called ginkgolide B. Such terpene lactones can be found to make up six to seven percent of the standardized gingko extract.
The ginkgo is often called a living fossil as it is one of the oldest living species of tree on the planet; it has survived in more or less the same form for over two hundred million years. The tree is very hardy and lives for a very long time, for example, gingko trees can survive for over millennia, and are believed to impart some of this longevity to the humans who make use of them. Gingko leaf extract beneficially affects the arteries, the capillaries, the veins as well as the heart and thereby slow down the aging process affecting the circulatory system in the human body. As blood flow to the brain via the arterial system is promoted by gingko, the herb is often used in alleviating problems such as vertigo, ringing in the ears or tinnitus, and it is also used to treat short term memory loss, as well as headaches and depression, along with poor concentration and many other types of disorders related to the aging process. Neural transmission in the brain is also known to be improved by ginkgo and for this reason the herb is thought to be a good natural remedy in the treatment of degenerative senility which affects the elderly. The circulatory system throughout the body is also promoted and enhanced by the ginkgo, and elderly people affected by cold in the extremities are particularly benefited by treatment with the herb. The free radical scavenging role of the ginkgo is also well known, and the herb retards accidental blood clotting while being a powerful antioxidant, for this reason it is considered to be an excellent herbal medicine for the treatment of problems such as arteriosclerosis, problems like high blood pressure, as well as angina and remedies based on gingko are often given to prevent the occurrence of strokes as well as heart attacks in susceptible people. Visual acuity is also improved and enhanced by the ginkgo, the herb is often given to promote hearing in deaf people, it is used to balance the mood of psychologically affected individuals, it is used in the treatment of varicose veins, as well as in the treatment of all types of ulcers and hemorrhoids affecting different individuals. The external and topical treatment of condition such as painful hemorrhoids, all sorts of varicose vein problems and different types of ulcers can be treated using gingko based herbal ointments. The Chinese system of medicine makes use of the gingko seeds - Bai gou as a remedy for the treatment of conditions such as asthma and hacking coughs that arrive with the persistent production of heavy phlegm. The seed remedy is also used in the treatment of excessive urination and incontinence as well as a major herbal tonic for the treatment of the kidneys and the urinary bladder.
Excessive phlegm is often reduced by taking preparations made from the seeds of the gingko; these remedies are also used in gaining relief from wheezing. The gingko seed remedies are also used in the treatment of problematic vaginal discharge in women, in the treatment of a weakened bladder, and in the treatment of urinary incontinence affecting patients. The gingko leaves were also used in the treatment of asthma in many traditional medical systems.
The ability of the gingko herb to promote the circulatory system was the main reason for the rise in interest of the Western medical with respect to the ginkgo. Indeed, the remarkable property of the leaves of the gingko to bring about improvement in the circulation, particularly of improving impaired circulation to the brain is an area of focus in the west. At the same time, the gingko's anti-allergenic and potent anti-inflammatory actions are also consistently studied, as this property of the herbal remedy is of special value to the treatment of asthma in patients. These days, among all herbal formulas, preparations of the ginkgo remain the best selling herbal medications in countries like France and Germany among European nations, in fact, there are millions of people, middle age onward who use gingko medications to maintain and improve the cerebral circulation, gingko is also used to boost lagging memory and as a herbal preventative to lessen the possibility of a stroke in old age. As a single cure herb for the treatment of senile dementia, the ginkgo herb is considered to be one of the most useful and effective herbs by many herbalist.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
At this time gingko is grown as a plantation crop in many parts of China, France and South Carolina. The gingko herb is native to China and perhaps also grows in the wild in the Japanese islands. Full grown and mature gingko plants tend to be characterized by the green to yellow fan-shaped leaves which these bear, these leaves are marked by prominent radiating veins, the gingko herb also produces round fruits each of which are an inch - three cm across in width and contain a single seed in the middle. Wherever it is grown, the fruit and leaves of the gingko are harvested during the autumn and subjected to further processing or storage.
The importance and effectiveness of the gingko herb in improving and promoting the impaired cerebral circulation in affected patients has been established thorough very thorough and extensive clinical research since the 1960s. These tests have also confirmed the ability of the herb in aiding the functioning of the memory and in promoting concentration, at the same time; the herb is also known to be effective in curing cases of dementia affecting different patients.
There is promising scientific speculation that conditions such as autoimmune problems, diseases like multiple sclerosis, and organ transplants will be treatable using the gingko herb in the future as the anti-inflammatory properties of the herb are furthered investigated.
Indeed, a new branch in the study of human physiology has been opened due to the results from research into the ginkgo herb. For example, a chemical called the platelet activating factor (PAF), which is a proteinaceous substance released by a wide range of blood cells is often inhibited by the gingko herb. The chances of blood clots in the body is increased by the PAF as it makes blood stickier when released in excess, the PAF is also needed for various inflammatory and allergenic reactions to occur in the bloodstream - gingko can greatly inhibit the action of this chemical and thereby inhibit unnecessary and potentially damaging blood clots.
The normal dosage of 120-160 mg of GBE, which has been standardized to have 6% terpene lactones and about 24% flavone glycosides, is taken by the vast majority of patients; this dose is usually taken two to three times a day. For the treatment of problems such as cerebrovascular insufficiency, mental confusion and memory loss, as well as resistant depression, this dosage can be increased to 240 mg per day. Before the first desirable and beneficial effects are noticed in the patient, at least six to eight weeks may have passed. Daily doses of the ginkgo in tincture form at doses of 0.5 ml thrice daily is also used by some patients.
Side effects and cautions
The benefits of the ginkgo biloba extract lies in the absence of any severe side effects aside from its other properties. While some minor side effects are induced by GBE, these are only in the nature of very mild headaches that may last for a day or two on initial dosage, some people also complain of a mild stomach ache - both these effects affect a very minute percentage of patients on GBE at any one time, and the vast majority do not feel any side effects at all. The benefit of using GBE is further shown by the absence of contra indications for its potential use along with pregnant and lactating women patients. While GBE can be used in the treatment of most circulatory problems, one must bear in mind that a serious disease may be the cause of circulatory conditions in the elderly - such patients need to be thoroughly examined by competent physicians. In all cases self-prescribing GBE should only be done following careful medical check up to rule out any serious disease in the body.
How it works in the body
The main chemical role of the ginkgolides present in the herb, particularly the B form, is as an antagonist to the platelet activating factor (PAF) in the blood stream. Both inflammatory reactions as well as allergic reactions involve the presence of PAF; this is true particularly in the case of asthma. Circulation to the brain is promoted by the flavonoid portion present in the herb.