Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Ginkgo Biloba Bad For You?

Also Known As: Maidenhair, Ginkgo



Short answer

Ginkgo Biloba supplements may offer some cognitive and circulatory benefits, but their effectiveness is inconsistent and not clearly superior to placebos. While possibly beneficial for certain ailments, Ginkgo can cause serious side effects, such as bleeding and gastrointestinal issues, and interact with medications. Studies suggest the risk of bleeding is particularly concerning when combined with blood thinners. Allergies and toxins pose risks, especially with Ginkgo seeds. Safe consumption requires precise dosages, typically 120-240 mg divided into daily doses, and consideration of individual health factors.



Long answer

Efficacy of Ginkgo Biloba: Benefits vs. Placebo

The debate around the efficacy of Ginkgo Biloba is one steeped in controversy, with numerous studies delivering conflicting results. To cut through the noise, let's examine the reported benefits of Ginkgo Biloba against placebo-controlled trials, the gold standard for supplement efficacy research.

Memory Enhancement: Supporters of Ginkgo Biloba claim that it can sharpen memory. The Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory (GEM) study, a large trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, noted no significant difference between Ginkgo Biloba and a placebo on all measures of cognitive function in older adults with normal cognition or with mild cognitive impairment.

Cognitive Function in Dementia: In terms of dementia, specifically Alzheimer's disease, some studies have suggested a modest effect of Ginkgo Biloba on cognitive function. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews highlighted that while there were some reported benefits in cognitive function with Ginkgo Biloba compared to placebo, they were often inconsistent and unreliable.

Circulatory Health and Claudication: People believe Ginkgo improves blood flow, potentially benefiting those with claudication—pain caused by too little blood flow during exercise. However, a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Ginkgo did not improve outcomes in patients with claudication any more than a placebo did.

Anxiety and Depression: Studies on Ginkgo Biloba's effects on anxiety and depression deliver mixed results. A review published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research did find Ginkgo to be more effective than a placebo for treating generalized anxiety disorder. Still, it's worth noting that this study had industry funding, which may sway results.

Eye Health: Ginkgo is also touted for its antioxidant properties and its potential to combat age-related eye diseases. Nonetheless, the evidence here is thin. A study in Journal of Ophthalmology comparing Ginkgo Biloba to a placebo saw no significant improvements in patients with age-related macular degeneration.

Tinnitus: Many sufferers of tinnitus turn to Ginkgo Biloba, but research consistently shows that it's no more effective than a placebo. A systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that the ingredient does not alleviate the condition.

Overall, it's critical to scrutinize the extant literature thoroughly and consider the size and quality of each study, as well as potential conflicts of interest. Many studies with positive results for Ginkgo Biloba have ties to the industry, whereas independent research tends to be less favorable or inconclusive. The inconsistencies in findings point towards the need for larger, more standardized studies to conclusively determine the efficacy of Ginkgo Biloba compared with a placebo.

Potential Side Effects and Interactions with Medications

Ginkgo Biloba, a popular supplement derived from one of the oldest species of trees, is often touted for its potential benefits for brain health and circulation. However, as a discerning examiner of supplement evidence, it is crucial to note that this ancient remedy may also bring along a litany of side effects and interactions with medications that cannot be overlooked.

Reported Side Effects

While many individuals consume Ginkgo Biloba without reporting adverse effects, some experience a range of side effects that can range from mild to serious. Here's a breakdown of the potential risks:

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort: Nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pains are among the most common complaints associated with Ginkgo intake.
  • Headaches and dizziness: These neurological symptoms may be related to Ginkgo's effects on blood circulation and neurotransmitter processes.
  • Allergic reactions: Rashes, itching, and severe allergic reactions can occur, especially in those sensitive to plants containing alkylphenols.
  • Bleeding: Perhaps the most serious potential side effect is an increased risk of bleeding. Ginkgo has anti-platelet properties, which can exacerbate clotting disorders or interfere with blood thinning medications.

Interactions with Medicines

If you're on medication, introducing Ginkgo Biloba into your routine could potentially throw a wrench in your treatment plan. Scrutinize these known interactions:

Medication Type Interaction Concern
Anticoagulants and Anti-platelet drugs Increased risk of bleeding when combined with drugs like warfarin, aspirin, or clopidogrel.
Anticonvulsants Ginkgo may reduce the effectiveness of drugs used for seizure control.
Antidepressants (SSRIs and MAOIs) May lead to serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition when combined with certain antidepressants.
Diabetes Medications Ginkgo could potentially alter blood sugar levels, necessitating a closer monitoring.
CYP2C19 Substrates Ginkgo can affect enzymes that metabolize certain medications, potentially altering their effectiveness.

Moreover, the aforementioned interactions aren't exhaustive, and the intricate nuances of each individual's health condition further complicate the landscape. It's paramount for consumers to consult with a healthcare provider before incorporating Ginkgo Biloba into their regimen, particularly if they are on any medications or have pre-existing health concerns.

Scientific Evidence and Expert Opinions

To reinforce these observations, let's pivot our attention to the research and expert consensus:

  • A systematic review published in Human Psychopharmacology highlighted the need for caution due to reported cases of bleeding related to Ginkgo usage.
  • The Journal of General Internal Medicine published research signaling significant interactions between Ginkgo and anticoagulants/anti-platelets.
  • The consensus among experts, including those from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), recommend against Ginkgo for individuals on blood thinners or those with epilepsy without professional guidance.

In sum, while the allure of Ginkgo Biloba's benefits may be tempting, the potential side effects and medication interactions present a caveat that necessitates a very deliberate and informed approach to its use. Always prefer safety and consult with a medical specialist before proceeding with supplementation, particularly if you have an existing medical condition or take other medications.

Ginkgo Biloba and the Risk of Bleeding

The issue of whether Ginkgo Biloba increases the risk of bleeding is a potent topic surrounded by conflicting evidence and clinical interest. Ginkgo Biloba, revered for its variety of purported health benefits, contains active compounds known as terpenoids and flavonoids, which have been linked to blood-thinning effects. This section dives deep into the scientific research examining this relationship and its implications for consumers.

Firstly, several studies have suggested that Ginkgo Biloba may enhance blood circulation by causing vasodilation and reducing blood viscosity. This is where the supplement's potential to affect bleeding comes into play. The blood-thinning properties of Ginkgo Biloba, while beneficial for certain conditions like peripheral artery disease, come with the caveat of possible increased bleeding—especially if taken in conjunction with other blood thinners.

For example, one study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry demonstrated that Ginkgo Biloba could lead to an increased risk of intracranial hemorrhage. Another study, highlighted by the American Family Physician, also raised concerns about the supplement's bleeding risk, particularly when used concurrently with anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin or antiplatelet drugs like aspirin.

Individuals who are at greater risk for bleeding events—such as those with bleeding disorders, scheduled for surgery, or facing gastrointestinal ulcerations—should be particularly wary of Ginkgo Biloba supplements. The natural anticoagulant properties of Ginkgo can exacerbate their conditions or lead to complications during surgical procedures due to an increased risk of hemorrhage.

Adding to the complexity, a meta-analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association scrutinized several trials and found no significant effect of Ginkgo Biloba on the overall risk of bleeding. Thus, while some sources signal a red flag, others seem to downplay the risk, leaving us in a murky scientific predicament.

Given this inconclusive backdrop, it is prudent for consumers to exercise caution with Ginkgo Biloba supplementation—particularly those with a known predisposition to bleeding or those on medications that affect coagulation. It is essential to consult healthcare providers before starting or continuing the use of Ginkgo Biloba if any risk factors are present.

In conclusion for this section, while the evidence about Ginkgo Biloba's bleeding risk remains conflicting, the potential for increased bleeding cannot be dismissed lightly. Hence, users must approach this supplement with a critical eye and a well-informed mindset, prioritizing safety by engaging in dialogue with healthcare professionals.

Allergic Reactions and Toxins Found in Ginkgo Seeds

When analyzing the potential risks of Ginkgo Biloba, a critical area that often goes overlooked is the distinction between the leaves and the seeds of the plant. The leaves, often used in extracts for their purported cognitive benefits, must not be conflated with the seeds, which harbor their own set of concerns. Let's dissect the risks associated with Ginkgo seeds, invigorating our knowledge with cold, hard facts.

First and foremost, there's a substantial risk of allergic reactions. Individuals with a history of allergies to poison ivy, mango rind, or cashew shell oil may find themselves more susceptible to Ginkgo seed allergies. Those curious enough to experiment with Ginkgo seeds must heed the warning signs of an allergic reaction:

  • Hives or skin rash
  • Itching
  • Swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
  • Difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest
  • Dizziness or a rapid heartbeat

Beyond allergies, there is the unequivocal concern regarding toxins within Ginkgo seeds—specifically ginkgotoxin (also known as 4'-O-methylpyridoxine). This devious compound has the capability to induce convulsions and, in high doses, can lead to what's known as 'Ginkgo seed poisoning.' Symptoms of poisoning include:

  • Convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing

A study published in Epilepsy Research has substantiated that ginkgotoxin interferes with the production of vitamin B6, an essential nutrient in the body’s neurological functionality. These daunting findings amplify the significance of exercising caution with Ginkgo seeds, particularly if they're uncooked or consumed in large quantities.

Another troubling aspect lies in the method of preparation. Traditional Eastern medicinal practices sometimes include Ginkgo seeds despite their inherent dangers. It is distinctly paramount to understand the chemical transformation the seeds undergo during preparation. Roasting or cooking may reduce ginkgotoxin levels but may not eliminate them entirely. Thus, even 'safe' preparation methods do not guarantee the negation of risk.

Let's grant our analytical minds the privilege of robust data. Consider the following table which encapsulates the viable concerns:

Risk Description Preventive Measures
Allergic reactions Potential allergens in the seeds can trigger severe responses in susceptible individuals. Individuals with known allergies should avoid Ginkgo seeds entirely.
Ginkgotoxin A neurotoxin that can induce seizures and interfere with vitamin B6 functionality. Limited intake and proper cooking may reduce but not erase the risks. Abstain from consuming high quantities.

In summation, while the leaves of Ginkgo Biloba can be processed and utilized responsibly to potentially reap certain health benefits, the seeds reside in a different, more perilous category. The threats are real, and the consequences of negligence can be dire. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to navigate the realm of Ginkgo seeds with informed caution, never disregarding the gravity of allergic reactions and the presence of potent neurotoxins within these unassuming seeds.

Dosage Safety: Finding the Right Balance

The quest to benefit from Ginkgo Biloba without falling prey to potential side effects hinges on finding the right dosage. Too little, and you may not reap the desired effects; too much, and you risk adverse reactions. Let's explore what research suggests about the dosing of Ginkgo Biloba to ensure safe and effective use.

It's crucial to understand that supplements like Ginkgo Biloba are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the same rigor as prescription medications. Therefore, there's often a lack of standardization in dosages and formulations. This means that recommendations can vary widely between different sources and products.

Adults commonly take between 120 milligrams to 240 milligrams of Ginkgo Biloba extract per day, divided into two or three doses. Such dosages are common in the research literature investigating the cognitive and circulatory benefits of Ginkgo. But here is where specificity matters. Most studies utilize a standardized extract of Ginkgo, known as EGb 761, which contains 24% flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones. These specific concentrations of active compounds are integral to the efficacy reported in studies.

However, higher doses don't necessarily equate to greater benefits and can indeed lead to complications. Adverse effects like headache, dizziness, and gastrointestinal discomfort have been observed in trials with participants taking high doses of the herb. Certain populations, such as elderly individuals or those with liver or kidney disease, may require lower doses due to alterations in drug metabolism and clearance.

The context of consumption also influences the safe dosage of Ginkgo Biloba. For instance, when used in conjunction with anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications, even standard doses could amplify the risk of bleeding. Concomitant use with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can also heighten the risk of serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition.

Individual differences in metabolism play a role in dosage safety as well. Pharmacogenomics studies illustrate that genetic variables can affect how individuals absorb, distribute, metabolize, and excrete Ginkgo Biloba, prompting the need for personalized dosing strategies rather than blanket recommendations.

Recent data parsing through the veil of anecdotal claims continues to refine dosage guidelines. A meta-analysis published in 2019 concluded that while Ginkgo Biloba does appear to have several benefits, they are dose-dependent and present a bell-curve response, meaning there is a point at which increased dosage does not equate to increased efficacy and may instead tip the scales towards toxicity.

Additionally, long-term use studies are still limited. The available findings suggest that Ginkgo is likely safe when used in recommended amounts for up to six months. Beyond that, the data is murky, and potential for chronic adverse effects, such as increased risk of bleeding or liver toxicity, cannot be ruled out.

Given the lack of universal standards, a cautious approach to Ginkgo Biloba supplementation is warranted. Starting with a lower dose and gradually increasing while monitoring for adverse reactions is sensible. It's imperative for users to consult with healthcare professionals to establish a tailored dosing regimen, taking into account their overall health status, existing medications, and specific health goals.

Ultimately, the 'right balance' is a careful calibration, individualized and evidence-based, rather than a one-size-fits-all number plucked from generic guidelines. An informed user is the best-armed, capable of harnessing the positives of Ginkgo Biloba while steering clear of its potential pitfalls.

Frequently asked questions

Ginkgo Biloba's active compounds are specifically concentrated in the leaf extract, which is not found in typical dietary sources. While Ginkgo trees produce seeds that are occasionally used in certain Asian dishes, these seeds contain different compounds and have different effects (and risks) than the leaf extract used in supplements. Therefore, if you're seeking the purported health benefits associated with Ginkgo Biloba supplements, dietary sources are not a viable option, and supplementation is the primary method of obtaining it.

Ginkgo Biloba can generally be taken alongside a multivitamin, provided there are no specific contraindications or overlapping ingredients that increase the risk of adverse effects. For instance, a multivitamin may contain other blood-thinning agents like Vitamin E, which in combination with Ginkgo could increase bleeding risk. Always check the ingredients and consult a healthcare professional before combining supplements.

The onset of effects from Ginkgo Biloba can vary greatly depending on the health condition being targeted, the dosage, and the individual's response to the supplement. Some clinical trials suggest initial improvements in cognitive function and circulatory health may be noticed within 4-6 weeks. These effects are not permanent and will likely diminish once supplementation is discontinued. Consistency and following a prescribed regimen are key to maintaining any potential benefits.

Research focused on Ginkgo Biloba's benefits primarily targets older adults, particularly in the context of cognitive decline, dementia, and circulatory issues. While there's less evidence about its efficacy in younger populations, the antioxidant and circulatory potential of Ginkgo may offer theoretical benefits. However, any positive effects in youths are insufficiently studied and therefore, any claims of benefit remain speculative. It's crucial for all age groups to weigh the potential risks versus benefits and consult a healthcare provider when considering Ginkgo supplementation.

Ask a question about Ginkgo Biloba and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • stomach pain
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • allergic reactions
  • increased risk of bleeding

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of bleeding
  • liver toxicity

Ingredients to be aware of

  • alkylphenols
  • ginkgotoxin


  • may enhance cognitive function
  • could improve circulatory health
  • potential anxiolytic effects

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 01-06-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 01-06-2024

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