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By Melissa G. Marko, PhD, Ara DerMarderosian, PhD

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Ginkgo ( Ginkgo biloba) is prepared from leaves of the ginkgo tree (commonly planted in the US for ornamental purposes and botanically unique as it is the only surviving member of its family). Active ingredients are believed to be terpene ginkgolides and flavonoids.

The fruit of the gingko tree, which is quite malodorous, is not used in ginkgo products. Contact with the fruit pulp, which may be present under female ginkgo trees, can cause severe skin inflammation (dermatitis). The raw seeds of the fruit are toxic and can cause seizures and, in large amounts, death. Cooked ginkgo seeds are eaten in Asia and are available in Asian food shops in the US; because the seeds do not contain ginkgolides and flavonoids, they do not have known therapeutic effects.


Ginkgo leaf products are used for minor symptomatic relief of claudication, although exercise and cilostazol may be more effective. Gingko increases the distance that affected people can walk without pain.

Ginkgo has long been used in people with dementia. Gingko has also been used to alleviate memory loss, tinnitus, age-related macular degeneration, and altitude sickness. Gingko may prevent damage to the kidneys caused by the immunosuppressant cyclosporine.


Ginkgo is thought to be a vasoactive agent. Although patients with intermittent claudication may be able to walk longer than placebo-treated patients, this benefit is quite minor according to a 2013 Cochrane review. This review looked at 14 trials with a total of 739 participants, of which 11 trials (477 participants) compared Ginkgo biloba to placebo (1).

Early studies indicated that ginkgo temporarily stabilized mental and social function in people with mild-to-moderate dementia. However, recent large clinical trials showed that ginkgo supplementation (EGb 761) did not delay the development and progression of dementia and Alzheimer disease in older people (2-4). It is obvious that further studies are warranted with regard to the clinical use of this supplement for dementia.

A 2013 Cochrane review (5) of 2 studies suggested a potential role for ginkgo in slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. A standard ginkgo extract compared to placebo was used in both studies, in which 119 people took the supplement for 6 mo. Future large-scale trials for longer periods of time are warranted before claims are supported.

A few small clinical trials suggest ginkgo may help relieve tinnitus (6) and prevent altitude sickness in some patients (7-8); however, the effects are somewhat inconsistent and the source and composition of ginkgo extract may determine efficacy.

Adverse effects

Nausea, dyspepsia, headache, dizziness, and heart palpitations may occur.

Drug interactions

Ginkgo may interact with aspirin, other NSAIDs, and warfarin; it also may reduce the efficacy of anticonvulsants.

Ginkgo references

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

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