Is Gingko Biloba the magic cure for memory loss, or just another “wonder drug” that makes large claims with little backing? Can it be as simple as taking a pill once a day to enhance your memory and fight off Alzheimer’s disease?

Although research has been favorable in showing that Gingko Biloba improves memory in older people suffering from dementia or memory-related illnesses, there is no evidence to show it halts the onset of dementia, or will reverse it. It is, however, considered a “brain food” that, along with a healthy and balanced diet and exercise, can do much to stretch the life of anyone who follows these guidelines, or those who may develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

The supplement Gingko Biloba is derived from extract of the gingko Biloba tree. Its leaves contain two chemicals (flavonoids and terpenoids) that are believed be powerful antioxidants – nature’s warriors against free radicals. These antioxidants can help neutralize the damage done by free radicals, the destroyers that grow naturally in our bodies as we age. Air pollution, smoke and ultraviolet lights, increase the damage from free radicals, which have long been believed to contribute to health problems like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia.

The Gingko herb is one of the best selling of the natural herbs. Pharmacies around the world are selling Gingko Biloba as “memory” supplements and stating that studies indicate older people may be helped by the use of the herb, there isn’t any evidence that it helps to improve the memory of younger people.

A three-year study, conducted by the Department of Public Health and Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University in Corvallis, was not able to find a concrete answer to ascertain whether Ginkgo Biloba was of any value to memory.

In the controlled study, 118 people over the age of 85 received either a Ginkgo Biloba supplement or a placebo. Researchers were able to find that those given the actual supplement had a lower risk of developing mild memory problems than those who took the placebo. On the other side, however, the study also found that those taking the supplement had a higher incidence of mini strokes, so dangers and side effects of the herb have yet to be established. 

Out of the 118 people in the study, seven had strokes. Those seven people were taking the supplement. “Ginkgo has been reported to cause bleeding-related complications, but the strokes in this case were due to blood clots, not excessive bleeding, and were generally not severe,” said study author Hiroko Dodge, Ph.D.  Dodge also noted that this is the first randomized, controlled trial of prevention of dementia in people age 85 and older.

Later that year, a larger study was conducted in the United Kingdom involving 3,000 subjects. In this six-month study of elderly participants there was no evidence of any difference between those taking the ginkgo supplement or those taking the placebo in preventing memory loss or dementia.

Although Gingko Biloba does improve circulation of the blood, and has shown promise in the development of ways to inhibit dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, more studies need to be conducted to prove this theory.

This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion , memory training expert, and memory keynote speaker.



University of Maryland Medical Center:

American Academy of Neurology (2008, March 1). Does Gingko Biloba Affect Memory?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 25, 2010, from­ /releases/2008/02/080227164125.htm