Ginkgo biloba is regarded as a 'living fossil' for being the last living species of the family Ginkgoaceae, and the genus Ginkgo. It is also known as the Maidenhair tree. It has been used for a long time in Chinese traditional medicine for treating a number of ailments, including asthma, bronchitis, and brain disorders. It is a large tree that can grow up to a height of 35 meters. Some species can even reach a height of 50 meters. The leaves of the tree are used to prepare ginkgo biloba extract, that is used in herbal medicine.
It is mainly known to enhance memory by improving blood circulation to the brain. Therefore, its extract is widely used to treat dementia and Alzheimer's disease. It has been found that this herb may prove effective in improving memory, thinking, and learning abilities in the patients of Alzheimer's disease. It is also used to treat circulatory disorders, due to its stimulating effect on blood circulation.
The main active compounds found in this herb are, flavonoids and terpenoids, which are powerful antioxidants. These antioxidants can protect the body cells, including those of the brain, from the oxidative damage caused by the free radicals. So, they can help lower the risk of various diseases, including cancer, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and heart disease. Apart from these, it may also help treat certain eye disorders, asthma, macular degeneration, and infertility, besides preventing the formation of plaques within the arteries.
Despite all the health benefits, several studies have revealed that this herb can produce a few side effects. People having circulatory disorders are more likely to experience the side effects of this herbal medicine. Bleeding can be termed as an important side effect of this herb, which can be experienced people having bleeding disorders and those who are taking anticoagulant drugs. If taken with anticoagulant drugs like warfarin, this herb can raise the risk of increased bruising or bleeding. People taking antidepressant medications should also avoid ginkgo biloba or its supplements.
Headaches, gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, palpitation, dizziness, and muscle weakness are some other possible side effects of this herb. Anxiety is another commonly reported side effect of this herb. Some studies have pointed out that this herb can have an effect on the level of blood sugar as well. Therefore, people with diabetes and hypoglycemia should be very cautious while using its supplements.
The leaves and seeds of the ginkgo tree have been found to contain some allergens and toxic compounds, like urushiols and ginkgotoxin. Ginkgotoxin present in the seeds can cause seizures, while the allergen urushiols can produce a severe allergic reaction that can manifest in skin rashes, itching, hives, shortness of breath, and swelling of the face, mouth, and the throat. Such an allergic reaction calls for immediate medical attention. Apart from these, seizures, nosebleeds, increased bleeding, blood in stool, black stool, numbness in the hands and legs, and problems with vision and speech are some other serious side effects of this herbal medicine.
If used in moderation, healthy individuals usually do not experience the serious side effects associated with this herb. But still, this herb and its supplements should be taken only under the guidance of a herbalist, or a health care professional. As ginkgo biloba may interact with certain medications, you should always consult your physician while using this herb.