Leaf extracts improve the ability of mice to remember newly learned behavior. In animal studies, enhances recovery from injury to the frontal lobes. In animal studies, acts against the memory deficits associated with aging. In a few clinical studies, slows memory decline in dementia.
In healthy young adults, speeds up reaction time in stimulus-response tests, improving alertness. Anticoagulant properties may protect against stroke (and hence indirectly against memory loss). Antioxidant effects may protect directly against memory loss.
I have discovered that a surprisingly large number of people with mild memory deficits are taking ginkgo biloba. I have not yet seen a dramatic turnaround in any single individual, but some people do seem to become a little more alert. This may partly explain the results in clinical trials with ginkgo biloba, where the caregiver tends to report greater overall benefit than the clinician, who is focusing only on the memory deficit. Unfortunately, the studies with ginkgo have not used sophisticated neuropsychological testing to systematically evaluate the possibility that it leads to improved attention and greater alertness, rather than having a direct effect on memory. These activating effects may partly account for its promemory action: people who are alert and pay close attention tend to perform better on neuropsychological tests, including tests of memory.
Recently, a physician friend of mine told me that he now takes ginkgo regularly because he has a strong family history of Alzheimer's disease. And he definitely isn't the only card-carrying member of the American Medical Association who takes this substance. So even though the jury is still out, the evidence in favor of ginkgo is piling up to such an extent that former skeptics have begun to turn the corner. If you are worried about losing your memory, or have begun to experience subtle memory loss, or, as in the case of my friend, have a strong family history of dementia, ginkgo biloba is an option.
Ginkgo biloba is available in health food stores and no prescription is needed. Unfortunately, it comes in many shapes and forms, and you cannot always be sure of the quality of what you are buying. The Journal of the American Medical Association study was conducted with a ginkgo preparation called EGb 761 at a dose of 120 mg daily. This dose seems to be reasonable because it was associated with a mild positive effect in dementia while producing virtually no side effects.
If you decide to take ginkgo regularly, bear in mind that its promemory effects have been quite small in the studies conducted to date. Ginkgo biloba can play a useful role in a memory-loss-prevention program, but by itself it is unlikely to be the panacea, the magic potion, to prevent age-related memory loss.
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