Gingko biloba also known as Ginkgo, Maidenhair tree or fossil tree, is a traditional herbal medicine product used for the relief of symptoms of Raynaud's syndrome (cold hands and feet, pain, numbness and tingling in the extremities) and tinnitus ( ringing in the ears). Gingko biloba is registered with the UK medicines regulator MHRA under the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) scheme for use in these conditions. This does not mean the regulator has tested products which contain it to prove it works or that claims about it have been verified by clinical studies. However, it does mean Gingko biloba has been confirmed as being used as a traditional medicine for more than 30 years. Registration also confirms that the manufacturer of a product is meeting established standards of safety and quality.
The active ingredient is found in the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree which originally was cultivated in China and then in Europe.
It is thought that Ginkgo may help with memory loss, confusion and anxiety as well as lack of concentration and depression. However, a review of studies looking at the use of Ginkgo biloba leaf extract in dementia or cognitive decline has concluded that there is not enough evidence for its use in this group of patients.
Ginkgo biloba leaf extracts are considered safe to use. Rarely, individuals taking Ginkgo biloba extracts may experience allergy, headache, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, itching and rashes; and very rarely, Stevens-Johnson syndrome – a skin condition triggered by a severe reaction to medication or infection.
Studies have found that Ginkgo biloba extracts may increase the risk of bleeding in people taking antiplatelet and antithrombotic medication. Individuals who have a pre-existing bleeding disorder should be cautious if considering taking Ginkgo biloba supplements. There have been reports of spontaneous bleeding disorders in individuals taking Ginkgo biloba extracts but a causal link has not been established.
Ginkgo biloba containing products should be stopped at least 2 weeks before undergoing surgery or blood clotting parameters should be checked beforehand.
Ginkgo biloba interacts with other drugs, for example, NSAID painkillers, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, diabetes medicines, drugs that affect the liver and supplements like garlic, and products containing saw palmetto, St Johns wort and yohimbe. Ginkgo might reduce the effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
In October 2013, the European Medicines Agency issued a warning regarding the potential interactions between efavirenz (an HIV medication) and Ginkgo biloba extracts and recommended that the two products should not be used at the same time.
Ginkgo biloba is not recommended for children and adolescents under the age of 18, or pregnant or breastfeeding women, due to its potential health risks.
The MHRA recommends always reading the patient information to check for the correct way to take any medicine, supplement or herbal product. The leaflet should also list potential side effects as well as any possible interactions with other medication.
If you are taking other medications and/or have other pre-existing health conditions, it is important you discuss with your doctor if it is advisable to take Ginkgo biloba supplements.