(WebMD) -- Ginkgo biloba is an herb that has received acclaim as a memory enhancer and anti-aging product. Itís now among the ten most popular dietary supplements sold in the United States.
Although it has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine for lung disorders, ginkgo extract has more recently been used in Europe and North America against the symptoms of aging. It is believed to stimulate circulation and oxygen flow to the brain, which can improve problem-solving and enhance memory.
In a group of older people with mobility problems, ginkgo improved pain-free walking distance by as much as 30 percent. Long-term ginkgo use appears to reduce cardiovascular risks. It has also been shown to improve the cognitive function of Alzheimerís Disease patients.
Inspecting the label
Differences in the production, labeling and marketing of this extract make it essential that consumers scrutinize the products they buy in order to maximize positive benefits while minimizing risks.
Before purchasing a product, you should inspect the label. Manufacturers are now required to label their products with nutritional labeling that lists ingredients in descending order. Look for information on the label that indicates that a standardized extract of 24 percent ginkgo flavonglycosides and 6 percent terpenes has been used to prepare the product. The flavonoids are antioxidants. Both flavonoids and terpenes are believed to help protect brain function. Because herbal medicines are made from crude extracts of plants, look to see if there is any indication that the manufacturing process has removed any pesticides that may have been used in the plant cultivation. In addition, the product should have an expiration date.
Donít expect to feel it right away. It may be several weeks before any effect will be noticeable. Many people also believe that itís a good idea to give the body a rest periodically by taking some time off from using the extract, for example, by taking one month off after six months of use.
Interactions with other substances and side effects
It is also important to be aware that herbal medicines can have drug interactions with other herbal preparations you may be taking, or with other over the counter or prescription medicines. For this reason, you should consult with your physician or pharmacist before taking any herbal preparation. For example, ginkgo diminishes the bloodís ability to clot. It should definitely not be taken with anticoagulants such as coumadin or aspirin. With very large doses, side effects of ginkgo can include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, irritability and restlessness.
The American Botanical Council has recently published the Complete German Commission E Monographs, which describe the potential therapeutic applications of a variety of herbal medicines.