Britain's Alzheimer's Society said last week that a major review of clinical trials provided promising evidence that dietary supplements containing the herbal medicine ginkgo biloba can improve memory and function in people with dementia. The extract from the leaves of the Chinese ginkgo tree is widely advertised for a variety of conditions including memory loss, but scientific evidence on its effects has often been conflicting.
The Society said researchers at the Cochrane Collaboration in Oxford had reviewed 33 clinical trials and concluded that the remedy appeared to be safe with no excessive side effects. It announced that a large placebo-controlled study on 400 people with dementia would now be carried out by Imperial College and the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital to find out the size and mechanism of the treatment effects.
The medicinal effects of ginkgo are believed to be gained by causing blood vessels to dilate, improving blood flow to the brain, and through thinning the blood and making it less likely to clot. Ginkgo probably also has some antioxidant effects, protecting nerve cells against biological 'rusting.' All of these effects would suggest that ginkgo might slow down a degenerative process.
The ginkgo tree has survived for more than 200 million years in China and has been used medicinally for almost 5,000 years.
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