Everything You Need To Know About Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is one of the most commonly used ingredients in nootropic supplements today. Many of the best stacks on the market today have Ginkgo Biloba as a key, central ingredient. In fact, many people now use Ginkgo Biloba as a standalone supplement – most major health food stores stock potent Ginkgo biloba tablets at good prices.
But despite this immense popularity, few people know what Ginkgo Biloba actually is – they don’t understand how it works, or even what benefits it confers exactly.
Even self-proclaimed nootropic enthusiasts sometimes don’t properly understand what effect Ginkgo biloba has on the body; they don’t know the mechanisms behind its action, and they don’t know the best dose to use for their needs.
So, we’ve compiled this comprehensive ingredient guide.
Below you will find everything you need to know about Ginkgo Biloba.
We’ll use the latest scientific studies as our guide as we answer the following questions:
Does Ginkgo Biloba really work?
What does it do, exactly?
Is it going to help you optimize your brain function?
Does Ginkgo biloba cause side effects? What are the main health risks?
How effective is it compared to other ingredients commonly used in nootropics today? Is there anything else out there which does the same thing but more effectively? Is there a similar, cheaper alternative available?
If you get to the end of the article and you have any questions, suggestions, or complaints, then please do let us know! Post in the comments section at the end and we’ll try to get back to you within 48 hours.
What Is Ginkgo Biloba?
Ginkgo biloba is the last remaining member of the Ginkgophyta family of tree. This is an extremely old family of trees – fossils have been found which date back about 300 million years.
It is more commonly known as the Maidenhair Tree, or just simply as Ginkgo.
When we talk about having Ginkgo biloba in supplements, we’re really talking about the leaves of the tree. The bark is rarely used, and we aren’t certain that it has any physiological effects.
It is native to just a small region of China. It is found elsewhere, of course, but in these cases the seeds have been deliberately transported there. The only naturally-occurring Ginkgo Biloba trees are found almost exclusively in Zhejiang province in China.
The name ‘Ginkgo’ is actually a mis-spelling of the Japanese name for this tree – Gin Kyo, which means “silver apricot”.
That’s quite enough history and trivia. You haven’t come here to learn where the name of this plant comes from, or where it is a native species. You’ve come to find out what it does, and how it can benefit you!
What Does It Do?
Ginkgo biloba’s most interesting property is its ability to increase cerebral blood flow.
This is why it is used in nootropic supplements today.
This is why many people supplement with it on a daily basis.
Whatever else this leaf might be able to do, this is why we care about it!
Basically, Ginkgo biloba consumption causes the blood vessels in your brain to expand.
In the past, it was suggested that Ginkgo works via another mechanism: inhibition of Platelet Activating Factor.
This study talks about Ginkgo biloba’s robust clinical testing and its well established effectiveness, but also about its recent association with hemorrhage. It says, in relation to some instances of hemorrhage: “these observations have generally been explained by the platelet-activating factor (PAF)-antagonistic action of ginkgolides, which represent characteristic constituents of Ginkgo extracts.”
Yet the study concluded the following: “As PAF is a ‘weak’ platelet activator, which does not appear to be of importance for primary hemostasis, our results rise serious doubts that the PAF antagonistic effect of ginkgolides could be responsible for hemorrhage in patients taking EGb 761.”
We now know that Ginkgo works primarily via the Nitric Oxide pathway – as mentioned in this study, this has been demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt in previous trials. The researchers in the cited trial noted that “Ginkgo enhanced endothelium-dependent vasodilation and elevation of the endothelial intracellular Ca(2+) level in SHR, resulting in hypotension”.
It has also been suggested that Ginkgo Biloba enhances blood flow by another means – by supplying you with terpenes.
Terpenes are a hot topic right now, mainly because of cannabis advocates.
Basically, terpenes are aromatic, volatile organic compounds found in various plants; most notable, in citrus plants.
Studies have found that terpenes promote hypotension (lower blood pressure). As this paper states: “all terpenes tested had hypotensive activity in rats”.
It seems that these terpenes reduce the viscosity of your blood. It makes your blood thinner, and less ‘sticky’, thereby facilitating free and fast blood flow.
The fact that Ginkgo enhances blood flow through vasodilation is, at this point, unarguable. It has been demonstrated in numerous clinical trials from independent researchers.
The proof supporting the terpenes theory is a lot less robust, but it does seem promising. Preliminary studies suggest that terpenes DO help improve blood flow. Ginkgo biloba is rich in terpenes, so if they do deliver this benefit, Ginkgo biloba supplementation is a great way to take advantage.
These two properties make an incredible combination.
Together, the cumulative effects will be much greater than the sum of the individual increases in blood flow.
But you might be wondering; why should you care?
Why do you want more blood flow?
What does increased cerebral circulation have to do with cognitive function? Does it actually make a difference? Will you see any real, tangible benefits? Or is it all “in theory”?
Why Should You Care? – Increased Blood Flow & Brain Function
To some of you, the link between cerebral blood flow and brain function will be blindingly obvious.
For most, some explanation is necessary. After all, there is no reason why you would have thought about this before!
At risk of being too reductionist or simplistic, the ability of your cells to do their jobs, to survive at all in fact, is largely determined by blood flow.
If any of your cells can’t get access to plenty of fresh, oxygen-rich blood, they will NOT have the energy or raw materials they require to do their job properly.
If they don’t have access to ANY blood for a prolonged period of time, those cells will be unable to respire.
They will, in short, die.
Conversely, if cells are given access to lots of oxygen and nutrient rich blood, then they can perform to the best of their abilities.
So increasing cerebral blood flow – increasing the amount of blood circulating around your brain cells – will allow those cells to perform to their full potential.
This isn’t just a theoretical relationship. It has been borne out by independent scientific study.
This paper, for instance, notes how much of an effect Ginkgo Biloba has on both brain cell oxygen usage and supply: “Ginkgo biloba extract can improve cerebral oxygen supply, decrease cerebral oxygen extraction rate and consumption, and help maintain the balance between cerebral oxygen supply and consumption. It has no effect, however, on cerebral glucose metabolism in elderly patients with known, pre-existing cerebral ischemia.”
In short, Ginkgo Biloba’s mechanism of action is very simple:
- Cerebral blood vessels dilate
- Your blood (potentially) becomes less viscous
- Your brain cells have access to more oxygen and nutrients
- Their ability to do their jobs, perform maintenance, and proliferate increases
- Cognitive function improves in most respects
Many processes require more than oxygen.
In order to grow, multiply, and fix damage, your brain cells need raw materials – water, phospholipids, and so on.
Increasing blood flow means that more of these materials will be available, along with the oxygen needed to fuel all of these processes.
As far as nootropic benefits go, then, Gingko Biloba looks to pack a hefty punch.
But so far, our exploration has been very theoretical.
How does Ginkgo biloba work in the real world?
What sort of effects does it have on you?
Will it make a real, significant, tangible difference to your day-to-day mental performance?
Fortunately for us, the answer to that question seems to be a resounding “yes”!
How Effective Is It?
This is what most of you have come to this page for, so we’ll try to make this section as thorough as possible.
Ginkgo Biloba looks to be an extremely reliable focus and memory booster.
It has been found to be highly effective in numerous clinical trials.
In fact, we think it’s fair to say that Ginkgo has more solid scientific backing than 90% of nootropic ingredients out there.
Let’s take a look at some.
This paper, published in Phytotherapy Research in 1999, is one of the most commonly cited studies by Ginkgo’s fans. Rightly so – its results are quite emphatic.
Researchers gave participants various doses of Ginkgo Biloba Extract, up to a maximum of 300mg per day. Various aspects of cognition were measured throughout the trial.
The authors concluded the following: “The results confirm that the effects of GBE extract on aspects of cognition in asymptomatic volunteers are more pronounced for memory, particularly working memory. They also show that these effects may be dose dependent though not in a linear dose related manner, and that GBE 120 mg produces the most evident effects of the doses examined.”
Interestingly, the most pronounced benefits were seen in people aged 50-59.
This doesn’t mean that Ginkgo only works for this age group. It simply means that this group stands to benefit the most from Ginkgo supplementation.
This point is driven home by this study, published in Psychopharmacology in 2000. Here, researchers specifically looked at the effect Ginkgo has on young, healthy volunteers.
Their findings couldn’t be more conclusive: “Compared with the placebo, administration of Ginkgo produced a number of significant changes on the performance measures. The most striking of these was a dose-dependent improvement of the ‘speed of attention’ factor following both 240 mg and 360 mg of the extract, which was evident at 2.5 h and was still present at 6 h.”
Their conclusion is pretty unequivocal: “Acute administration of Ginkgo biloba is capable of producing a sustained improvement in attention in healthy young volunteers.”
We could go on and on here, but we don’t think that’s necessary.
These studies are fairly representative of the sort of papers available online. They show statistically significant improvements in cognitive function due to Ginkgo Biloba supplementation above 80mg.
If you want to see more evidence, we strongly encourage you to look at the literature for yourself.
It is a fascinating field of study which is growing year by year.
More research is always needed, but for now, we’re confident in saying that Ginkgo Biloba is an effective, reliable, potent cognitive enhancer suitable for human consumption.
Is It Safe?
If you’re convinced that Ginkgo Biloba has some serious potential as a brain booster, then you’re probably starting to wonder about side effects.
Plenty of substances provide incredible increases in cognitive function, but they are totally unsuitable for even short-term use because of the side effects.
That’s why we strongly advise people avoid things like Noopept, Modafinil and Piracetam – the killer side effects and potential for backfire.
Ginkgo Biloba seems to be perfectly safe for both short and long-term use.
It has been thoroughly tested, as we’ve seen, and it has never been found to pose a significant risk to health.
It is widely used in nootropic supplements today, and it is considered generally safe for human consumption.
Side effects are rare, and when they do occur, they seem to usually be very mild.
The only concern would be for those people with pre-existing conditions that would be exacerbated by any change to cerebral blood flow.
People who have had circulatory problems, aneurysms, or strokes in the past should definitely avoid this stuff – or at least seek specialist medical advice before going ahead and using it.
On the whole though, Ginkgo Biloba looks like it isn’t going to cause many of you any problems whatsoever.
However, it is important to note that not everybody is the same. You are all individuals with your own unique medical histories.
Just because a substance looks safe for 99% of people does not mean that it will necessarily be safe for you!
You must also remember that we are not medical experts – this is merely our appraisal of the main side effect and health risks. It is based on our own research and personal experiences. It is not exhaustive, definitive, or approved by anyone with a medical degree.
Should You Use Ginkgo Biloba?
Whether you should use Ginkgo Biloba or not very much depends on what it is you are looking to achieve.
The studies above all suggest that Ginkgo Biloba is effective at generally improving cognitive function, with a specific emphasis on short-term, working memory function and the ability to retain focus.
The risk of side effects only seems to be a real concern for people with pre-existing conditions that would be exacerbated by cerebral vasodilation.
So if you are otherwise healthy, you are using a sensible dose, and you know what you’ve done your own research, then Ginkgo Biloba seems like a good choice for anyone looking to improve cognitive function generally.
It seems to be ideal for those of you looking for some support with your working memory function and focus – busy executives, college students, and creative professionals with hectic working schedules will benefit.
It seems to have no effect on mood, mental energy, or long-term brain adaptation.
If these things are your primary concern, then another substance is a more appropriate choice.
But generally speaking, we think Gingko Biloba is a good choice for people looking to enhance multiple aspects of their mental function over the long-term.
Luke is our Editor in Chief. He is the main driving force behind NaturalNootropic.com, and he creates most of our most important content. He is extremely passionate about enhancing human cognition; he has experimented with many different nootropic substances over the years, sometimes with negative results. He wants to help people get more out of performance-enhancing supplements, and he is fascinated by recent advances in longevity research. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.