Ginkgo biloba, or maidenhair, is a tree native to China that has been grown for thousands of years for a variety of uses.
Because it’s the only surviving member of an ancient order of plants, it's sometimes referred to as a living fossil.
While its leaves and seeds are often used in traditional Chinese medicine, modern research primarily focuses on ginkgo extract, which is made from the leaves.
Ginkgo supplements are associated with several health claims and uses, most of which focus on brain function and blood circulation.
1. Contains Powerful Antioxidants
Ginkgo’s antioxidant content may be the reason behind many of its health claims.
Ginkgo contains high levels of flavonoids and terpenoids, which are compounds known for their strong antioxidant effects.
Antioxidants combat or neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive particles that are produced in the body during normal metabolic functions, such as converting food to energy or detoxification.
Yet, they also have the potential to damage healthy tissues, contributing to accelerated aging and disease development.
Research on ginkgo’s antioxidant effects is promising. However, it remains unclear exactly how it works and how effective it may be at treating specific diseases.
Ginkgo contains potent antioxidants, which fight the damaging effects of free radicals and may be behind most of its health claims.
2. Can Help Fight Inflammation
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to injury or invasion by a foreign substance.
In the inflammatory response, various components of the immune system are recruited to fight against the foreign invader or heal the injured area.
Some chronic diseases trigger an inflammatory response even when there is no illness or injury present. Over time, this excessive inflammation can cause permanent damage to the body’s tissues and DNA.
Years of animal and test-tube research shows that ginkgo extract can reduce markers of inflammation in both human and animal cells in a variety of disease states
Some specific conditions in which ginkgo extract has shown to reduce inflammation include:
Irritable bowel disease (IBD)
While this data is encouraging, human studies are needed before drawing concrete conclusions about ginkgo’s role in treating these complex diseases.
Ginkgo has the ability to reduce inflammation caused by various conditions. This may be one of the reasons it has such broad health applications.
3. Improves Circulation and Heart Health
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo seeds were used to open “channels” of energy to different organ systems, including the kidneys, liver, brain and lungs.
Ginkgo’s apparent ability to increase blood flow to various parts of the body may be the origin of many of its supposed benefits.
One study in people with heart disease who supplemented with ginkgo revealed an immediate increase in blood flow to multiple parts of the body. This was attributed to a 12% increase in levels of circulating nitric oxide, a compound responsible for dilating blood vessels.
Similarly, another study showed the same effect in older adults who were treated with ginkgo extract
Additional research also points to ginkgo’s protective effects on heart health, brain health and stroke prevention. There are multiple potential explanations for this, one of which may be the anti-inflammatory compounds present in the plant
More research is needed to fully understand how ginkgo affects circulation and heart and brain health.
Ginkgo can increase blood flow by promoting the dilation of blood vessels. This may have applications for the treatment of diseases related to poor circulation.