Ginkgo or ginkgo biloba is an ancient tree species found in Asia that is believed to be over 270 million years old, with the longest living specimen said to be at least 2500 years old. Ginkgo biloba trees are unique in that they bear no resemblance to any other species of trees found on the Earth today, and their survival itself is a mystery. For these reasons, and for the wide application of the tree extracts in Chinese medicine, ginkgo biloba is extensively being studied today.
Traditionally in China, the seeds and leaves of ginkgo biloba were used to treat disorders of blood circulation and loss of memory. Some tests with the extracts of dried ginkgo biloba leaves corroborate its beneficial effects and support its potential in the mainstream treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease, loss of memory, and other forms of dementia.
Other research has shown that ginkgo biloba augments blood vessel dilation and lowers clotting — much needed for the treatment of intermittent claudication (arterial blockages that cause cramps in the legs). Ginkgo biloba has also been tried in the treatment of eye ailments like glaucoma, macular degeneration due to ageing, and retinopathy.
Ginkgo biloba is rich in antioxidants that are known to have beneficial effects in reversing cell damage by negating free radicals in the human body. Since cell damage is at the root of most modern health problems ranging from heart disease to cancer, ginkgo biloba is considered a panacea of sorts.
Ginkgo biloba is increasingly being sold as a dietary supplement and for treating lung disorders, male impotence, ageing, and blood circulation.
Though ginkgo biloba has been found to be safe, it could have contraindications in combination with other drugs or in certain pre-existing conditions. Generally, people undergoing treatment for heart conditions, seizures, or depression, and pregnant or breast feeding women are not advised to consume ginkgo biloba supplements without consulting their physician.
An important contraindication is that, in patients with excessive bleeding or in those who consume blood thinners (heart patients), ginkgo biloba has been observed to increase the tendency to bleed. Some other minor side effects of ginkgo biloba supplements include headache, nausea, watery stools, slight gastrointestinal irritability, itchy skin, palpitations, and weakness.
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