Ginkgo Biloba is a tree known from ancient times, whose leaves resemble a heart or a fan. It is from these leaves that an extract bearing the same name is derived. This plant was discovered in Japan in 1690, and even then, the local people were aware of its medicinal properties. Ginkgo Biloba extract was the main ingredient for many medicines and dietary supplements.
This substance acts on the tissue level by improving blood supply to the tissues, especially nerve and muscle tissues, supplying them with oxygen and improving the metabolic rate in them. This creates optimal conditions for the normal functioning of cells and eliminates morbid and unpleasant symptoms of impaired blood flow (ischemia). This concerns Ginkgo leaf extract.
The action of Ginkgo seeds is disputable and has not yet been studied enough. It is known that they contain substances that kill pathogenic fungi and bacteria. However, the toxins that are concentrated in the seeds may induce loss of consciousness and seizures. Therefore, unlike Ginkgo leaf extract, Ginkgo seed extract can be life threatening and it is not safe.
Ginkgo leaf extract also has a number of additional effects – antioxidant effect and control of allergic inflammation due to its content of certain substances (flavonoids and terpene lactones).
Drugs whose main ingredient is Ginkgo Biloba extract has many intended uses:
- Memory impairment: impaired ability to remember, poor attention concentration (for example, when suffering from Alzheimer’s disease);
- Cognitive disorders (including in patients with depression);
- A condition caused by decreased blood flow to the brain – some types of headaches, memory loss, dizziness, ringing in the ears, mood swings, impaired hearing and tinnitus. However, prior to treatment with Ginkgo, you need a check-up, to establish whether the cause of these problems is precisely blood flow disorders;
- Other problems associated with poor blood supply to certain parts of the body – Raynaud’s phenomenon – vasospasm of fingers or toes in response to stimuli (especially in the cold), intermittent claudication – periodic leg pain when walking, due to temporary disorders of blood supply to the extremities;
- To ease premenstrual syndrome;
- To combat the disorders of sexual function, including when they occur as a side effect of some medications (antidepressants);
- In eye diseases (diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration).
Even the side effects of Ginkgo, which are common, do not occur too often. Be aware of the possible side effects of drugs containing Ginkgo Biloba, but it is not certain that you will experience them. These effects include:
- Feeling of frequent heartbeat or palpitations;
- Nausea, vomiting;
- Dizziness and headache;
- Anxiety, restlessness;
Besides, the following may also occur:
- Upset stomach;
- Allergic reactions in the form of rash.
Rare side effects
- Hyphema (bleeding in the anterior chamber of the eye);
- More severe allergic reactions (swelling of the larynx and pharynx) and all other serious side effects.
Serious side effects
- Increased bleeding: nosebleeds, subcutaneous hemorrhage, and the more acute – gastro-intestinal bleeding. The signs of this pathology may include: coffee ground vomiting, vomiting blood or presence of blood in the stool, black tarry stools, and increasing weakness and pallor;
- Allergic reactions: swelling of the throat, eyelids, lips, etc., urticaria, rash, skin redness and blistering, swallowing and breathing difficulty;
In very rare cases, there may be signs of bleeding in the brain:
- Speech disorders (change in speech or slowed-down speech);
- Impaired vision (sharp decline in vision, loss of visual field);
- Severe headache, numbness in legs or arms, weakness in the limbs.
It is important to seek immediate medical attention once any of these side effects occur. Ginkgo Biloba does not usually cause serious side effects and is well tolerated. However, the risk of serious side effects may increase in cases of use of poor-quality food supplements and medicines based on Ginkgo Biloba, and also in cases of significant excess of the maximum dose, or using it in spite of serious contraindications.
Most of the serious side effects are caused by toxins – ginkgolic acid, which is contained in small amounts in Ginkgo tree leaves, and much more in its seeds. It is important for the manufacturer to control the level of this toxin in the extract and keep it at a minimum harmless level (less than 5 parts per million). So try to take medications containing Ginkgo Biloba from trusted manufacturers that surely monitor this indicator.
Substances from Ginkgo Biloba extract can have a damaging effect on platelets, as well as an inhibitory effect on the ability of blood to clot. This can lead to increased bleeding, increased bleeding time and blood loss. This effect, if it occurs, is usually to a very small extent, and it does not manifest externally in most people. However, if you have problems with blood vessels, you are suffering from bleeding disorders or, conversely, from venous thrombosis, contact your doctor to see if you have contraindications to treatment with Ginkgo Biloba extract.
Side effects in children
Ginkgo leaf extract can be used in children with indications to this. But it is necessary to consult with your doctor first. Ginkgo Biloba seeds are contraindicated in children.
Side effects during pregnancy and breast-feeding
In pregnant women, long-term use of Ginkgo drugs may increase the risk of bleeding during childbirth and in the postnatal period. Therefore, it is not advisable to take these drugs during pregnancy without a doctor’s permission. It is not known what amounts of substance from Ginkgo Biloba extract pass into the breast milk. Therefore, it is advisable to refrain from breast-feeding during treatment with such drugs.
Side effects in women
There have been cases of difficulties with the occurrence of pregnancy when using Ginkgo.
Side effects in the elderly
Vascular diseases, diabetes, and problems with blood clotting are more common in the elderly. Therefore, only the doctor can give permission for treatment with such medicines, after taking into account your health and concomitant diseases.
Overdose signs of drugs whose main ingredient is Ginkgo can be:
- Shortness of breath;
- Loss of consciousness;
- Nausea, vomiting.
You should seek immediate medical attention if any of these symptoms occur or if you suspect an overdose of Ginkgo.
Warnings and recommendations
- Although many people may have symptoms for which Ginkgo can be used, one should not immediately rush to the pharmacy for it. The fact is that these symptoms are caused by so many factors, including by diseases for which ginkgo medicines are contraindicated. So, you should first consult a specialist to know how suitable will Ginkgo medicines be for you.
- Be aware of the possible deleterious effect of Ginkgo Biloba on blood cells. This is another argument in favor of preliminary consultation with the doctor, especially for people who have problems with blood vessels (for example, when suffering from diabetes), stomach or colon ulcer, and gastritis, problems with blood clotting, etc.
- Be sure to tell your doctor about any medications you are taking or plan to take during treatment with Ginkgo Biloba, especially if they are anticoagulants (warfarin, clopidogrel), anticonvulsants (phenytoin, carbamazepine), omeprazole, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (piroxicam, ibuprofen). Combination of Ginkgo with any medication must be authorized by a physician.
Ginkgo Biloba and alcohol
It is advisable to refrain from regular use of high doses of alcohol during treatment with Ginkgo because interaction between the substances of the extract or the extract derivatives and alcohol may lead to the occurrence or worsening of side effects, especially dizziness, nausea, etc.
One-time use of alcohol in small amounts during the period of treatment with these medicines is allowed. However, if you have problems with the liver, kidneys, blood vessels, blood pressure and other concomitant diseases, it is advisable to abstain from alcohol or discuss with your doctor the possibility of taking it and the allowed doses.