For 24 weeks, 410 participants with mild to moderate dementia were randomly assigned to a daily placebo or 240 mg of Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb761 ), a product made by the company that commissioned the study.
Participants were given a questionnaire that evaluates dementia symptoms and the participants' caregivers filled out questionnaires about their level of distress. Participants were not taking medications for dementia. Results showed:
- Participants in the ginkgo group experienced small but statistically significant improvements in symptoms such as sleep disturbances, indifference, irritability, depression, and motor behaviors compared with the placebo group.
- Interestingly, caregivers' distress also improved in the ginkgo group but not in the placebo group. Possibly because improvements experienced by the participants also improved the lives of the people caring for them.
The study authors comment that in people with dementia, such symptoms may result in "long-term hospitalization, increased use of medication, and a decrease in quality of life for patients and caregivers." They suggest that ginkgo may be one alternative for providing relief. Large clinical trials are needed to confirm these findings.
Putting ginkgo to best use
For centuries, ginkgo has been used to treat many conditions including memory loss, narrowing of the arteries, and ringing in the ears. Some, but not all studies have shown benefit for these conditions. But ongoing research suggests that ginkgo may have beneficial effects on blood flow, the nervous system, and hormones linked to depression.
Ginkgo may interact with many types of commonly used medications such as ibuprofen and warfarin (Coumadin), and these interactions may cause serious side effects such as bleeding. If you are interested in taking a supplement such as ginkgo, first talk with a knowledgeable doctor about the risks and benefits and whether it is appropriate for you.
(Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat 2011;7:209-15)