What is ginkgo?
Ginkgo is probably the oldest plant our planet has ever produced and has been on our planet for about 200 million years.
Ginkgo biloba is the last survivor of the ginkgoaceous plant family and belongs to neither the coniferous nor deciduous tree groups. It stands somewhere in between, and is therefore a modern botanical phenomenon.
Its longevity (often 4000 years!) and resilience is legendary, and the ginkgo tree has an absolutely incredible resistance to heat, cold, pollution, toxins, radiation, viruses, bacteria, fungi and all kinds of diseases. It not only survived the dinosaurs, but also the displacement of the continents and many other disasters, including the Hiroshima bomb.
While all the other plants died in the affected area, this tree survived only a few hundred metres from the bomb site. The following spring, it produced many fresh shoots and flowers, which made it a symbol of hope and the ‘tree of hope’ in Japan. It is certain that no other creature has survived so many epochs and disasters as the ginkgo tree. All of this quickly made the tree legendary in Asia; one could say it has become a temple tree that Asians worship. But its resistance to ageing and all sorts of natural enemies has made people sit up and take notice – if these amazing qualities could be transferred to humans, would people enjoy its fruits?
Ginkgo has been regarded as a ‘sacred tree’ in Asia for more than 2,000 years and has been used in the field of natural medicine to combat a variety of diseases and ailments for around 5000 years, and that’s certainly no coincidence!
Ginkgo as a remedy
Ginkgo is one of the oldest natural remedies ever and can lay claim to a natural healing tradition in Asia over 2,000 years old; for a few years now, people in North America and Europe have been paying more attention.
The seeds and extracts from the ginkgo leaves are used and processed in the Western world to make ginkgo tea, ginkgo drops, ginkgo pills or ginkgo tablets for naturopathic purposes. Among other things, circulatory disorders, stomach disorders, tinnitus, asthma, bronchitis, dementia, Alzheimer's, vascular occlusion, consequences of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are treated with ginkgo, and its effects on cancer have repeatedly made scientists sit up and take notice.
It is the flavonoids and terpenoids that are abundant in ginkgo which are primarily responsible for the positive effect on our health. They belong to the two active ingredient groups of ginkgo flavone glycosides and terpene lactones. It is therefore not a matter of individual active ingredients that achieve this wide-ranging effect; rather, it is the perfect composition of several groups that work together synergistically.
It must be emphasised, however, that ginkgo has certain active substances that are not in any other fruit: so-called ginkgolides. This is another important reason for the unique effect of ginkgo on our bodies, and the synthesis of ginkgolides in the plant cells even helped the researcher E.J. Corey win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry!
As far as macronutrients are concerned, ginkgo seeds are 4.3 % protein, 37.8 % carbohydrates and 1.7 % fats.
The outstanding robustness and effectiveness of the ginkgo against numerous diseases is certainly no less attributable to the unique ingredients that only occur in ginkgo, such as the ginkgo flavone glycosides, ginkgol, ginnol and bilobalide.
Despite immense attempts by Big Pharma to artificially recreate the substances present in ginkgo so that they can patent them accordingly, such attempts have failed due to its incredible complexity.
Active ingredients in ginkgo seeds
Of the ingredients and active ingredients, only 21 have received official approval as therapeutic agents:
- ginkgolic acid
- ginkgolide A, B, C, J, M
- vitamin C
- thiamine (vitamin B)
- acetic acid
- shikimic acid
Effect of ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba’s legendary resistance to ageing, heat, cold, pollution, poisons, radiation and any disease made people listen right away – what could the possibilities be if we were to consume its components? Can these amazing benefits really be transferred to humans in any way?
In fact, numerous studies suggest this! In order to better understand the subject, it makes sense first to examine gingko’s general mode of action before discussing its special effect on diseases and conditions.
General effects of ginkgo biloba
The general effects of ginkgo biloba can be described as:
- encourages circulation
Antibacterial and antifungal action
The antibacterial and antifungal effects of ginkgo are mainly due to the flavonoids, especially the ginkgolic acids and ginnol contained in it. Ginkgo biloba increases the number of macrophages (natural phagocytes), which can then have a stronger impact on bacteria and fungi.
The anti-helminthic effect is mainly produced by the ginkgo seeds.
Antioxidant, cell-protecting effect
The many antioxidant substances also provide excellent protection against harmful oxidation stress. This realisation led the company Dr. Willmar Schwabe to bring the very first extract from the ginkgo tree onto the market in 1965. Much has happened since, and the extracts are stronger and more effective today. The standard ginkgo concentrate contains 24 % flavone glycosides and 6 % terpenes; this ensures the preparations are comparable and consistently effective.
The flavonoids are particularly impressive in their antioxidant effect, especially quercetin and kaempferol. Both can neutralise the attacks of free radicals and prevent cell damage in a very effective way. Considering that, according to many scientists, the oxidation of cells is the main cause of ageing and countless diseases, this aspect cannot be emphasised highly enough.
The ‘juice’ of our lives is our blood, and ginkgo biloba’s main effects are increasing circulation and the protecting human tissue and organs. By making the blood more fluid and allowing blood to flow through tissue, ginkgo achieves an optimised supply of nutrients and oxygen, which leads to the improvement of, and even healing of, many diseases.
The circulation-promoting effect of ginkgo is multi-faceted:
- on the one hand, ginkgo actively counteracts the platelet activating factor (PAF) and prevents the blood clumping, where platelets stick together.
- on the other hand, the metabolism of the vascular walls is influenced so that they relax and expand, and the blood can flow better.
- Furthermore, the antioxidant properties of ginkgo make the blood cell membranes of leucocytes and erythrocytes more flexible and allow blood cells to flow more easily through the smaller capillaries.
Incidentally, clear evidence of ginkgo’s effectiveness on circulatory disorders was produced by a group of German researchers in the 1960s. By 1992, medicines containing ginkgo had taken up at least one-third of all circulation-enhancing medicines in the entire German market, reaching a sales volume of 370 million marks.
Specialists understand hypoxia to be an oxygen deficiency, in which the cardiovascular system cannot transport sufficient blood – and therefore oxygen – to its destination. This can be the case, for example, as a result of atherosclerosis (vascular calcification), leading to heart attacks and strokes, often resulting in death. Thus, after 20-30 seconds of oxygen deprivation, brain cells begin to die.
Ginkgo extracts have the remarkable ability to help brain cells survive despite this oxygen deficiency by building hypoxia tolerance. Furthermore, atherosclerosis is avoided by preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and also the platelet activating factor which encourages the blood components (platelets) to attach to the arteries.
Asthma, hay fever, and other forms of allergy can be alleviated by using ginkgo extracts. This is associated with the above-mentioned PAF (platelet-activating factor) and ginkgo's ability to prevent platelets from clotting, as PAF induces inflammatory processes and bronchial activity.
Neuroprotective (nerve protecting) effect
Studies have shown that ginkgo extracts protect nerve cells from oxidative stress and oxygen deficiency due to circulatory problems and high levels of nitric oxide. In animal studies, ginkgo extracts reduced the death of nerve cells by artificially induced oxidative stress (through the production of amyloid peptide). These neuroprotective properties, which undoubtedly belong to the group of natural nootropics, are associated with the ingredient ‘bilobalide’ in particular.
In conjunction with its neuroprotective effect, it has the potential to work wonders on our main control centre: our rain. Ginkgo also acts in another, highly interesting way, namely protecting against the age or disease-related degradation of so-called transmitter receptors in the brain. The neurotransmitters, whose task it is to transmit signals between the nerve cells, or neurons, dock onto them.
It is worth considering that mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, dementia and reduced brain performance, are normally triggered at this exact point and ginkgo can provide outstanding relief here; gingko can be classified as both a promising therapy and a preventive measure.
According to recent studies, ginkgo biloba also appears to have an anticancer effect and to increase the efficacy of chemotherapy in at least some cancers, including breast, colon, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer. Studies suggest that the antitumour effect is due to the prevention of proliferation, the delay of the cell cycle and apoptosis, (see more in the section ‘Ginkgo and its effect on cancer‘).
The circulation-enhancing and nerve-protecting effect of ginkgo has a calming effect on the entire body and can therefore counteract stress states as well as erectile problems in men.
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