Herbs and extracts from ancient trees often have unique medical properties. Some of these properties can heal medical conditions as well as serve as supplements. Due to the medicinal properties of some of these herbs, they are planted almost in all parts of the world. One such botanical species is a tree called ginkgo biloba. It has leaves resembling the shape of a fan. This tree’s origins trace back to several million years. Widely grown in the far eastern regions of Korea, China, Japan, etc., it is now cultivated in the US as well as in several parts of Europe. Its widespread popularity is attributed to its many, unique medicinal properties. It is however likely to trigger a few side effects and some adverse reactions. A thorough understanding of its adverse side effects is essential to ensure added safety prior to its intake.

Ginkgo biloba is a very large tree and is considered as one of the oldest survivors. The leaf of this tree is used for its medicinal properties. Its leaves are believed to possess substances which can improve cognitive capabilities, memory and concentration. Though scientific evidences are pending, these leaves are also known for their ability to improve eyesight, treat respiratory conditions (such as bronchitis, asthma as well as other breathing problems), etc. Ginkgo biloba has a life span of more than 1000 years; its seeds as well as extracts from leaves also have varied applications. Seeds of this tree are roasted and are consumed as a delicacy across far-eastern China as well as Japan. Substances present in the leaves are known to contain certain cosmetic properties. Thus, the list of benefits of ginkgo biloba is fairly long.

Uses of ginkgo biloba

Therapeutic properties of ginkgo biloba are due to the presence of many powerful antioxidants. These antioxidants are known to improve the circulation of blood, reduce the further spread of cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, etc. An improved circulation often leads to better functioning of your limbs, ocular and cognitive systems; especially, ginkgo can stop the repair of brain cells and the degeneration of chemicals associated with cognition, understanding and thinking. It has been observed that an intake of 200 milligrams (mg) of ginkgo has successfully stopped the degeneration of brain cells and have improved the conditions associated with dementia. However, the ability of this herb to prevent or control cognitive conditions is yet to be fully evidenced.

Other uses of ginkgo biloba are – #(1) it acts as a calming agent for people living with excessive levels of anxieties, #(2) it brings down the effects of mental condition called schizophrenia as well as minimises the adverse side effects triggered by the intake of a few antipsychotic drugs, #(3) it serves as a healing agent during the post-discharge care of patients of stroke, #(4) it can decrease the acuity of dyskinesia (tardive genre) which can result in involuntary twitching of muscles, etc. Of late, different schools of thoughts have emerged about the efficacy of this herb in treating cardiac conditions, hypertension (increase in blood pressure), internal blockages in arteries, degeneration of eyesight, sickness caused while scaling greater heights (also known as altitudinal sickness), etc. However, capability to ginkgo biloba to treat / improve the signs related to these conditions is yet to be clinically evidenced.

Side effects of ginkgo biloba

Intake of several parts of ginkgo biloba – such as seeds, leaves, etc. – is widely considered as safe. However, extracts taken from this tree are known to trigger a few adverse reactions as well as side effects. Your physician who will also need to be fully qualified to prescribe herbal meds may advise you to take this drug orally. The strength of its dosage is usually prescribed along with the duration of the dosage as well as number of doses required each day. Leaf-based extracts of ginkgo biloba are known to pose nil / very minor side effects. Often times, these extracts are administered intravenously, along with a few other drugs (for example: medications such as dipyridamole, etc.).

Most commonly experienced side effects of ginkgo biloba are increased rate of heartbeats, feeling dizzy, chronic headaches, abdominal discomforts such as indigestion, difficulties to pass stool, etc. In some people, intake of ginkgo has led to a few skin conditions. Also, consumption of its pulp or extracts from its fruits may also trigger acute skin allergies; many people have reported allergies such as itchiness, swelling of mucus tissues or membranes. How to know if you have such allergies triggered by ginkgo biloba? In general, those who have had allergies to mango-rind, oil extracted from cashew shells, poison oak or ivy, etc. are more likely to develop discomforts when they take extracts of gingko biloba.

A few serious side effects

This herbal drug is also likely to have antiplatelet capabilities or blood thinning properties. Owing to it, people who use it may report internal bleeding as well as development of bruises. In very extreme allergic conditions, users have experienced discharge of more blood during surgical interventions. In a few rare instances, some people have witnessed bleeding from their lungs, eye as well as brain. Intake of freshly procured seeds of the tree is not considered as safe; those who ate freshly-harvested seeds reported side effects such as fits or convulsions; these have often led to fatal outcomes (i.e., death). It is hence strongly recommended not to take seeds freshly sourced from this tree.

You may tend to think that roasting the seeds may make them less harmful. Processing the seeds (by roasting) may not eliminate the harm in full. Hence, if you are taking more than 8 roasted-seeds of ginkgo biloba, you are likely to experience respiratory problems, decrease in the rate of heartbeat, passing out as well as fits or convulsions. Also, before using ginkgo biloba as a cosmetic or for any topical applications, you may need to consult with a qualified dermatologist. This precaution is required as the use of ginkgo for skin conditions is not fully studied or scientifically assessed.

Added precautions to be taken to avoid side effects of ginkgo biloba

Those with blood sugar related conditions or living with diabetes need to check their sugar levels periodically; this is because of ginkgo’s ability to adversely work with diabetic drugs. Also, if your medical history includes conditions such as convulsions, epilepsy, internal bleeding, etc., you must avoid taking extracts / produce made from this tree.

Women who are pregnant need to talk to their doctor before taking ginkgo; this is because of the likely adverse effects it may have during pregnancy. Similarly, the effects of this tree’s extracts on women who are nursing their baby largely remain unknown. For this reason, you are advised not to take it while breastfeeding an infant.

Interactions with other drugs and likely side effects of ginkgo biloba

It is common for a drug to interact with fellow-medications. Some of these interactions may make way to a few serious side effects. Ginkgo biloba is known to interact with a few drugs, namely – antiplatelet or anticoagulant medications such as warfarin, heparin, etc. This is because of the inherent capability of ginkgo to slow down the clotting time of blood. So, when taken together with blood thinners, you are more likely to experience bruising or internal bleeding. For this reason, it is strongly advised to tell your doctor about the medication plans or treatment plans you are currently pursuing. If such plans include the intake of blood clot-related drugs, your doctor may alter the strength of such meds to minimize risks of bleeding or bruising.

Ginkgo is also very likely to interact with antidepressants such as Prozac (generic equivalent is known as fluoxetine). Upon co-administering, the likely side effects experienced include nervousness, being irritated or staying anxious. Moreover, ginkgo may interact with drugs taken to keep diabetes (blood sugar levels) under control. These include medications such as glipizide, glimepiride, insulin, etc. Also, a few drugs may enhance the risks of fits or convulsions; these include drugs belonging to categories such as immune suppressants, antibiotics (cephalosporin and penicillin), anesthetic drugs as well as a few types of antihistamines.

Ginkgo may also minimize the functioning efficiency of antiepileptic, anti-seizure drugs or anticonvulsant medications such as gabapentin, phenobarbital, phenytoin, etc. Apart from the aforesaid list of drugs, you are advised to be extremely cautious or avoid taking drugs that are processed by the liver. These medications include drugs like omeprazole, diltiazem, a few antimicrobials such as clarithromycin, statins (lovastatin), estrogen, trazodone, methadone, etc.

Safe dosage levels of ginkgo biloba

More evidences are fast emerging about safe dosage levels for the intake of ginkgo. Elders who have brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s are advised to take a daily dose ranging from 50 milligrams (mg) to as high as 240 mg of leaf-based extracts. Such doses are often split into three sub-doses each day. Your treating doctor may prescribe this dose for a period of 6 to 9 months; in some rare instances, it has been prescribed for upto 12 months. Within the above dosage range, nearly 230 mg per day is considered as the most effective form.

Safer dosage levels of ginkgo to manage / treat other medical conditions vary from one ailment to another. For instance, to treat mental conditions like psychosis or schizophrenia, a dose of 100 mg to 240 mg is prescribed. In such cases also, a leaf-based extract is administered and the usual dosage period is in the range of 2 months to 4 months – depending on your mental condition. Regardless of the aforesaid medical conditions, a dose of 110 mg is considered as safe to start with. At this dosage level, the risks of abdominal problems such as indigestion or other gastric discomforts are almost nil or very minimal. In order to avoid needless confusion, specialists of herbal medications advise intake of leaf-extracts of well-known and time-tested herbs. In all circumstances, you will need to stay away from taking raw extracts or any fresh parts of the tree.

In sum, ginkgo biloba is used to calm people with excessive levels of stress or anxieties, manage mental conditions like schizophrenia, involuntary twitching of muscles, etc. It is also used in the care of people who have recently had a stroke or a cardiac arrest. The most common side effects of ginkgo biloba are headache, indigestion, constipation, erratic or faster heartbeats, dizziness, a few skin conditions, etc. Ginkgo biloba may interact with anticoagulants (warfarin, heparin, etc.), diabetic medicines as well as drugs like fluoxetine, diltiazem, etc. It is highly recommended to share information about the medication plans with your physician. Your doctor may change the strength or alter the dosage frequencies to minimize side effects caused by interactions between drugs.

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