Ginkgo biloba is the most extensively researched herb. Numerous clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate its therapeutic value in many different conditions. In general, Ginkgo biloba refers to an extract produced from the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree. Some have recommended this herb as a therapy for MS.
The recent popularity of Ginkgo biloba can be attributed, in part, to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1997. This investigation reported that Ginkgo biloba appeared to be an effective treatment for cognitive issues in the elderly.
While certain chemical components of Ginkgo biloba acts as antioxidants, others act to inhibit platelet-activating factor (PAF). PAF is a compound involved in blood clotting and inflammation, and so inhibiting it could reduce inflammation.
Research has been done using animals with EAE, an experimental model of MS. In these studies PAF has been associated with a worsening of the disease. Consistent with these findings, Ginkgo biloba has been associated with improvement in some studies.
A 1992 study is sometimes cited as the reasoning behind recommending Ginkgo biloba for MS. In this study, eight of the ten people with MS people using Ginkgo biloba saw improvement. However in 1995, a much larger, better-designed study found that Ginkgo biloba was not effective for treating MS attacks. For slowing down the disease process of MS, Ginkgo biloba does not appear to be effective in the short-term. The effectiveness of long-term use is unknown.
Some preliminary work has suggested Ginkgo biloba may help with MS-associated cognitive problems. However, further research is necessary to prove any definite therapeutic effects.
In general, Ginkgo biloba is well tolerated. However, it may cause bleeding issues, so people with bleeding disorders, people who are undergoing surgery, and people taking aspirin or other blood-thinning medications should avoid this herb. A few cases of spontaneous bleeding in the eye or around the brain have been reported in association with Ginkgo biloba use. This herb may also increase the risk of seizures. Other side effects include rashes, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, and diarrhea. It is not clear whether or not this herb is safe for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
In the preparations used for clinical research, standardized extracts are used. They are known in Germany as LI 1370 and EGb761. These preparations are 24-25% flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones.
References and Additional Reading
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.
Bowling AC, Stewart TS. Dietary Supplements and Multiple Sclerosis: A Health Professional’s Guide. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2004.
Jellin JM, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2009.
Ulbricht CE, Basch EM, eds. Natural Standard Herb and Supplement Reference: Evidence-Based Clinical Reviews. St. Louis: Elsevier-Mosby, 2005.