Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Ginkgo biloba and dementia

Q. Some years ago, you published an article saying that ginkgo biloba might slow down dementia. I was 59, and I started taking it. I think it has helped me and know others who think likewise. But I read that a recent study says it doesn't help. Your thoughts?

A. Ginkgo biloba — or just ginkgo, for short — is an herbal supplement made from the fan-shaped leaves from the tree of the same name. Ginkgo trees — maidenhair is another name — are native to China, but they can now be found all over the world, including the United States.

Ginkgo is prescribed in many parts of the world as a memory remedy and is readily available in the United States as an over-the-counter herbal supplement. It does have some antioxidant properties that theoretically could prevent the sort of brain damage that leads to memory problems, and there are hints from test-tube experiments that ginkgo might combat the formation of amyloid plaques, which are thought to be an underlying cause of Alzheimer's disease. Early trials showed that people who already had dementia had modest cognitive gains after taking ginkgo, although I think those results were unconvincing.

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