Ask the doctor: Ginkgo biloba for memory: Is it safe?

Published: October, 2014

Q. Some people claim that ginkgo biloba may improve memory. What's your take on this supplement?

A. I know you'd like a simple and unambiguous answer—and I wish I could give it to you. Here's how I size up the evidence. I reserve the right to change my mind as new evidence emerges. There is little evidence that ginkgo protects a person from developing the age-related memory impairment that bothers many people. There is even less evidence that it protects against developing the condition called mild cognitive impairment, or that ginkgo protects people with mild cognitive impairment from developing dementia. There are a few studies that find ginkgo may slightly slow the progression of dementia in people with Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia (dementia caused by impaired blood supply to the brain). But other studies fail to find such a benefit. I haven't considered taking ginkgo to protect against memory loss: the evidence just isn't there, at least so far. 

—Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.
Editor in Chief
Harvard Health Letter

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