Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest and most popular herbs in use today. For years people have pointed to ginkgo’s abilities to sharpen focus and to improve concentration and attention span. And now research into the brain-boosting benefits of this herb have uncovered new insights into how it can help your memory remain sharp for years to come.

These discoveries could have a profound influence on how we view the effects of ginkgo’s natural chemicals in the body and how we approach natural memory support in the future.

So, let’s take a peek at these important new developments…

In order to grasp how ginkgo helps the brain, researchers haven’t just been looking at the brain – they’re investigating ginkgo’s influence on the various bacteria that live in the digestive tract. That’s because new revelations indicate that the herb is involved in how our gut bacteria affect our intellect and mood.

As you may have learned by now, studies in recent years show that the gut produces neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which play a central role in emotions and cognition. Certain “good” bacteria help keep these neurotransmitters in balance and promote better brain function while fewer benevolent microbes can throw the brain off-balance.

Gingko And The Gut 

When researchers in Asia performed laboratory tests on how a natural chemical called ginkgolide B (one of the main bioactive compounds in ginkgo) might reverse some of the cognitive issues caused by Alzheimer’s disease, they found something surprising. They discovered that much of this compound’s therapeutic potential resides in decreasing harmful bacteria in the intestinal tract that are connected to neuron damage while stimulating the growth of more good bacteria that promote better brain health.1

The researchers conclude that in this way ginkgolide B revamps the bacterial population in the gut to better support cognitive abilities. They also stress that this property means ginkgolide B possesses important potential for its use to combat Alzheimer’s disease.

At the same time, other tests have shown that ginkgo contains compounds that might alleviate depression in a similar way – by altering the balance of probiotic bacteria in the intestines.2

In one such investigation, researchers found that ginkgo could work against depression by reducing the number of problematic gut bacteria linked to mood problems and boosting the growth of other beneficial bacteria that are associated with promoting depression relief. The study also showed that these changes lead to higher levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in several brain areas including the hippocampus, cerebral cortex, and the olfactory bulb.

Ramping Up Brain Power 

A group of other studies also demonstrate ways that ginkgo can keep the brain running smoothly by:

  • Increasing blood flow to the brain: A study at Johns Hopkins demonstrates that ginkgo can help boost extra blood flow to neurons and could be helpful in treating vascular dementia, a form of memory loss linked to circulatory problems that often arise after having a stroke.3 
  • Improving the capacity of the brain’s mitochondria: Tests at Goethe-University in Germany show that ginkgo may support better memory and intellectual abilities in older people by improving the function of the brain’s mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles in neurons.4 
  • Protecting the integrity of the blood brain barrier after a brain injury: Research in Sweden indicates that ginkgolide B can help keep toxins out of brain tissue after a brain injury by limiting leaks in the brain barrier that can be caused by the release of damaging enzymes and oxidative stress.5 

Dousing The Aches Of Arthritis 

Along with those benefits, research now shows that ginkgo may help people with rheumatoid arthritis escape some of the aches and pains of this disease.

In a study in Asia, tests have found that ginkgolide B can stop the release of inflammatory immune cells that attack your joints when you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. This ginkgo natural chemical can also limit damage to joints by restraining the accumulation of enzymes that can harmfully break down your collagen (connective tissue) and damage synovial tissue (tissue that lubricates your joints).6

Those are all pretty impressive benefits!

If you decide to take ginkgo, there are a few potential drug interactions you should watch out for: Ginkgo can slow blood clotting, so don’t take it if you take blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix) and heparin.

Ginkgo also can interact with ibuprofen and aspirin, which (like other NSAIDs) thin the blood.

In general, if you regularly take any prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs, it’s best to consult with a knowledgeable practitioner – preferably a naturopath or integrative MD— to check if they interact with ginkgo before taking this herb.