The herb Ginkgo biloba has been shown to improve the condition of intermittent claudication, an arterial disease that decreases blood flow in the legs.
What is thought to be the oldest tree in the world, Ginkgo biloba, is also a proven treatment for arterial disease in the elderly. About 60 people per every 10,000 individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 years of age suffer from intermittent claudication, an arterial disease that decreases the blood flow in the legs. This decreased blood flow results in cramping pain in the legs and feet making it difficult to walk without pain or fatigue.
A recent study evaluated all the published studies that looked at Ginkgo for the treatment of claudication, a research procedure called a meta-analysis. A total of eight double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trials of Ginkgo were included in this evaluation with a total of 415 patients. All groups taking ginkgo extracts had a significant increase in the total distance they were able to walk and in the pain-free distance compared to the control groups.
The overall increase in pain-free walking in these studies was 34 meters, or 37 yards, after taking ginkgo for a period of 6-24 weeks. The doses of ginkgo extracts used in these studies were from 120 mg to 160 mg daily. Although standardization was not mentioned in the review, ginkgo products should be standardized to contain 24-26% flavone glycosides. This study also notes that regular physical exercise was also of value in increasing pain-free walking distance.
The side effects of ginkgo reported in these studies were mild and included abdominal complaints, nausea, and heartburn. Because gingko exhibits monoamine oxidase inhibitor activity it should not be used with similar drugs such as antidepressants. Gingko also has some anti-clotting activity and should not be taken with anticoagulants or taken prior to surgery. However, it is this anti-clotting activity that may be the basis for ginkgo’s ability to improve arterial disease. Ginkgo’s effect on the fetus is unknown and so it should not be taken by pregnant women.
Besides being effective, ginkgo is considerably less expensive than standard medicine used for claudication. The FDA approved drug treatment for claudication is pentoxifylline, which costs between $1.83 to $1.93 per day. The authors of this study note that 120 mg of ginkgo per day costs between $0.83 to $0.97, a savings of 50%!
"Ginkgo Biloba Extract for the Treatment of Intermittent Claudication: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials." M.H. Pittler and E. Ernst. American Journal of Medicine 2000; 108:276-281.