With the number of issues people with multiple sclerosis face, it's no wonder that they are always looking for new treatment options, whether traditional or alternative methods. In many cases, it’s beneficial for these patients to take part in complementary therapies and even herbal supplements, since the effect traditional treatment has on the many symptoms is minimal.
What is ginkgo biloba?
Ginkgo is actually a large tree that grows in China, Japan, and Korea natively but has been cultivated in Europe and North America since the mid-1700s. It’s one of the oldest tree species still in existence, and it is one of the longest lived, with a general lifespan of over a thousand years.
Typically, the leaves are used to create the supplement people take. It’s most commonly used to treat memory disorders that stem from inadequate blood flow to the brain, especially in older patients, and Alzheimer’s. Other conditions it is used to help include:
- Mood swings and changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Claudication – leg pain during walking due to low blood flow
Of course, there is a ridiculously long list of other ailments ginkgo biloba can treat, since the herb has been used for so long. In fact, recorded evidence of its use to treat bronchitis and asthma dates back almost five thousand years.
Other conditions it’s been successful at treating or improving include:
- Reduced levels of anxiety
- Some improved symptoms of dementia related to vascular disease and Alzheimer’s
- Improvement of color vision in diabetic patients with retinal damage
- Improvement in the visual field of glaucoma patients (with long term use)
- Relief of breast tenderness and other symptoms of PMS
- Reduction of symptoms of schizophrenia, when paired with antipsychotics
- Improvement in symptoms of vertigo and other balance disorders
How gingko biloba works
Ginkgo biloba has several properties that are perhaps the reason it is so efficient at treating a number of ailments. Promoting blood flow and circulation is one of the biggest factors, which is what may help with brain function, as well as improved senses. Additional benefits of gingko biloba include:
- Antioxidant properties, which slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s, as well as assist in improved cognition and thinking ability.
- Antibacterial and antifungal properties, which help reduce the chances of infection or even kill infection in the body.
How does this relate to MS?
Several of the symptoms ginkgo biloba seems to help in other diseases and ailments also appear in multiple sclerosis, so it would follow that perhaps it could be helpful for MS patients, as well. However, the symptom under the microscope with most of the studies was cognition. Since Alzheimer’s patients showed improvement while taking the herb, could it help with any cognitive issues experienced by MS patients?
A 2007 study with 38 people that lasted 12 weeks gave some hope, with a very small improvement among the group taking ginkgo biloba versus the group taking a placebo. However, it was not enough to be considered statistically significant, which means the “random luck” factor couldn’t be ruled out.
A second study with 22 people with MS showed slightly more improvement, with patients even reporting less fatigue when tested for cognitive performance after the trial. However, the largest trial with over one hundred people for 12 weeks done in 2012 showed no cognitive improvement compared to the placebo group. Of course, all of this is relatively little scientific evidence to go on, and every patient is different.
What can ginkgo biloba do for multiple sclerosis?
While the clinical results are still inconclusive, and many physicians aren’t banking on the herb as a “tried and true” resolution for cognitive improvement, a lot of multiple sclerosis patients swear by it. And just as there isn’t enough evidence to support its success, there is no evidence showing absolutely that ginkgo biloba doesn’t help with cognition.
Aside from cognitive improvement, there are other areas in which MS patients could benefit from taking ginkgo biloba as well.
Some of these include:
- Reduced risk of infection. Since infections can negatively impact the disease and lead to relapses, and ginkgo biloba has antibacterial properties, it could be advantageous in reducing the risk of a patient getting an infection of any kind.
- Improved circulation. Blood flow can assist in keeping muscles and other parts of the body healthier, so even when MS relapses cause issues with mobility, improved blood flow can keep oxygen coming to the muscles. This will reduce atrophy, pain, stiffness, cramps, and spasms.
- Anxiety. Many MS patients dealing with symptoms have issues with anxiety or depression, and ginkgo biloba has shown promise in reducing anxiety.
- Dizziness. Quite possibly related to improved blood flow, ginkgo biloba has been effective in reducing dizziness and imbalance in patients with vertigo. Similarly, it’s possible that it could be helpful for patients with multiple sclerosis who suffer from dizziness as one of their symptoms.
Best of all, there are few side effects involved with taking ginkgo biloba, unless the patient is on blood thinners. It’s always best to consult a physician first before starting to take an herb like this, but the risks are minimal, which makes it worth considering the effort of adding ginkgo biloba to the medication regimen for patients with multiple sclerosis.