Guide to ginkgo and ginseng

Ginkgo biloba and ginseng have been used in herbal medicine for many centuries and are two of the most popular nutritional supplements used today. Combined, they are recognised for supporting cognitive function including: memory; concentration; decision-making; thinking and understanding. Ginseng is also reputed to reduce tiredness and fatigue and help people cope with stress.

Ginkgo and ginseng are two natural source plant extracts, which each have their own unique health benefits. Ginkgo comes from the world’s longest living tree species, the Ginkgo biloba (or maidenhair) tree, while ginseng comes from the root of a four to six-year-old Panax ginseng herb (also known as Korean ginseng), typically grown on mountain slopes.

Dr Sarah Brewer says: ‘The combination of these two ancient herbal supplements has an even more powerful effect. Ginkgo biloba may help with concentration, and ginseng may sharpen up the memory, as well as help with tiredness and fatigue. A ginkgo and ginseng supplement is especially beneficial for exam performance as it can improve cognitive enhancement, helping students to cope with stress, as well as having an energising effect.’

What do ginkgo and ginseng do?

Ginkgo is well-known for increasing blood flow to and from tissues and organs, including the brain. It also contains antioxidants which protect other cells in the body from harmful damage by free radicals, which build up as you age and may contribute to heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Ginseng contains plant chemicals called ginsenosides which are believed to be the active ingredients. It is also thought to help balance the release of stress hormones.

Cognitive function

One review of studies published in 2013 concluded Panax ginseng given as a supplement can significantly increase physical and intellectual work capacity.

University of Reading researchers found healthy volunteers who took ginkgo and ginseng together had an average improvement in memory quality of 7.5 per cent.

Memory and dementia

Some researchers have suggested ginkgo and ginseng may be useful for treating Alzheimer’s disease because they improve blood flow to the brain, while protecting nerve cells from damage. One review published in 2015 concluded taking ginkgo could stabilise or slow down deterioration in cognitive function and behaviour in people with cognitive problems and dementia. Another review of 12 studies published in 2017 concluded gingko has potentially beneficial effects for people with dementia when given at doses of greater than 200mg a day for at least five months, but said more studies were needed.

Getting ginkgo and ginseng from your diet

You can drink gingko and ginseng as a tea or a tincture, available from health food stores. Alternatively, you can take ginkgo and ginseng in supplement form.

Safety

Ginkgo and ginseng are both considered safe to use for most people. However, they shouldn’t be taken if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Some possible reported side effects of ginkgo and ginseng include headaches, gastrointestinal discomfort, headaches, skin reactions, dizziness and problems with sleep.

If you’re taking prescribed medicines check with a pharmacist or doctor for any known interactions. Ginkgo and ginseng can increase bleeding risk, so individuals on blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin, should discuss with their doctor before taking. Also, if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or any kind of bleeding disorder you should consult your GP first.

Correct dosage

There’s currently no UK or EU recommended daily allowance or upper safe limit; supplements strengths vary. A dose of two tablets a day each containing 60mg of Panax ginseng extract and 60mg gingko biloba is typical. Some experts recommend you stop taking ginseng for a week every month and then resume your regular dose.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

The combination of these two ancient herbal supplements has an even more powerful effect. Ginkgo biloba may help with concentration, and ginseng may sharpen up the memory, as well as help with tiredness and fatigue.

Dr Sarah Brewer
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