Why ginkgo fails for dementia, despite solid science

Research studies show that ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) can effectively treat and prevent dementia. And in Europe, doctors widely prescribe it for their dementia patients. But we have very little to show for it in real life medical practice. In fact, GBE doesn’t work nearly as well out in the “real world” as it does in research studies. And German doctors recently set out to determine why.

I’ll tell you all about what they discovered in a moment. But first, let’s back up.

Dementia is a general term to describe decreases in several areas of cognitive function. Including loss of memory, attention, reasoning, and problem-solving abilities. It is age-related and obviously occurs more frequently in people over 65. But unlike age-related memory loss, dementia generally worsens over time. And it significantly impairs a person’s work, daily living, social interactions, and relationships.

Since mainstream medicine has so little to offer dementia patients, everyone is looking for alternatives. Even mainstream doctors. And in Europe, they widely prescribe ginkgo biloba extract to dementia patients based on years of solid research.

In fact, research published over the last 30 years consistently shows that GBE enhances memory and cognitive function. Initially, researchers thought GBE worked because it increases blood flow to the brain. Newer studies suggest that it protects nerve cells from damage.

Researchers have found that men and women must take at least 240 mg of ginkgo a day to get results. And they must take it over relatively long periods–six months or more–to be effective.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, we can’t seem to duplicate the success achieved in clinical trials out in the real world. And German scientists think this dosing issue may be one reason why…

In this analysis, German researchers followed more than 13,000 patients prescribed with ginkgo biloba extract. About 7,000 of them were taking a capsule that contained 120 mg of GBE. A little over 6,000 of them were taking a capsule that contained less than 120 mg of GBE. And just 430 of them were taking the “ideal” dose of 240 mg per capsule.

Interestingly, 240 mg capsules of GBE only became available in 2008 in Germany. So most doctors are still not familiar with prescribing the larger, optimal dose.

After six months, researchers found that just 23 percent of the 240 mg capsule group were still taking their daily dose. And just 5.7 percent in the 120 mg group maintained their regimen. And almost none of group that took less than 120 mg maintained it. So, after the optimal six months, very few dementia patients remained under treatment.

This study helps explain why we rarely see success with GBE in the real world. Most patients simply don’t take a strong enough dose for a long enough period of time. And when they don’t achieve any real benefits in a timely manner, they stop taking it.

So, here’s the next question…

If real world patients won’t, or can’t, take enough of a theoretically effective supplement, how worthwhile is it?

Not very much, in my view.

Bottom line?

We need to look beyond tired, old ginkgo for dementia. We need new remedies that work in real-world scenarios. They need to go to work more quickly and show real benefits sooner. So patients don’t give up before they start working.

Such remedies do exist!

So stay tuned. In the coming weeks, I will report on exciting new research into safe, fast, effective, and drug-free ways to combat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.


  1. Dosage strength is associated with medication persistence with Ginkgo biloba drug products: a cohort study of ambulatory drug claims data in Germany,” BMC Complement Altern Med 2013;13(1):278