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Ginkgo protects elderly against first signs of Alzheimer's

If people of 85 and older take supplements containing Ginkgo biloba extracts, their chances of developing the first phase of Alzheimer’s disease decrease, Oregon State University researchers have published in Neurology.

The researchers conducted an experiment with 120 people over the age of 85, for a three-and-a-half year period. Sixty of the subjects took a placebo, the other sixty a ginkgo-extract, three times a day. Those taking the ginkgo received a 240 mg extract, which consisted of 6% terpene lactones and 25% flavonglycosides.

All test persons were 100% mentally sane at the beginning of the experiment, and had a Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) of zero. The figure below indicates when and how many test persons developed a CDR of 0.5, a score representing 'extremely mild' signs of dementia.

Ginkgo protects elderly against first signs of Alzheimer's

Although the figure above suggests otherwise, there was no statistical relationship between taking the ginkgo extract and not having signs of dementia. However, a relationship did arise when the researchers also included how faithfully the test persons took their ginkgo tablets. When the elderly people actually took their supplement regularly, the chance of slipping mental abilities decreased by a factor of three.

Ginkgo may have side effects, however. The literature shows that people using ginkgo often have thinner blood, and as a result a higher chance of hemorrhages. "There were no observed excess bleeding-related complications in this study", the researchers explain, "but we did observe more strokes (six cases) and/or 'mini-stroke' (1 case) in the ginkgo biloba extract group. The stroke cases were generally not severe and there were no deaths."

Because of population ageing, dementia is a growing problem. So scientists are interested in everything that decreases the chance of dementia.

The researchers say they intend to do further studies on these possible side effects. In an interview with Stephen Daniells from first author Hiroko Dodge is optimistic. "The findings are interesting because Ginkgo biloba is already widely used, readily available, and relatively inexpensive", says Dodge.

Neurology. 2008 May 6;70(19 Pt 2):1809-17.