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  health > alternative > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Ginkgo biloba, a potential to treat heart disease

August 6, 1999
Web posted at: 3:29 PM EDT (1929 GMT)

In this story:

Obstructing blood flow

Promoting blood flow

A long history

Use with caution


By James Balch, M.D.

  • Improve blood flow
  • Neutralize damaging free radicals
  • Increase circulation
  • Combat dizziness, migraines and tinnitus
  • Improve concentration and memory
  • (WebMD) -- Just when you thought you knew all there was to know about ginkgo biloba and its touted ability to improve your mental acuity, here's something else to think about: Ginkgo biloba may also be effective in beating heart conditions known as arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis.

    Obstructing blood flow

    Arteriosclerosis literally means the hardening of the arteries. The condition, which causes the blood vessels to lose their elasticity, occurs in people who have a build up of calcium in the walls of the arteries or who've had high blood pressure for a long time. Atherosclerosis is the most common type of arteriosclerosis and involves the build up of fat-like substances in the walls of the arteries.

    Eventually, calcium and the fatty substances build up to the point that blood flow is restricted, forcing the blood pressure up and increasing the risk of chest pain and heart attacks. Left untreated, the arterial supply of blood to the brain can also be blocked and result in a stroke.

    Perhaps the best way to understand this process is to think about the water pipes at home. Old pipes have incredible mineral buildups on the inside, which either stop the flow of water or cut it to a trickle. When the same thing happens in your arteries and capillaries, it reduces the amount of blood coursing through your body, diminishing its ability to heal itself of damage from free radicals, byproducts of your body's energy-producing process. Free radicals wreak havoc and damage cells, which can lead to many diseases.

    Promoting blood flow

    Ginkgo biloba may act on the blood vessels to improve blood flow, which means the body can proceed with its natural way of fighting free radicals and healing itself of any damage. At the same time, the herb can possibly act as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals, preventing them from damaging the body any further.

    Ginkgo biloba has also been shown to help alleviate the symptoms of other ailments. By improving circulation, the herb can ease dizziness, migraine headaches and a perpetual ringing in the ears that doctors call tinnitus. Some people who take ginkgo biloba also experience an improvement in their breathing, which reduces the hardening of the arteries that arteriosclerosis causes. On top of that, many Americans use ginkgo, attempting to improve concentration and memory.

    A long history

    Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest herbal remedies known, dating back at least five thousand years. Traditionally, people have made tea out of the leaves of the ginkgo tree. Unfortunately, the leaves stink. You can avoid the smell and get the same benefits from standard extracts that are available as supplements in health food stores and natural food grocers. A typical dosage is 80 to 150 milligrams per day.

    Use with caution

    Of course, anyone with arteriosclerosis should consult with a physician, who will need to evaluate the severity of the condition. People with advanced cases may need more aggressive therapy and careful monitoring of their blood pressure. Be sure to ask your doctor before using any herbal therapy, which can interact with other heart medications, with potentially catastrophic results.

    In addition, because the Food and Drug Administration does not monitor the quality of herbal products or require rigorous clinical research to test the touted health benefits of herbs, exercise care when using them to treat a health condition.

    The best way to deal with the hardening of the arteries is to avoid it altogether. You can help your body by not smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke at home or in the office and controlling your blood pressure, diabetes and blood cholesterol levels, which are all major risk factors for heart disease. It's also very important to control your weight, exercise and eat fruits, vegetables and grains, while shunning foods with high levels of fat, sugar or cholesterol.

    Dr. James Balch has practiced medicine for more than 30 years and has spent extensive time studying and lecturing on alternative medicine and antioxidants. In addition, he has authored several books including, "Ten Natural Remedies That Can Save Your Life" and "The Super Antioxidants: Why They Will Change The Face Of Healthcare in the 21st Century" and co-authored best-selling "Prescriptions for Nutritional Healing."

    Copyright 1999 by WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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