Ginkgo Biloba for Treating Anxiety

ginko seeds and leaves
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Most of us feel stress and worry at times. When trying to manage symptoms naturally, some people turn to ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), an herb with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Said to boost circulation and influence neurotransmitter activity in the brain, ginkgo is sometimes used as an herbal remedy for cognitive and mental health concerns.

Why Is Ginkgo Sometimes Used for Anxiety?

Chronic anxiety is one of the most widespread mental health concerns in the United States. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health reported that a large survey found that about 19 percent of U.S. adults had experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year.

Unlike situational anxiety (such as the nervousness experienced during public speaking), anxiety disorders are marked by chronic, exaggerated worry and tension. Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder.

Some people with anxiety use natural remedies such as ginkgo as a complement to cognitive-behavioral therapy (an approach widely used in the treatment of anxiety disorders).

Additionally, some individuals use natural remedies as an alternative to anti-anxiety medications, which can cause side effects including drowsiness and forgetfulness. However, it's important to note that there's currently a lack of scientific research comparing the effectiveness of ginkgo to that of anti-anxiety medications in the treatment of any type of anxiety disorder.

The Research on Ginkgo for Anxiety Relief

So far, few clinical trials have tested ginkgo's effects on people with anxiety. Still, one clinical trial published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2007 found that ginkgo may benefit people with generalized anxiety disorder (a condition characterized by persistent, excessive worrying about everyday matters).

For the study, 82 people with generalized anxiety disorder (as well as 25 people with adjustment disorders accompanied by anxiety) were given either ginkgo or a placebo for four weeks. By the study's end, participants treated with ginkgo showed a significantly greater improvement in anxiety symptoms compared to study members given the placebo.

Research has also explored the use of ginkgo in people with dementia. While early studies indicate that ginkgo may improve cognitive function and activities of daily living (according to a review), further research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of ginkgo for anxiety in people with dementia.

Side Effects and Safety

Ginkgo is known to trigger a number of side effects such as:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Forceful heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Stomach upset

Due to the lack of clinical trials testing the effects of ginkgo supplements, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of such supplements or how it might interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications. Case reports, for instance, suggest that ginkgo may interact with medications such as sodium aescinate and antiretrovirals.

Ginkgo supplements may increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in people with bleeding disorders and those taking drugs or supplements that may increase the risk of bleeding such as warfarin, pentoxifylline, aspirin, garlic, or vitamin E. It is usually recommended that people taking ginkgo stop in the weeks before and after any type of surgery. Pregnant or nursing women should avoid ginkgo.

Since chronic anxiety may worsen when left untreated, it's crucial to consult a mental-health professional if you're frequently experiencing such symptoms as feelings of nervousness, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and difficulty concentrating.

Ginkgo contains compounds called ginkgolic acid and ginkgotoxin. Ginkgolic acid may trigger serious allergic reactions and be harmful to the body's cells. While some manufacturers measure and limit the level of ginkgolic acid in products, in many countries, there is no requirement to measure or list the amount on the label. Ginkgotoxin is found mainly in ginkgo nuts and is present in small amounts in the seeds. Ginkgotoxin is thought to block the activity of vitamin B6.

The Takeaway

While ginkgo may help lessen some symptoms of anxiety, relying solely on this herb in the treatment of an anxiety disorder is not advised. For most individuals, effective management of chronic anxiety requires a combination of treatments and lifestyle changes (such as exercising regularly and getting sufficient sleep).

Some research indicates that dietary approaches, such as limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol and regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, may help lower anxiety. Herbs like kavapassion flower, and valerian are also being explored as herbs to manage symptoms naturally.

Many stress reduction techniques (including meditation, guided imagery, and breathing exercises) may also be helpful for anxiety relief. In addition, there's some evidence that undergoing alternative therapies such as acupuncture, hypnosis, and biofeedback may be beneficial in the treatment of anxiety.

If you're considering the use of ginkgo in the treatment of an anxiety disorder, talk to your doctor for help in incorporating the herb into your anxiety management plan.

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