By Jill R. Davies for CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine).
Maintaining a healthy brain and a good sharp memory is something we would all wish for. The herb Ginkgo has received much public attention in recent years in connection with its ability to promote better mental clarity and recall, particularly in age-related memory loss.
Ginkgo can be helpful on a number of counts. One of the herb’s main attributes is the ability to increase the flow of blood through ageing blood vessels, particularly in the brain. This enhances memory, mental agility, alertness and other brain functions and eases some types of depression. It aids the work of neurotransmitters in the brain, which in turn helps memory agility and enhancement. It also helps speed up the rate of information transmission, thus improving short-term memory, which is useful for students of all ages, including during exams.
Ginkgo protects cell membranes
As a free radical scavenger, Ginkgo protects cell membranes in the brain and other brain tissues from damage, which helps to keep the body and mind young, alert and healthy. It helps fight disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system, partly by protecting the ‘myelin sheath’ (which insulates the nerves) against some types of damage or wear and tear (often associated with stress). Ginkgo balances and regulates brain metabolism partly because of the increased flow of blood and the utilisation of oxygen and blood sugar (glucose).
Herbal preparations from the leaves of the Ginkgo tree have been used by the Chinese for over 3,000 years as a general tonic. Although most often prescribed for mental alertness, it also offers a host of other benefits, too numerous to mention here. By increasing the supply of oxygen it can help heal damage to the heart, veins and capillary system, as well as assisting general health by improving energy levels and by slowing down the ageing process.
Herbs have been used for generations to help us to de-stress, focus better, and to feel less anxious. A herbalist’s aim is to offer the most appropriate, and therefore the most effective herb or mix of herbs, for each individual’s circumstances.
A herbalist who has naturopathic training will also be qualified to provide dietary and lifestyle guidance, and so help to maximise your efforts to retain a healthy brain and memory. A healthy and fresh, well balanced diet is essential to get the nutrients we need, as is the reduction of potential allergens in the diet, which could contribute to brain fog in susceptible individuals. Also important is drinking plenty of water, doing exercise, getting some sunlight, stopping smoking, and reducing alcohol and sugar, which act against the cells and tissues of your brain. Banging the drum for herbs once again, I also recommend cooking with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herbs and spices such as turmeric and oregano, and consuming antioxidant-rich herbal teas such as Nettle. Herbs are such wonderful things!
When to avoid Ginkgo
The wealth of empirical knowledge about this amazing herb is reassuring regarding its safety and efficacy. Ginkgo poses no threat to the majority of people if given at a normal dose and it is properly prepared. Avoid Ginkgo if you are taking epilepsy medication or anti-coagulant (blood-thinning) medication such as warfarin, heparin or aspirin. Ginkgo is safe to take with most other medications, but consult a doctor or herbalist first.
Jill R.Davies is a Herbalist and Naturopath who lectures at CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine). To find out about CNM training in a range of natural therapies visit www.naturopathy-uk.com