Natural Healing: Herbal Treatment for Intermittent Claudication

| March/April 2002

What is thought to be the oldest tree in the world, Ginkgo biloba, is also a proven treatment for arterial disease in the elderly. About sixty people per every 10,000 individuals between the ages of sixty-five and seventy-four suffer from intermittent claudication, an arterial disease that decreases the blood flow in the legs. This decreased blood flow results in cramping pain in the legs and feet, making it difficult to walk without pain or fatigue.

A 2000 study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, evaluated all of the published studies that have examined ginkgo for the treatment of claudication, a research procedure called a meta-analysis. A total of eight double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trials of ginkgo were included in this evaluation, with a total of 415 patients. The researchers found that all of the groups taking ginkgo extracts had a significant increase in the total distance they were able to walk (as well as in the pain-free distance), compared to the control groups.

The overall increase in pain-free walking in these studies was thirty-four meters (thirty-seven yards), which occurred after the participants had been taking ginkgo for a period of six to twenty-four weeks. The doses of ginkgo extracts used in these studies were from 120 mg to 160 mg daily. Although standardization was not mentioned in the review, ginkgo products should be standardized to contain 24 to 26 percent flavone glycosides. This study also notes that regular physical exercise was of value in increasing pain-free walking distance as well.

The side effects of ginkgo reported in these studies were mild and included abdominal complaints, nausea, and heartburn. Because ginkgo exhibits monoamine oxidase inhibitor activity, it should not be used with similar drugs, such as antidepressants. Ginkgo also has some anti-clotting activity and should not be taken with anticoagulants or taken prior to surgery. However, it is this anti-clotting activity that may be the basis for ginkgo’s ability to improve arterial disease. Ginkgo’s effect on the fetus is unknown, so pregnant women should not take it.

Besides being effective, ginkgo is considerably less expensive than standard medicine used for claudication. The FDA-approved drug treatment for claudication is pentoxifylline, which costs between $1.83 and $1.93 per day. The authors of this study note that 120 mg of ginkgo per day costs between $0.83 and $0.97, a savings of 50 percent.


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