Herbs for Health: Capsules

| February/March 1998

  • A ginkgo tree growing in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Remember Gingko

The first large-scale clinical study on ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) conducted in the United States has found a leaf extract to be a safe treatment to improve short-term memory and social functioning in patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. Both conditions are caused by the death of brain cells.

The one-year, placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized study, published in the ­October 22, 1997, issue of The Journal of the American Medical ­Association, started with 327 participants, with 202 completing the study. Participants received either 40 mg of an extract standardized to contain 24 percent flavone glycosides and 6 percent terpenes or a placebo three times a day. Outcomes were measured at twelve, twenty-six, and fifty-two weeks.

Further studies are needed to determine the effects of long-term administration of the extract and whether the benefits of taking the extract persist after treatment ends. Several pilot studies involving humans have suggested that higher dosages may be more effective than the dosage given here.

European studies on people have demonstrated that ginkgo-leaf extract also helps regulate the metabolism of the brain and protects the blood-brain bar­rier (a mechanism that helps maintain a stable environment in the brain), dilates and regulates the tone of blood vessels and increases blood flow in the smallest blood vessels, and helps maintain the integrity and permeability of cell walls by inactivating free oxygen radicals.(1)

A Pepper Inhibits Platelet Aggregation

The genus Piper in the pepper family (Piperaceae) contains more than 1,000 species of tropical shrubs, small trees, and vines. Several are important economic plants: P. nigrum is the source of black pepper, and P. methysticum is the South Pacific herb kava-kava. Now another species, betel (P. betle), is catching the attention of scientists.

In an animal study, Shanghai researchers evaluated how well four neolignan compounds from betel reduce inflammation compared to ginkgolides from Ginkgo biloba, which are among the best-studied herbal anti-inflammatories.

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