Feel safe to use Ginkgo biloba

A correction of the unreasonably alarming information on Ginkgo biloba is required.

A large number of people use this natural remedy on account of its ability to improve memory. This ability has been documented in numerous studies, including British ones. According to the press, the WHO is quoted for having warned against a danger of bleeding when Ginkgo biloba is consumed together with anticoagulants. There are reports of two deaths and a number of non-fatal bleedings from a total of 22 countries. The suspicion is that Ginkgo biloba enhances the effect of the anticoagulants.

Anticoagulants themselves involve a serious risk of internal bleedings, and every year, hundreds of people die as a result of taking anticoagulants. Therefore, without a scientific investigation, it is impossible to know whether it is Ginkgo biloba, the anticoagulants, or solely a combination of both that is responsible. Every year, several hundred people - in Scandinavia alone - die from this inevitable side effect of anticoagulants, but a great many more are saved by it. The fact that some of the people who have suffered a cerebral haemorrhage have used Ginkgo biloba at the same time, in no way proves that the combination is risky.

More than 30 medicaments in general use can either fortify or weaken the effect of anticoagulants. Both situations can be highly dangerous. Examples of medicine that fortify the effect of anticoagulants are sulpha drugs used against cystitis, a number of antibiotics, and common painkillers like aspirin.

Kale, chicory, spinach, and many other vegetables also affect the treatment. That Ginkgo biloba should affect the treatment, however, has been repudiated in the only serious study performed to date. It is of Danish origin and was published in the Danish Weekly Magazine for Medical practitioners last year. In a double-blind, randomized trial it was established that neither Ginkgo biloba nor co-enzyme Q10 had any influence on the haemorrhagic tendency in the 24 participants who were all being long-term treated with warfarin which is the most commonly used anticoagulant.

Unfortunately, anticoagulants do involve a risk of internal bleedings. This is unevitable. However, there is nothing to indicate that the this risk should be increased by taking Ginkgo biloba. On the contrary; present knowledge indicates the opposite!

Professor Ralph Edwards of the WHO Monitoring Centre in Uppsala, Sweden, feels abused by the press in this matter, as he says:

"We have NOT warned against Ginkgo biloba. There is no news in the statement of the WHO which is only a press release about new guidelines on information regarding dietary supplements and natural medicine. It is not even very likely that Ginkgo biloba should interact with anticoagulants, but it is common sense not to use a vasodilating supplement together with anticoagulants or in relation to an operation."


Litt: Ugeskr Laeger. 2003 Apr 28;165(18):1868-71.
[Effect of Coenzyme Q10 and Ginkgo biloba on warfarin dosage in patients on long-term warfarin treatment. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over trial]

This article is a translation of the press release of the Danish www.vitalraadet.dk.

Also see the original press release of the WHO.