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The Practical Herbalist

Ginkgo and memory

I know a man who is always asking me about the ginkgo he has been taking. He tells me that his memory is poor and he is sure that ginkgo will fix it, he just needs better quality ginkgo (despite the fact that he has been taking Ginkgo for years with apparently no effect). When I tell him that he is wasting his money, he gets upset with me. Like many people he has been reading the marketing and believes that ginkgo is the answer.

The Chinese have used ginkgo nuts for thousands of years for lung conditions. It was considered a useful herb for strengthening and clearing the lungs. The leaves of the tree were understood to have characteristics described as "blood moving" and tonifying to the Lung and some of the source energies of the body that are responsible for the brain and neural function. As the Ginkgo tree is unique in its biology and has been around since before the last ice age, it has gained a mystique. The leaves once considered a minor herb by herbalists, is now one of the hottest selling items in the supplement market.

There are a couple of reasons that are understood in Traditional Chinese Medicine for having a poor memory. The main ones were called "blood stagnation" (lack of movement and function in the body), energy deficiency specific to the brain, and Phlegm, (that clogged cloudy feeling that comes from over eating sweets, fats, dairy and junk food). Ginkgo addresses all of these concerns to some degree. Most cases of poor memory are a result of one of these situations. There are herbs that are better than Ginkgo at controlling each of these issues, the application of those herbs would take a determination from a herbalist as to what is the main issue related to the memory loss.

All of this is a mute point for many patients and this particular gentleman. Due to other medical concerns, he is on heavy medications which would counter some of the effects of the ginkgo. Besides that, ginkgo is not going to counter the effects of his lifestyle. This person lives on donuts, chocolate milk, white bread, cakes and sweets, gets no exercise and watches TV all day. Getting his blood moving with some exercise, would do far more than ginkgo to relieve "Blood Stagnation". Eating a better diet would decrease "phlegm", and would be better than any herb at nourishing his mind. Using his memory and engaging in more active mental activities would help him train his mind to function better.

All of this could be more effective and done more cheaply than buying more ginkgo. The difficulty is that we want there to be a quick fix, we don't like to work at things. Herbs and in fact all medical treatments have to be looked at in the context of the patient and their environment. Marketing and magazine articles about any medical treatment, can't take into account the specifics of the patient when they give advice. The marketing on Ginkgo is often based in truth, it just isn't right for all people in all situations.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066