Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This leaf from a tree in the East,
Has been given to my garden.
It reveals a certain secret,
Which pleases me and thoughtful people.

Does it represent One living creature
Which has divided itself?
Or are these Two, which have decided,
That they should be as One?

To reply to such a Question,
I found the right answer:
Do you notice in my songs and verses
That I am One and Two?

Gin(k)go biloba
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Dieses Baums Blatt, der von Osten
Meinem Garten anvertraut,
Gibt geheimen Sinn zu kosten,
Wie's den Wissenden erbaut.

Ist es ein lebendig Wesen,
Das sich in sich selbst getrennt?
Sind es zwei, die sich erlesen,
Dasz man sie als Eines kennt?
Solche Frage zu erwidern,
Fand ich wohl den rechten Sinn:
Fühlst du nicht an meinen Liedern,
Dasz ich Eins und doppelt bin?

The social practice of medicine in advanced industrial countries is dominated by the institutional establishments.  Since these are literally matters of life and death, it is taken that the best approach is based upon the use of medical treatments that have been tested and proven according to the accepted scientific paradigm.  Thus, in USA, to bring a drug to market requires extensive testing under the guidelines, review and approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  But, at the same time, there are still large spaces in which a parallel folk medicine is permitted to operate without US FDA oversight.  At the most, the manufacturer is required to deliver what they say they deliver (see article), but they are required to address whether these remedies can be dangerous or ineffective.  Such an example is the ginkgo biloba plant, whose leaf extracts have been used in Chinese medicine since antiquity.  Today, it is widely used as an non-prescribed herbal treatment for the purpose of improving awareness, alertness, recall, reaction, attention, concentration, learning, mental acuity and memory, etc.

We will now cite some survey data taken from the 2002 MARS OTC/DTC Pharmaceutical Study.   This is a survey of 22,097 adults in the 50 states of the USA conducted during the first part of 2002.  Within the survey, 3.8% of the respondents indicated that they had taken ginkgo biloba in the last 12 months.  In the next chart, we show the incidences separately by age/sex groups.  

In the next chart, we show the incidences by age/sex groups.  If the reputation of this herbal supplement is based on its memory-enhancing properties, then it is not surprising the incidences should be higher among older people.  For both sexes, though, the highest incidences occur in the 50-64 age group, and usage in fact falls off after this.  In the USA, the retirement age is 65 years old, such that there may be a great deal of anxiety over brain functions for those who are still in the labor force.

(source: 2002 MARS OTC/DTC Pharmaceutical Study)

In the next table, we show an interesting chart of the incidences by racial and ethnic groups.  The highest incidence was found among American natives.  The lowest incidence was found among Asians and Pacific Islands.  In the latter case, this may be a labeling problem.  After all, the use of the ginkgo biloba leaf originated from China, Japan and Korea.  The issue here is that many Asians probably know it under other names, such as silver apricot or silver fruit (silver = 'gin' and fruit = 'kyo' in both Chinese and Japanese languages).

(source: 2002 MARS OTC/DTC Pharmaceutical Study)

In the next chart, we show the incidences among people who said that they 'completely agreed' with a list of opinion/attitudinal statements.  In all cases, the incidence of ginkgo biloba usage is significantly higher than for the general population.  

(source: 2002 MARS OTC/DTC Pharmaceutical Study)

The use of ginkgo biloba is still scientifically controversial.  In this article, The Lowdown on Ginkgo Biloba, the experimental evidence for the usefulness of ginkgo biloba is reviewed (note: a more detailed version of the paper appears as Ginkgo Biloba: A Cognitive Enhancer?), and the sub-title says it all about the authors' conclusion: "This popular herbal supplement may slightly improve your memory, but you can get the same effect by eating a candy bar."

(posted by Roland Soong on 03/28/2003)

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