Background: Extracts of the leaves of the maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba, have long been used in China as a traditional medicine for various disorders of health. A standardized extract is widely prescribed in Germany and France for the treatment of a range of conditions including memory and concentration problems, confusion, depression, anxiety, dizziness, tinnitus and headache. The mechanisms of action are thought to reflect the action of several components of the extract and include increasing blood supply by dilating blood vessels, reducing blood viscosity, modification of neurotransmitter systems, and reducing the density of oxygen free radicals.
Objectives: The aim of the review is to assess the efficacy and safety of Ginkgo biloba for the treatment of patients with dementia or cognitive decline.
Search strategy: Trials were identified on 26 June 2002 through a search of the CDCIG Specialized Register which contains records from all main medical databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, SIGLE,LILACS), from ongoing trials databases such as Clinicaltrials.gov and Current Controlled Trials and many other sources. The search terms used were ginkgo*, tanakan, EGB-761, EGB761 and "EGB 761".
Selection criteria: All relevant, unconfounded, randomized, double-blind controlled studies, in which extracts of Ginkgo biloba at any strength and over any period were compared with placebo for their effects on people with acquired cognitive impairment, including dementia, of any degree of severity.
Data collection and analysis: Data for the meta-analyses are based on reported summary statistics for each study. For the intention-to-treat analyses we sought data for each outcome measure on every patient randomized, irrespective of compliance. For the analyses of completers we sought data on every patient who completed the study on treatment. For continuous or ordinal variables, such as psychometric test scores, clinical global impression scales, and quality of life scales, there are two possible approaches. If ordinal scale data appear to be approximately normally distributed, or if the analyses reported by the investigators suggest that parametric methods and a normal approximation are appropriate, then the outcome measures will be treated as continuous variables. The second approach, which may not exclude the first, is to concatenate the data into two categories which best represent the contrasting states of interest, and to treat the outcome measure as binary. For binary outcomes, the endpoint itself is of interest and the Peto method of the typical odds ratio is used.
Main results: Overall, there are no significant differences between Ginkgo and placebo in the proportion of participants experiencing adverse events. Most studies report the analyses of data from participants who completed the treatment, there are few attempts at ITT analyses. Therefore we report completers analyses only. The CGI scale, measuring clinical global improvement as assessed by the physician, was dichotomized between participants who showed improvement and those who were unchanged or worse. There are benefits associated with Ginkgo (dose less than 200mg/day) compared with placebo at less than 12 weeks (54/63 showed improvement compared with 20/63, OR 15.32, 95% CI 5.90 to 39.80, P=<.0001), and Ginkgo (dose greater than 200mg/day) at 24 weeks (57/79 compared with 42/77, OR 2.16, 95% CI 1.11 to 4.20, P=.02). Cognition shows benefit for Ginkgo (dose less than 200mg/day) compared with placebo at 12 weeks (SMD -0.57, 95% CI -1.09, -0.05, P=0.03, random effects model), Ginkgo (greater than 200 mg/day) at 12 weeks (SMD -0.56, 95% CI -1.12 to -0.0, P=0.05), at 12 weeks (Ginkgo any dose) (SMD -0.71, 95% CI -1.23 to -0.19 P=0.008, random effects model) at 24 weeks (Ginkgo any dose) (SMD -0.17, 95% CI -0.32 to -0.02 P=0.03) and at 52 weeks (Ginkgo less than 200 mg/day) (SMD -0.41, 95% CI -0.71 to -0.11, P=<.01). Activities of Daily Living (ADL) shows benefit for Ginkgo (dose less than 200mg/day) compared with placebo at 12 weeks (SMD -1.10, 95% CI -1.79, -0.41, P=0mg/day) compared with placebo at 12 weeks (SMD -1.10, 95% CI -1.79, -0.41, P=<.01), Ginkgo (dose less than 200 mg/day ) at 24 weeks (SMD -0.25, 95% CI -0.49 to -0.00, P=.05), and at 52 weeks (Ginkgo less than 200 mg/day) (SMD -0.41, 95% CI -0.71 to -0.11, P=<.01). Measures of mood and emotional function show benefit for Ginkgo (dose less than 200 mg/day) compared with placebo at less than 12 weeks (SMD -0.51, 95% CI -0.99 to -0.03, P=.04) and Ginkgo (dose less than 200mg/day) at 12 weeks (SMD -1.94, 95% CIs -2.73, -1.15 P=<.0001). There are no significant differences between Ginkgo and placebo in the proportion of participants experiencing adverse events. There are no data available on Quality of Life, measures of depression or dependency.
Reviewer's conclusions: Ginkgo biloba appears to be safe in use with no excess side effects compared with placebo. Many of the early trials used unsatisfactory methods, were small, and we cannot exclude publication bias. Overall there is promising evidence of improvement in cognition and function associated with Ginkgo. However, the three more modern trials show inconsistent results. Our view is that there is need for a large trial using modern methodology and permitting an intention-to-treat analysis to provide robust estimates of the size and mechanism of any treatment effects.