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 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: To assess the efficacy and safety of Ginkgo biloba for dementia or cognitive decline.
Search strategy: The Specialized Register of the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group (CDCIG), The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL and LILACS were searched on 20 September 2007 using the terms: ginkgo*, tanakan, EGB-761, EGB761, "EGB 761" and gingko*. The CDCIG Specialized Register contains records from all major health care databases (The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, LILACS) as well as from many trials databases and grey literature sources.
Selection criteria: Randomized, double-blind 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 were extracted from the published reports of the included studies, pooled where appropriate and the treatment effects or the risks and benefits estimated.
Main results: 36 trials were included but most were small and of duration less than three months. Nine trials were of six months duration (2016 patients). These longer trials were the more recent trials and generally were of adequate size, and conducted to a reasonable standard. Most trials tested the same standardised preparation of Ginkgo biloba, EGb 761, at different doses, which are classified as high or low. The results from the more recent trials showed inconsistent results for cognition, activities of daily living, mood, depression and carer burden. Of the four most recent trials to report results three found no difference between Ginkgo biloba and placebo, and one found very large treatment effects in favour of Ginkgo biloba.There are no significant differences between Ginkgo biloba and placebo in the proportion of participants experiencing adverse events.A subgroup analysis including only patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease (925 patients from nine trials) also showed no consistent pattern of any benefit associated with Ginkgo biloba.
Authors' 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 publication bias cannot be excluded. The evidence that Ginkgo biloba has predictable and clinically significant benefit for people with dementia or cognitive impairment is inconsistent and unreliable.