Background: There is some evidence to suggest that ginseng and Ginkgo biloba can improve cognitive performance, however, very little is known about the mechanisms associated with such improvement. Here, we tested whether cardiovascular reactivity to a task is associated with cognitive improvement.
Methodology/principal findings: Using a double-blind, placebo controlled, crossover design, participants (N = 24) received two doses of Panax Ginseng (500, 1000 mg) or Ginkgo Biloba (120, 240 mg) (N = 24), and underwent a series of cognitive tests while systolic, diastolic, and heart rate readings were taken. Ginkgo Biloba improved aspects of executive functioning (Stroop and Berg tasks) in females but not in males. Ginseng had no effect on cognition. Ginkgo biloba in females reversed the initial (i.e. placebo) increase in cardiovascular reactivity (systolic and diastolic readings increased compared to baseline) to cognitive tasks. This effect (reversal) was most notable after those tasks (Stroop and Iowa) that elicited the greatest cardiovascular reactivity during placebo. In males, although ginkgo also decreased cardiovascular readings, it did so from an initial (placebo) blunted response (i.e. decrease or no change from baseline) to cognitive tasks. Ginseng, on the contrary, increased cardiovascular readings compared to placebo.
Conclusions/significance: These results suggest that cardiovascular reactivity may be a mechanism by which ginkgo but not ginseng, in females is associated with certain forms of cognitive improvement.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02386852.