Ginkgo biloba, an over-the-counter herbal remedy used by many to boost mental awareness, has been shown in a medically supervised study to slow cognitive decline in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system.
Although past studies have shown that Ginkgo slows mental decline in Alzheimer's patients, until now the herb has not been scientifically studied in patients with MS.
The study, which was conducted by Jody Corey-Bloom, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurosciences, University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology on Thursday, April 18 in Denver, Colorado.
In a six-month double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of 23 individuals with mild multiple sclerosis, physicians noted better performance on neuropsychological tests by patients who took Ginkgo biloba compared to those who took the inactive placebo.
According to Corey-Bloom, about 50 percent of the 300,000 Americans with multiple sclerosis experience cognitive problems, usually with concentration, memory and abstract reasoning. In some individuals, symptoms of cognitive decline can occur early in the disease, even when other MS symptoms, such as loss of balance and muscle coordination, are mild.
The study coordinators concluded that Ginkgo biloba, in doses of 240 mg a day, is well-tolerated and may show a beneficial effect on attention, memory and functioning in patients with mild MS.
Noting that larger clinical trials with longer durations of treatment will be necessary to confirm and extend these preliminary findings, Corey-Bloom added that she is encouraged enough by these results that she will recommend Ginkgo biloba to her MS patients with cognitive complaints.
The Ginkgo biloba pilot study was funded by a fellowship to explore complementary therapies at the UCSD School of Medicine.
Co-authors of this study were Christopher Kenney, M.D., UCSD Department of Neurosciences and Marc Norman, Ph.D., UCSD Department of Psychiatry.