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Ginkgo biloba touted as herb for the absent-minded


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February 12, 1997
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Dan Rutz

NEW YORK (CNN) -- According to a recent medical survey, everyday forgetfulness is an aggravating fact of life for most people past 35.

But a number of people have begun taking an herbal supplement that they believe helps boost short-term memory, making them feel sharper and more alert.

The supplement is Ginkgo Biloba, an extract from the tree of the same name best known among the scientifically unsophisticated for its smelly seeds.

Studies show that ginkgo improves blood flow to the brain, and as a result may put a sharper edge on thinking, and remembering.

Dr. Paul Rosch, a paid spokesman for one ginkgo product, says it can help some people.

"Anything that can improve the flow of oxygen to the brain cells will improve memory if the nature of the problem is that the brain cells are not getting enough oxygen," he says.

The issue is whether brains get enough oxygen


Diane Becker, owner of the popular Elaine's restaurant in New York, takes ginkgo biloba because hers is a business where attention to detail is critical.

"It can be stressful because every night is like planning a dinner party, and you don't know who's coming," she says.

"I don't know if it's a placebo effect at this point or if it's real," she says. "But it seems to be helping me be a little more alert, and I'm going to keep going with it, just like the daily vitamins."

The question is whether healthy people get enough blood in their brain, and Ray Dingledine thinks they do. Dingledine is the chief pharmacologist at Emory University.

"Most of our brains are in good shape to begin with," he says.

Dingledine isn't saying ginkgo doesn't work, only that there isn't any proof that it does.

Pharmacologist distrusts studies


"There've been a lot of claims for these extracts helping a variety of symptoms that revolve around short term memory loss, anxiety, confusion, and things like that," he says, "but most of these are very small studies and many of them are not well controlled."

Dingledine suspects any benefits, at least in healthy people, are likely to be modest and subtle.

Dr. Rosch agrees that whatever good the herb might do, it's no substitute for taking care of yourself and reducing stress. But he says, there's no evidence that the herb hurts, and at least for some, it just might help.


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