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Study: 'Memory herb' helped some Alzheimer's patients

Ginkko bottles October 21, 1997
Web posted at: 1:52 p.m. EDT (1752 GMT)

In this story:

From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ginkgo biloba, an herb touted as a memory booster, shows promise in treating Alzheimer's disease, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests.

Previous studies have shown that ginkgo improves blood flow to the brain. The plant extract, popular in Europe, has become widely available at health, food and drug stores in the United States.

CNN's Dr. Steve Salvatore discusses the possible merits of ginkgo biloba
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About 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's, a progressive and irreversible neurological disorder that generally strikes people over 65. Its victims suffer gradual memory loss, impairment of judgment, disorientation, personality change and loss of language skills. There is no known cure.

'I can remember what I am supposed to be doing'


Mona Bower, 78, noticed her memory start to slip six years ago. She'd forget dates and appointments.

After being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she began taking pills made of ginkgo biloba extract, and believes the herb has helped.

"I remember what I am supposed to be doing," she told CNN.

Bower is one of more than 300 dementia -- that is, mentally impaired -- patients who participated in a study of ginkgo. They took 40 milligrams of herbal extract three times a day.

The amount is based on a standardized extract formula of 24 percent ginkgosides and 6 percent terpenelactones.

Scientists led by Dr. Pierre Le Bars of the New York Institute for Medical Research reported their findings in this week's medical journal.

They found that one-third of the Alzheimer's patients taking ginkgo improved in tasks involving memory, such as remembering the date or the names of relatives. About half of the group didn't experience improved memory, but showed no signs of increased memory loss.

That may be the equivalent of a six-month delay in the progression of dementia.

Alzheimer's group wants more study

The results are encouraging, but it would be premature to propose ginkgo biloba as an Alzheimer's treatment, says Dr. Zaven Khachaturian of the Alzheimer's Association.

He recommends more studies to determine how gingko works and whether it actually delays the disease or simply relieves its symptoms.

Researchers say ginkgo contains compounds that may eliminate chemicals in the body that can damage nerve cells, but Alzheimer's experts say caution is in order because:

  • The herb may reduce the blood's ability to clot.

  • Some ginkgo products may not contain the same herbal combination that was used in the study.

The experts also warn that Alzheimer's patients or their caregivers should consult a doctor before making any change in treatment.

Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore contributed to this report.


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