According to scientific research, an increase in blood flow to the brain seems to be the primary connection between ginkgo biloba and memory. The supplement may cause dilation of blood vessels that generally improves circulation. In addition, some studies involving ginkgo biloba and memory seem to indicate that the herb may inhibit blood platelet attachment. When blood platelets bond together, they can sometimes block arteries and blood vessels, resulting in poor circulation and, in some cases, life-threatening blood clots.
Ginkgo biloba is a type of herbal supplement made from the leaves of a tree by the same name. Most botanists believe that ginkgo trees are native to China, though they grow in many other parts of the world. Some references in ancient Chinese writings may be evidence that the link between ginkgo biloba and memory has roots in early medicine. Ancient Chinese physicians may have used ginkgo biloba to treat memory-related illnesses such as dementia and senility.
The primary benefit of ginkgo biloba as it relates to memory seems to come from chemical compounds called terpenoids. Studies seem to show that terpenoids are responsible for dilating blood vessels and clearing arteries of clumped platelets. Some herbalists claim that in addition to increasing blood flow, terpenoids may also act to protect brain cells from damage resulting from alcohol consumption or other environmental factors. Some herbalists also claim that ginkgo biloba can enhance the performance of brain cells, though little scientific research exists to support this conclusion.
In addition to a link between ginkgo biloba and memory, studies generally indicate that the leaves of ginkgo biloba trees contain flavonoids, which are chemicals believed to act as antioxidants. Antioxidants work within the body to help destroy free radicals, which are compounds that can damage the membranes of cells. Damaged cell membranes often result in cell mutation. In some cases, this type of mutation can cause life-threatening diseases, usually manifesting as cancerous tumors.
In Europe and Asia, physicians sometimes prescribe ginkgo biloba for medical issues related to memory and concentration. In the United States, the medical community has been slower to embrace the supplement, and this may be due to some of the risks associated with its use. Patients already taking blood thinners may suffer serious side effects from the use of ginkgo biloba. One of the more serious side effects is bleeding in the brain, which can be a life-threatening condition. In addition, those who are planning to have surgery should talk to their physician about the use of the supplement, as it can sometimes cause excessive bleeding.