Ginkgo ups blood flow in patients with coronary artery disease

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December 29, 2007  
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CM NEWS – Looks like ginkgo biloba, the magical “memory pill”, can do more than just improving memory. A recent study indicates that not only can ginkgo help better pumping blood to the brain, it also improves blood flow in patients with coronary artery disease.

What is coronary artery disease? Coronary heart disease, or coronary artery disease (CAD), is characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits along the innermost layer of the coronary arteries. Ginkgo bilobaThe fatty deposits may develop in childhood and continue to thicken and enlarge throughout the life span. This thickening, called atherosclerosis, narrows the arteries and can decrease or block the flow of blood to the heart.

Recent studies indicate that abdominal fat accumulation, in particular intra-abdominal fat, is related to impaired endothelial function in young healthy men. Dysfunction of endothelium-dependent vasodilation is perceived as an early marker for developing atherosclerosis.

Scientists at China’s Hebei Medical University tested effects of Ginkgo biloba extract on vascular blood flow in patients with coronary artery disease.

According to the researchers, ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) has well-documented cardioprotective effects on coronary flow and positive effects on vasodilation through endothelium-derived nitric oxide in experimental animals. The endothelium (inner lining) of blood vessels use nitric oxide to signal the surrounding smooth muscle to relax, thus resulting in vasodilation and increasing blood flow.

What is ginkgo biloba? Ginkgo is one of the oldest living tree species and its leaves are among the most extensively studied botanicals in use today. Unlike many other medicinal herbs, ginkgo leaves are not frequently used in their crude state, but rather, in the form of a concentrated, standardized ginkgo biloba extract (GBE).

Ginkgo has been used in traditional medicine to treat circulatory disorders and enhance memory. Scientific studies throughout the years lend support to these traditional uses. Emerging evidence suggests that GBE may be particularly effective in treating ailments associated with decreased blood flow to the brain, particularly in elderly individuals. Laboratory studies have shown that GBE improves blood circulation by dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of blood platelets.

Ginkgo leaves also contain two types of chemicals (flavonoids and terpenoids) believed to have potent antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are substances that scavenge free radicals — damaging compounds in the body that alter cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death.

Free radicals occur naturally in the body, but environmental toxins (including ultraviolet light, radiation, cigarette smoking, and air pollution) can also increase the number of these damaging particles. Free radicals are believed to contribute to a number of health problems including heart disease and cancer as well as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Antioxidants such as those found in ginkgo can neutralize free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.

In this study, 80 patients with coronary artery disease were randomly assigned to either GBE or saline (control) groups.

Results showed that GBE significantly increased the left anterior descending coronary artery blood flow by up to about 10%. The treatment group also saw a jump in endothelium-dependent brachial artery flow-mediated dilation by as high as 69.75%.

Coronary arteries deliver blood to the heart muscle. Any coronary artery disorder or disease can have serious implications by reducing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart, which may lead to a heart attack and possibly death. By improving artery blood flow, ginkgo biloba extract may serve an important role of preventing complications in patients with coronary artery disease.

What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease? The symptoms of coronary heart disease will depend on the severity of the disease. Some persons with CAD have no symptoms, some have episodes of mild chest pain or angina, and some have more severe chest pain.

If too little oxygenated blood reaches the heart, a person will experience chest pain called angina. When the blood supply is completely cut off, the result is a heart attack, and the heart muscle begins to die. Some persons may have a heart attack and never recognize the symptoms. This is called a “silent” heart attack.

When symptoms are present, each person may experience them differently. Symptoms of coronary artery disease may include:

  • heaviness, tightness, pressure, and/or pain in the chest – behind the breastbone
  • pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, and/or back
  • shortness of breath
  • weakness and fatigue

[Planta Med 2007; 73: 624-628]