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April 2013

Ginkgo Studied For Chemotherapy Cognitive Side Effects

A recent study found a lack of evidence to support the use of Ginkgo biloba for preventing chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment.

Ginkgo biloba has been used as medicine for thousands of years. Today, it is one of the top-selling herbs in the United States. Ginkgo has been studied for the treatment of many conditions. Evidence suggests that ginkgo may be effective in managing claudication (pain or weakness in the legs due to blocked arteries), Alzheimer's disease, and dementia. There is promising early evidence favoring the use of ginkgo for memory enhancement in healthy subjects, altitude sickness, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), age-related eye disorders, and some chemotherapy side effects (such as blood vessel damage).

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. These drugs are designed to kill cancer cells by affecting their ability to grow and reproduce. Many cancer drugs used today do not specifically attack cancer cells. This means that they not only affect cancer cells but also normal cells in people who take them, which is why chemotherapy drugs often produce severe side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, skin problems, and damage to blood and immune cells. Other types of side effects may also occur, depending upon the specific drug used.

Cognitive function problems have been reported by people undergoing cancer treatment. In the current study, researchers evaluated the possible benefits of ginkgo on protecting against cognitive impairment in those receiving chemotherapy. They studied 166 women with breast cancer who were randomly assigned to 60 milligrams of ginkgo or placebo, taken by mouth twice daily throughout chemotherapy and one month after completing treatment.

The results suggested that there was a lack of significant differences between the ginkgo group and the placebo group in terms of cognitive function. The placebo group reported worse nausea after chemotherapy.

The researchers concluded that these findings lack support for the use of ginkgo in preventing cognitive impairment caused by chemotherapy. Further study is needed to determine whether ginkgo may be effective for this purpose.

Many integrative therapies have been studied for a range of chemotherapy side effects. These include bee pollen, fermented milk extract, fermented wheat germ extract, grape, and hypnotherapy. However, there is unclear or conflicting evidence on the effectiveness of these treatments. More research is needed before firm conclusions can be made.

For more information about ginkgo, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Barton DL, Burger K, Novotny PJ, et al. The use of Ginkgo biloba for the prevention of chemotherapy-related cognitive dysfunction in women receiving adjuvant treatment for breast cancer, N00C9. Support Care Cancer. 2013 Apr;21(4):1185-92. doi: 10.1007/s00520-012-1647-9. Epub 2012 Nov 13. 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

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