Health Team

Study: Ginkgo biloba can't prevent dementia

Posted November 18, 2008 5:54 p.m. EST

Ginkgo Biloba is an herbal supplement that many people take in hopes of improving their memory. But can it also help prevent dementia and Alzheimer's disease in the elderly?

Betty Haughin was married for 58 years to Ken. He died four years ago.

“He meant the world to me,” she said.

The last year of Ken's life was tough as Alzheimer's disease took its toll.

“It's just a descent into sadness,” Haughin said.

She volunteered for a first of its kind research study to see if Ginkgo Biloba could help prevent dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

“Because it's the most common kind of dementia in late life, we were especially interested in focusing on Alzheimer's disease, as well as all other causes of dementia that occurred in late life,” said Dr. Steven T. DeKosky, the neurologist who led the clinical trial.

The seven-year study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared the effect of Ginkgo Biloba with placebo in more than 3,000 people – age 75 and older – with normal or mild cognitive impairment.

“The test results showed us that under these circumstances, Ginkgo doesn't appear to have any effect of slowing down thinking changes in late life,” DeKosky said.

No effect and no breakthrough; however, researchers are still searching for a way to delay the onset of dementia in the elderly.

“Delaying the onset of the disease for 10 years would effectively eliminate it from the population,” DeKosky said.

That is something Betty Haughin is hoping for too.

“Please Lord, let it be,” she said.

Participants in the study took 240 milligrams of Ginkgo Biloba or placebo tablets daily.