Taking ginkgo to beat Alzheimer’s is a 'waste of time as it does not improve the memory'
French researchers looked at whether the supplements prevent the disease taking holdSample included 2,854 people with memory problems who were 70 years old or older

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UPDATED:

09:12 GMT, 6 September 2012

A popular herbal remedy used by thousands of people to ward off Alzheimer’s is a waste of time, warn researchers.

Taking ginkgo biloba supplements does not protect against developing the disease despite its reputation for improving memory and concentration.

One of the longest and most rigorous studies ever conducted on ginkgo biloba found no proof that it helped to prevent the disease among older people starting to have memory problems.

Users have been told to take between 60 and 240mg a day to reap the benefits of this herb

Users have been told to take between 60 and 240mg a day to reap the benefits of this herb

Doctors claim this is the final nail in the coffin for the Chinese remedy, following other trials that have found no benefit.

Around 820,000 Britons are affected by
dementia with symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and mood changes,
with Alzheimer’s the most common cause.

Many people with Alzheimer’s as well
as those concerned about becoming affected take gingko, derived from the
leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree.

The latest study by French researchers looked at whether the supplements could prevent the disease taking hold.

The trial took place over five years,
involving 2854 people who were 70 years old or over, and who had asked
their family doctor about memory problems.

Altogether
1406 patients were given a twice daily dose of 120mg ginkgo biloba
extract, and 1414 given a placebo, designed to have a similar taste and
appearance to the ginkgo pills.

Researchers used standard tests at regular intervals to assess the patients’ memory, brain function and dementia status.

After
five years, 61 (four per cent) of those taking ginkgo had been
diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s disease, compared with 73 (five per
cent) participants in the placebo group.

The
difference was not statistically significant, and the researchers also
found no significant difference between the groups in the number who had
died or had a stroke, says a report in the medical journal The Lancet
Neurology.

The study appears to confirm similar findings of a 2009 trial in the USA.

Lead author Professor Bruno Vellas of the Hpital Casselardit, in Toulouse, France, said it was the largest ever Alzheimer’s prevention study carried out in Europe.

As one of the big retirement destinations for middle class Americans, Phoenix, Arizona has also become a capital of dementia care, as Louis Theroux found out

As one of the big retirement destinations for middle class Americans, Phoenix, Arizona has also become a capital of dementia care, as Louis Theroux found out

He said ‘Our trial was unique in that
the study population was made up of more than 2,500 individuals aged 70
years and older, who were free of dementia, and who had spontaneously
reported subjective memory complaints.

‘While
our trial appears to have shown that regular use of ginkgo biloba does
not protect elderly patients from progression to Alzheimer’s disease,
more studies are needed on long term exposure.

‘The
fact that prevalence of this debilitating disorder is expected to
quadruple by 2050 suggests that research into preventative therapies for
this disease needs to receive urgent attention’ he added.

Professor Lon Schneider, director of the University of Southern California’s (USC) Alzheimer’s Disease Research and Clinical Center, said in a comment in the journal: ‘If ginkgo biloba were a drug, and not marketed as a food supplement, clinical testing for efficacy against Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment would have ended long ago.’ He said it would be ‘unfortunate’ if people taking gingko continued to believe it could work.

‘Some users will rationalise that, in the absence of effective treatments, ginkgo biloba could still possibly help and, appearing safe, will not harm them. Other users of ginkgo biloba, however, might now consider letting it go’ he added.

Ginkgo biloba is extracted from the leaves of the Ginkgo - the worlds oldest living tree

Ginkgo biloba is extracted from the leaves of the Ginkgo – the worlds oldest living tree

Ginkgo biloba is extracted from the leaves of the Ginkgo – the world’s oldest living tree – which was left only in China after the Ice Age.

It contains three groups of complex
compounds called flavonoids, diterpines and sesquiterpines which are
thought to increase blood flow and improve circulation.

Other
possible benefits , it is claimed, come from ginkgo’s antioxidant
activity, reducing the level of harmful chemicals in the body, and
increasing the oxygen and nutrient supply to the central nervous system.

A
spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society charity said ‘It is
understandable that people would want to hear that an over-the-counter
herbal remedy could be the answer to preventing Alzheimer’s.

‘For a while it was hoped that ginkgo biloba could be the wonder drug.

‘However, in recent years evidence – including a previous study by Alzheimer’s Society – has repeatedly shown that it does not have any benefits in preventing the disease or slowing down symptoms.

‘One in three people over 65 will develop dementia. The best way for people to reduce their risk is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, not smoke and keep their cholesterol levels in check.