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Can Ginkgo Biloba Relieve Headaches?

Natural remedies have been a major interest of Kelley's in recent years, and he's also fascinated by unusual food and beverages.

Ginkgo tree

Ginkgo tree

Herbal supplements can cure many common ailments

Like many people, I get headaches. Fortunately, my headaches don’t hurt much and certainly wouldn’t be considered migraines. But these headaches definitely are a nuisance - I get this throbbing sensation across my right eyebrow, and the pain doesn't go away for hours. Do you get similar headaches?

Well, for some time now I’ve been trying to get rid of these darn headaches as easily and cheaply as I possibly can. I’ve tried taking over-the-counter drugs – aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen – but none of them seem to work. What does work is good old caffeine. I’m fairly certain caffeine works because it contains a vasodilator, which widens the blood vessels, relieving the headache. Of course, caffeine has side effects, perhaps the worst of which is keeping you awake when you don’t want to be. Therefore, you can’t chug a cup of coffee if you get a headache in the middle of the night!

Also keep in mind that one of caffeine’s possible side effects is . . . headaches! Withdrawal from caffeine can also cause . . . headaches!

So I’ve been looking for something that has few if any side effects and also gets rid of my headaches – and I think I’ve found something that works very well.

What is Ginkgo?

The scientific name for the tree is Ginkgo biloba , also known as the Maidenhair Tree. Ginkgo trees have been around for as long as 270 million years and have no known close living relatives; hence, the tree is considered a kind of living fossil. For thousands of years the fruit of the tree and an extract from the leaves have been used for food and traditional medicine.

Ginkgo has been cultivated in China for thousands of years. Some trees have been growing there for 1,500 years. Ginkgo is also the national tree of China.

Because the Ginkgo tree tolerates pollution and confined spaces, and because it succumbs too few diseases and attacks by insects, it has been planted in many urban environments. In fact, several Ginkgo trees grow on the block near my apartment building in Sacramento, California. The only problem with the trees is that they drip sap in the spring and fall, messing up the windows of my car!

How is Ginkgo used?

The nut-like gametophytes inside the seeds are used for traditional Chinese food, including a vegetarian dish called Buddha’s Delight. Eating the seeds is supposed to have health benefits, including aphrodisiac qualities.

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As for medicinal uses, extracts of Ginkgo leaves contain what are called ginkgolides and bilobalides, both of which have been used pharmaceutically. Ginkgo herbal supplements are available in 30 to 200 mg amounts. Such supplements have been used in the treatment of dementia, even Alzheimer’s disease, as well as poor circulation in the legs (intermittent claudication). Ginkgo has also been used to enhance memory and cognitive functions and may contain an anti-vertigo agent. It may also be effective in the treatment of disorders such as tinnitus, hypertension, macular degeneration, glaucoma and vitiligo.

Keep in mind, there seems to be no clinical proof that Ginkgo is effective in any of the aforementioned medicinal contexts. Perhaps if anything works, it may be the placebo effect. Who knows?

Nevertheless, laboratory studies have shown that the use of Gingko improves circulation, because it contains a vasodilator, blood-thinner and anti-coagulant. Reading about this, I decided to see if it would relieve my headaches – without the side effects of caffeine.

Hey, it worked! And I’ve had no noticeable side effects!

I’ve taken one to two 60 mg caplets at a time and my headaches always go away. Ginkgo is not expensive either. You can purchase Ginkgo supplements at stores such as Safeway for somewhere between three to six cents per pill. They can also be purchased online, of course. In comparison, caffeine pills or pain pills including caffeine, acetaminophen and aspirin (Excedrin) cost about the same per unit.

But if you decide to take Ginkgo for whatever the reason, kept in mind that it does have potential side effects, including . . . headaches! And people taking prescription drugs such as antidepressants, blood thinners or anticoagulants should see a doctor first before taking Ginkgo.

May your headaches disappear forever!

Please leave a comment.

Why not try some Ginkgo . . .

© 2011 Kelley Marks


Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on February 28, 2011:

Yeah, I know, we all seem to be looking to pop a pill when confronted with an illness. I'd rather get rid of them without resorting to substances but nothing seems to work, even taking long walks, which I do anyway. Oh, well, I could do worse than take Ginkgo - Vicodin for instance. Dope works too. Later!

lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on February 28, 2011:

Good luck with your remedy. There is much in nature we don't understand, so quick we are to employ pharmaceutical answers.

And there is little so annoying than chronic headaches! Lynda

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