THE TREE OF LIFE
new research on Gingko biloba excites science
A tree that dinosaurs fed on, a tree that grows 30m tall and lives for a thousand years, may hold secrets to a longer and healthier life. The last of its kind, Gingko biloba is the oldest surviving relic of a time long past. IAN WISHART reports on its growing use as a medical must-have
It was a throwaway reference that turned up while researching retinal damage for this issue’s blue light story, but it’s funny how diverting down a rabbit hole can lead to a whole new paradigm.
The reference suggested the herbal extract gingko biloba, and more specifically the purified pharmaceutical extract EGb-761, may have a protective effect against retinal damage to your eyes caused by light exposure.
EGb-761? This magazine has written about that extract before in its alt.health pages. It’s probably better known by its trade name, Tebonin, prescribed worldwide as a treatment for tinnitus, vertigo and other conditions. Now eye health as well.
The implications are serious. As the lighting feature shows, the massive growth in exposure to high intensity white and blue light from our current crop of computer screens, smartphones, tablets LED TVs, LED house lighting and CFL energy ‘efficient’ lightbulbs, may be pushing us towards blindness by our seventies – an increasingly dark prospect in every sense of the word.
There’s no magic potion that will instantly cure or remove the threat, and wearing yellow sunglasses while watching TV or working in an office may be the best thing you can do, even if it is a crime against fashion, nonetheless the latest Tebonin study bears some thinking about because it suggests you could slow down the speed of eye degeneration.
The key lies in the anti oxidant properties of Tebonin:
“The anti-oxidant action of EGb-761 is due to its flavonoid glycosides, which can scavenge oxygen free radicals and lipid peroxides,” it reports, which is a technical way of saying the extract helps mop up some of the causes of retinal degeneration that are a by-product of light exposure. “Thus, EGb-761 can protect against light-induced retinal damage.”
The idea that taking a supplement could be a major weapon in the fight against eye strain and degeneration caused by light emitting electronics is one plus, but once you venture down the Tebonin rabbit hole you find others.
For possibly the same reasons that it protects against light damage in the eyes, Tebonin is now being tested as a possible anti-aging product for the skin. Because of ethical issues involving such a test on humans, given the skin cancer risk, Chinese researchers used lab mice and a culture of human skin cells in two separate experiments with Tebonin over a period of months. They wanted to find out whether topical application of the purified gingko biloba extract on the skin could protect against sun and UV light damage. The results were astounding.
“The signs of photoaging or photodamage, such as coarse wrinkle formation, epidermal hyperplasia, and elastic fiber degeneration, markedly reduced with the topical application of EGb-761. Western blot and ELISA revealed that the activation of MMP-1 in cultured fibroblasts markedly diminished after pretreatment with EGb-761.”
The research team’s conclusion: “topically applied EGb-761 may be a promising photoprotective agent.”
For those wondering how so many scientific studies can be plucked out of the ether, gingko biloba is one of the most widely studied herbs in the world for medicinal purposes, and it was the German pharmaceutical giant Schwabe’s patenting in the 1960s of the purified extract EGb-761 that catapulted that research. Now, rather than having to eat a ton of the herb, a purified, concentrated sample could be delivered to patients in small but effective doses. As one study this year called it, EGb-761 is “the gold standard” for gingko biloba extracts, and that’s why it is used in clinical trials and studies.
Of 25 Gingko biloba products on the market and tested by a major medical journal, only Tebonin, the EGb-761 extract, passed all five of the test requirements. Ten brands didn’t meet any requirements and the rest didn’t pass more than three out of five requirements.
The more researchers look, the more they discover, such as its important role not just in protecting the brain, but helping to restore mental agility after a stroke, for example. Worldwide, stroke is the leading medical cause of disability, and is the third-ranked cause of death:
“Recent studies on the mechanisms of action of this extract have unravelled a host of other effects, many of which are not related to its anti-oxidant effects. This has broadened the scope of EGb 761 beyond the traditional realm of neuroprotection to the restorative and recovery potential for stroke therapy.
“A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled and randomized clinical study for the first time recommended the use of G. biloba in stroke recovery. Gingko biloba (120 mg daily) treatment for 4 months following an ischemic stroke significantly reduced NIHSS in stroke patients compared to the placebo group (Oskouei et al., 2013)”
The way Tebonin works to protect the brain is interesting. For decades, scientists believed brain damage was irreversible, that neurons could not be repaired. In more recent times, new research has disabused them of that notion. It’s now clear that neurons can grow back in the right conditions, and EGb-761 has been clinically found to assist in that. The implications for stroke recovery are obvious, but researchers have recently discovered that many of us suffer from undetected “micro-strokes” that over a period of time slowly reduce our cognitive function.
The possible use of Tebonin as a dietary supplement to help reduce your risk of hidden microstrokes is being explored, but given its role in the bigger version, WOULD YOU LIKE TO READ MORE OF THIS STORY?
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