STROKE
August 1, 2014

Ginkgo Helps Neurons Grow

The herb ginkgo biloba helped mice generate new neurons after a stroke. Can it do the same for people?

The medicinal herb ginkgo biloba, made from the leaves of the ginkgo tree, has long been taken to sharpen mental abilities — to improve memory and concentration — as well as to reduce vertigo. Previous research has produced mixed results regarding whether ginkgo biloba offered any definite cognitive improvements in either healthy individuals or those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

The treated mice showed an enhanced ability to generate new neurons in the brain, a process that should have a positive effect on cognition, since neurons are the cells responsible for relaying information.

But now there is some exciting evidence of ginkgo’s therapeutic potential, at least in mice. When mice were treated four hours after an induced-stroke, those given ginkgo had better recovery and less brain damage than did mice that did not receive ginkgo.

The ginkgo-treated mice also showed an enhanced ability to generate new neurons in the brain, a process known as neurogenesis. This observation would suggest a positive effect on cognition, since neurons are the cells responsible for relaying information.

Neurogenesis appears to provide an important repair mechanism to help the brain recover from conditions like traumatic brain injury or stroke. It is a process that involves generating new stem cells in the brain, and then helping them integrate into the existing neural network. The University of Toledo study confirms that ginkgo biloba aids neurogenesis and therefore may be of benefit for stroke patients.

“Controversies and other ethical issues related to stem cell therapies make drug-induced enhanced neurogenesis a promising treatment strategy,”researcher Zahoor Shah said in a statement.

“Besides one documented clinical trial recommending the use of Ginkgo biloba after ischemic stroke, further high quality and large-scale randomized controlled trials are warranted to test its efficacy in stroke recovery.”

The study is reported in Molecular Neurobiology and reviewed in Neural Regeneration Research.

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