CHICAGO — The dietary supplement ginkgo, long promoted as an aid to memory, didn’t help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the longest and largest test of the extract in older Americans.
“We don’t think it has a future as a powerful anti-dementia drug,” said Dr. Steven DeKosky of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, who led the federally funded study.
Extracts from ginkgo tree leaves have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, but earlier research on ginkgo and memory showed mixed results. Annual U.S. sales of the supplement reached $107 million in 2007, according to Nutrition Business Journal estimates.
For the new study, appearing in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers recruited more than 3,000 people, ages 75 and older, from voter and mailing lists in Maryland, Pennsylvania, California and North Carolina.
Half were randomly assigned to take 120 milligrams of ginkgo biloba twice a day. The others took identical dummy pills.
Participants were screened for dementia every six months. After six years, dementia had been diagnosed at a similar rate in both groups; 277 in the ginkgo group and 246 in the group taking the dummy tablets.
When the researchers looked only at Alzheimer’s disease, that rate also was similar.
At the start, some people showed mild difficulties with thinking; ginkgo didn’t work to prevent dementia in those people either.
Proponents claim ginkgo protects the brain by preventing the buildup of an Alzheimer’s-related protein or by preventing cell-damaging oxidative stress.