Ginkgo biloba is a rather grand tree. It can grow up to 35 metres and live for more than 2000 years — another great recommendation for its anti-ageing properties! Over the ages it was abundant throughout the continents but died out virtually everywhere but China by 2 million BCE. It wasn’t until about 1100 CE that it was recorded in any Chinese texts and then only as a food. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later that the powerful properties of this plant were fully understood.
Ginkgo prefers moderate climates and is most commonly found in China and Japan. It is fascinating to discover that the ginkgo tree was reported to be the only plant found to survive and flourish close to the impact site of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during WWII. While many other plants died or suffered severe mutations, the ginkgo thrived.
So how can this fantastic plant have such a strong effect on your health? The answer is found within its phytonutrients. These active elements are all part of the plant’s defence and reproduction systems as they act to repel danger, attract pollinators or encourage animals to eat them and so disperse the seeds.
The ginkgo plant has two nutrients of greater interest: flavonoid glycosides and terpene lactones. The flavonoids are of particular importance. These substances are antioxidant and are used by the tree to protect itself from UV radiation and to act as a light screen. As well, flavonoids are involved in growth regulation and protection from infection.
It has also been shown that in humans these flavonoids strengthen capillaries and help the body deal with environmental stress. Ginkgo seems to have the same UV and infection-protective antioxidant activity on humans as on itself as well as a strong circulatory stimulating effect.
Ginkgo in your body
Probably the most important effect of ginkgo comes through its antioxidant action. Antioxidants reduce free radicals that are circulating in your body. Too much bad food, stress and pollution all lead to a greater amount of free radicals and so to increased cell damage. By reducing these nasties, ginkgo reduces cell damage and slows the ageing process. Again, there is no surprise that it is reputed to increase longevity. This reduction of cell damage can have both an internal effect on organs and external effect on the skin.
Internally, most studies focus on its positive effects on the cardiovascular system. It reduces the effects of fat oxidation and so leads to reduced chances of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. This positive effect on heart health can also be attributed to ginkgo’s blood-thinning effects. These occur because of its ability to reduce platelet activating factor (PAF) in the body, thus getting blood flowing more freely. PAF is also linked to inflammation, especially in the respiratory system, so ginkgo is used by some herbalists to support the lung and bronchial function of asthmatics.