A major five-year trial of gingko biloba extract in elderly people has shown the supplement does not prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The study is published on Thursday 6 September in the journal Lancet Neurology.
Researchers in France, led by a team at the University of Toulouse III, studied 2,854 people over the age of 70 who had mild memory problems, but not Alzheimer’s disease, at the start of the study. The participants were randomised into two groups, with 1,406 people receiving 120mg of gingko biloba extract twice a day over a five-year period, and 1,414 people receiving a placebo.
Gingko biloba extract, derived from the leaves of the gingko biloba tree, had previously been suggested by some as a potential method of preventing Alzheimer’s disease, but there has been a lack of good evidence to show that the supplement has any beneficial effect. This latest study aimed to comprehensively test whether gingko biloba was able to stave off the disease.
The participants’ thinking skills and functional abilities were assessed at the start of the study and on an annual basis throughout the trial. By the end of the study, 61 people taking ginkgo biloba had developed Alzheimer’s disease (4%), compared to 73 people in the placebo group (5%).
The researchers concluded that gingko biloba had no protective effect against Alzheimer’s.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“While negative results are always disappointing, large-scale trials like this one are vital for people to make informed decisions about whether to take supplements such as gingko biloba. These results, backed up by previous research, give us the clear evidence that gingko biloba is not the ‘magic pill’ people desperately hope for.
“While we can’t yet prevent Alzheimer’s, the best evidence for reducing the risk of the disease is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check. This trial underlines the urgent need for effective ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and research has the potential to uncover these.
“Currently half a million people in the UK are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, and as our population ages that number is expected to soar. To head off a future crisis and find ways of preventing the disease, we must invest in research now.”
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