October 3, 2012

Bad News for Patients With MS: Gingko Biloba Does Not Help Cognitive Issues

Portland, OR—It may be a case of wishful thinking, but many patients with multiple sclerosis use the natural supplement Gingko biloba in hopes that it will help counteract the cognitive problems that appear in half of those with the debilitating disease.

A small 2005 pilot study bolstered that optimism by suggesting the supplement, available at most drugstores, might improve attention.

A more extensive new study, however, has dashed those hopes. The report in the journal Neurology says Gingko biloba does not improve cognitive performance in MS sufferers, based on a follow-up with patients at the Portland and Seattle Veterans Affairs medical centers.

"It's important for scientists to continue to analyze what might help people with cognitive issues relating to their MS," said Jesus Lovera, MD, the study's lead author, formerly with the Portland VA and Oregon Health & Science University's Department of Neurology but now at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.

"We wanted to follow up on the earlier findings that suggested there may be some benefit,” he explained. “But we believe this larger study settles the question: Gingko simply doesn't improve cognitive performance with MS patients.”

Dennis Bourdette, MD, study co-author and co-director of the VA MS Center of Excellence-West, said the most common cognitive problems in MS relate to memory, attention and concentration, and information processing.

The 2005 study, which Lovera also led, included 39 participants who were given Gingko biloba or a placebo. The new study included 120 participants given Gingko or a placebo.

Pharmacists shouldn’t expect much decline in sales of the herb based on the study, however.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more research is needed, but gingko Biloba is possibly effective for:

• Modestly improving symptoms of Alzheimer’s, vascular, or mixed dementias, although it is hard to determine which patients might benefit
• Improving thinking problems in some elderly people with mild to moderate age-related memory loss or thinking problems
• Modestly improving memory and speed of mental processing in younger people with memory loss
• Decreasing pain from Raynaud’s syndrome in the fingers and toes
• Reducing leg pain due to poor blood flow caused by claudication or peripheral vascular disease
• Controlling vertigo and dizziness
• Managing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
• Improving pre-existing damage to the visual field in people with normal tension glaucoma
• Improving color vision in people with diabetes.

U.S. Pharmacist Social Connect