Taking Ginkgo? Take Care If You’re Epileptic

February 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

Ginkgo Leaves - Image by saflora on Stock.Xchng For years, Ginkgo Biloba has been a  top selling herbal supplement among seniors.  Early studies suggested that the way it increases blood flow might be helpful for protecting memory and mental functions, but more recent and in depth studies show few (if any) benefits to memory.

Still, Ginkgo was considered generally safe, and while experts were no longer recommending people start taking the herb in the hope of improving their memory, they weren’t recommending people stop, either.

But a research review released this month has revealed potential risks with the remedy, especially for those with epilepsy.  Ginkgo appears to increase the risk of seizures, even  among those on anti-seizure  medication.

The herb contains a potentially harmful substance known as Ginkgotoxin, which appears to alter signaling pathways in the brain.  Those changes to the pathways seem to trigger seizures.  Ginkgo also appears to interact with some anti-seizure medications, reducing their effectiveness and increasing the risk of what’s known as “breakthrough” seizures.

So Ginkgo is clearly not “safe” for epileptics.

Additional studies have hinted at a potential increase in stroke risk when Ginkgo is taken regularly, and Ginkgo is known to interfere with blood clotting and increased bleeding in case of injury, so it’s hardly risk free.

Many seniors like the idea of herbal supplements – they’re  inexpensive compared to many pharmaceuticals, they’re easy to obtain, and generally assumed to be safe because they are natural.

But they aren’t as safe as people believe. Herbal supplements aren’t subject to the same approval process that drugs go through, and little is often known about they interact with each other, or with pharmaceuticals (prescription or over the counter).

As for the popular belief that natural means safe, many poisons and toxins are natural, too. Natural, but definitely not “safe”.

And while brain-fitness aware seniors are the most likely users of products like Ginkgo, they’re also at special risk for complications; their systems may be more sensitive, they’re more likely to have existing health conditions, and to be taking medications that may have interactions with the supplements.

So if you’re taking Ginkgo or other herbal supplements (or are considering starting) make sure you check with your doctor and pharmacist to evaluate the risks — especially if you’re epileptic.

Entry filed under: Nutrition & Diet. Tags: , , .

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A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
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Authored by Tori Deaux
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