What’s the secret to living a long, healthy life? One of earth’s oldest tree species could have the answer to this age-old question. Ginkgo trees have been around for millions of years—their ancestors predate the dinosaurs! It comes as no surprise that such a resilient plant would also have healing properties for long-term health. In particular, antioxidant protection from ginkgo balances damaging free radicals in the brain and body. Find out more about how this powerful antioxidant protects long-term health.
Ginkgo biloba, “Earth’s Oldest Tree”
Back before dinosaurs roamed the earth, the mighty ginkgo tree grew across North America, Europe, and Asia. This resilient plant species dates back over 200 million years! No wonder it earned the nickname “living fossil tree.”
The ginkgo tree evolved and survived past the extinction of the dinosaurs and even through the Ice Age! Scientists estimate that humans began cultivating “earth’s oldest tree” about 1,000 years ago in China, where Buddhist monks living in monasteries by the mountains grew ginkgo for its nuts. For thousands of years, Traditional Chinese Medicine has valued Ginkgo biloba for its healing properties.
Eventually, the tree spread to other parts of China. In the 14th or 15th centuries, it made its way along coastal trade routes in Korea and Japan. It was first planted in Europe in the early 1700s and in America later that century.
Today, towering ginkgo trees provide cooling shade in many cities. You’ll recognize ginkgo trees in the streets of Tokyo and Seoul, and in Manhattan, too. It grows fan-shaped green leaves, 2–3″ long and wide, that turn bright yellow in the fall.
Ginkgo trees can live for up to 3,000 years! Pests seem to ignore them for the most part, and they tolerate air pollution, salt, and heat. Some trees even survived the World War II nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. It makes sense that such a resilient tree would hold the secrets to longevity.
Therapeutic Uses of Ginkgo
In 1965, physician and pharmacist Dr. Willmar Schwabe III began taking a closer look at Ginkgo biloba for its potential medicinal benefits. He discovered the therapeutic effects of the plant on cognition and blood flow. Ginkgo biloba extract taken from its dried ginkgo leaves steadily grew in popularity and became one of the most popular herbal supplements of today.
Millions of people take ginkgo to improve memory. It can cross the blood-brain barrier, which makes Ginkgo biloba especially beneficial when it comes to cognitive health.
Ginkgo enhances cognition in a number of ways:
- It increases blood flow to the brain, which fuels brain cells with oxygen for better memory and thinking.
- It can reduce symptoms of stress.
- It may reduce inflammation and support the body’s ability to repair.
- It acts as an antioxidant, removing damaging free radicals to protect long-term brain health.
Free Radicals and Health
One of ginkgo’s main benefits is that it acts as an antioxidant. It maintains a healthy balance of free radicals and limits their damage to cells in the body.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that quickly react with other substances.
Cells use oxygen as energy to do their jobs. When they process this energy, they leave behind waste particles called free radicals. These highly unstable molecules easily react with and damage other cells. Over time, these chemical reactions can cause mutations that lead to disease. Common free radicals include singlet oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, superoxides, and hydroxyl radicals.
Free radicals aren’t the bad guy. In fact, studies have found that moderate levels of free radicals could actually help your body function. The problem happens when too many free radicals form and overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate them.
External factors, like smoking cigarettes, poor diet, or exposure to pollution, can cause too many free radicals to form. If this continues to happen, it begins a process called oxidative stress. As we get older, oxidative stress damages cells in the body.
Long-term oxidative stress causes damage to the cardiovascular system, tissue, and DNA. Over time, this can result in a number of diseases and signs of aging.
Oxidative stress from free radical damage can contribute to:
- Poor cognitive health
- Clogged arteries
- Excess inflammation
- Signs of aging, like wrinkles, dark spots, sagging skin, or hair loss
- Decline in vision
- Increased blood sugar
How Does Oxidative Stress Affect Cognition?
Just like the rest of the body, the brain needs a healthy balance of antioxidants and free radicals to function. Free radicals promote brain cell growth. They also help your brain form new neural pathways.
Too many free radicals create oxidative stress, which can have a particularly negative effect on the brain. The brain becomes overwhelmed. Over time, this accelerates aging and contributes to neurodegenerative diseases.
World-renowned neurologist Dr. Dale Bredesen has spent three decades researching changes that happen in the brain that can lead to neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s. His New York Times Best-seller, The End of Azheimer’s, identified oxidative stress as one of the key factors that lead to the disease.
How to Reduce Oxidative Stress
We can’t avoid free radical damage entirely. But, we can take steps to reduce oxidative stress to prevent damage and disease caused by free radicals.
Lifestyle changes can help maintain healthy levels of free radicals in the brain and body. That starts with reducing environmental factors that contribute to free radical overproduction, like a poor diet, smoking, or too much time in the sun.
You can also mitigate oxidative stress by increasing your levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants fight free radicals in your body. They protect cells from free radical damage as we age.
Tips to Reduce Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress
- Eat a balanced diet rich in antioxidants
- Avoid smoking cigarettes
- Learn strategies for managing stress
- Protect skin from excess sun exposure
- Avoid environmental pollution, like poor air quality
The body produces antioxidants naturally to protect against oxidative stress caused by free radical damage. You can also get antioxidant protection from supplements and the foods you eat. Studies have shown antioxidants, like Ginkgo biloba, to be effective in neutralizing unstable free radicals.
To combat the effects of oxidative stress in the brain, Dr. Bredesen recommends a brain-healthy diet, complete with antioxidant-rich foods. He also suggests taking 120 mg of ginkgo leaf extract daily for its antioxidant and neuroprotective benefits, along with other brain-healthy ingredients like phosphatidylserine, gotu kola, turmeric, coffee fruit extract, and propolis.
Other Sources of Antioxidants
- Dark chocolate
- Gotu kola
How Does Ginkgo Protect Against Free Radicals?
Extract from the leaves of ginkgo (EGb 761) targets and neutralizes damaging free radicals. It may also act as a neuroprotectant for brain tissues already damaged by exposure to free radicals like hydroxyl or superoxide.
We can primarily credit the antioxidant protection from ginkgo to its flavonoids—a type of plant pigment. Its ginkgolides also seem to support brain health by inhibiting the formation of free radicals.
Ginkgo has other cognitive benefits, too. Neurologists recommend taking ginkgo to increase blood flow to the brain. More cerebral blood flow means your brain gets more oxygen and nutrients, improving thinking, memory, and creativity.
The brain is the most complex organ in the body. Although we still have a lot to learn, research has started to illuminate ways to protect our cognitive health. The good news: we can take steps now to keep our brains healthy and shield them against the effects of oxidative stress.
NeuroQ Memory & Focus contains ginkgo leaf extract, gotu kola, propolis, and more to help give your brain a boost and protect it against damage!