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Ginkgo Biloba and dementia

November 26, 2008 10:06:16 AM PST
Ginkgo Biloba is one supplement often taken in hopes of improving memory function. But can it help prevent dementia and Alzheimer's disease in the elderly? Can you take a pill or a capsule to protect you against the ravages of old age, the ravages of dementia or Alzehimer's for example? There was belief, and a lot of hope, that possibly one supplement called ginkgo biloba could help, and the answer came Tuesday.

Dementia and Alzheimer's disease are two of the most perplexing illnesses that can come our way during the latter parts of our lives. Betty Haughin knows how tough it can be. Her husband of 58 years succumbed after a difficult time with Alzheimer's.

Betty volunteered for a first-of-its-kind research study to see if ginkgo biloba, a popular herbal supplement taken in hopes of memory improvement, helps prevent dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

The University of Virginia School of Medicine's Dr. Steven Dekosky, who was at the University of Pittsburgh at the time of the study, led the research team.

"Because it is the most common kind of dementia in late life, we were especially interested in focusing on Alzheimer's disease, as well as all other causes of dementia that occur in late life," he said.

The study appears this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. It compared the effect of ginkgo biloba, with placebo, for as long as seven years by more than 3,000 people age 75 and older with normal cognition or with mild cognitive impairment.

"The test results showed us that under these circumstances, ginkgo doesn't appear to have any effect of slowing down thinking changes in late life," Dr. Dekosky said.

No effect - and so, no breakthrough. But Dr. Dekosky still has a goal: To find a way to delay the onset of dementia in the elderly.

"Delaying the onset of the disease for 10 years would effectively eliminate it from the population," he said.

It is something Betty Haughin hopes for too.

"Please Lord, let it be," she said.

And so there is hope as the battle against dementia continues.

Participants in the study took 240 milligrams of ginkgo biloba - or placebo tablets - daily. For more information about the study, visit JAMA.com.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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