Jurassic-Era Gingko to Get Dementia Test

Scientists are to test whether the ancient Chinese remedy gingko can combat Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, it emerged today.

The trial will involve 250 patients over the age of 55 with memory loss, an early dementia symptom.

It is the first study to test gingko as an "at home" treatment rather than giving it to more seriously afflicted patients in hospital.

Chief researcher Dr James Warner, from Imperial College London, said: "We believe gingko may prove more effective if prescribed in a community setting where patients' symptoms are usually less severe.

"This trial will help us to find out whether with gingko it's a case of 'the sooner the better' for patients who may benefit from taking it"

Gingko, extracted from the Gingko biloba tree, is traditionally used to treat circulatory problems.

The remedy, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 5,000 years, is believed to cause blood vessels to dilate.

It is thought to improve blood flow to the brain, and reduce clotting by thinning the blood. Gingko may also have antioxidant powers that protect nerve cells from damage.

"All of these effects would suggest that gingko might slow down a degenerative process such as dementia," said Dr Warner.

An estimated 700,000 people in the UK are affected by dementia, 60% of whom are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

It is hoped gingko might provide a cheaper alternative to conventional medicines, with fewer side effects such as nausea, loss of appetite, tiredness and diarrhoea.

A quality gingko extract costs around £200 for a year's supply and can be obtained over the counter.

Conventional medicines for memory loss are based upon drugs known as cholinesterase inhibitors, which cost around £1,000 a year and are restricted to certain groups of patients.

Participants in the double-blind trial will continue to take conventional medicines for age-associated memory loss.

For six months they will be given 60mg of gingko extract or a non-active "dummy" treatment daily.

Each volunteer will be assessed for mental functioning, memory, quality of life and behaviour.

The research team is recruiting individuals in London and the home counties over the age of 55 whose GPs suspect may have dementia.

Fossilised remains of Gingko biloba trees have been found dating back 200 million years, which places the Gingko in the middle of Earth's Jurassic period.

Four of the trees survived the Hiroshima atom bomb blast in 1945, leading local people to name the tree "The Bearer of Hope".

In Germany, gingko is of the top 10 prescription medicines for the treatment of circulatory problems. Germans spent £153 million on ginkgo in 1993.

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