Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ginkgo biloba for ADHD: A natural herbal treatment alternative?

A few weeks ago, I discussed the merits of ginseng for treating ADHD. What I did not mention is the fact that this special herb often works even better in tandem with another important "brain herb", Ginkgo biloba. It's benefits also extend beyond the nervous system, and the Ginkgo has been used to treat everything from increasing blood flow to Alzheimer's to glaucoma to hormone replacement to protection against neuronal degradation. While somewhat wary (personally) of using generalized "brain booster" nutrients for ADHD (it is a highly variable disorder of complex etiology and treatment methods), I am interested whenever new research publications arise on the topic. Just this week, a new paper came out on the merits of Ginkgo biloba as an ADHD treatment option.

Here are some of the major points of the publication:

  • Irritability is an often overlooked side effect of ADHD. Medications, especially over-prescription with stimulants such as methylphenidate and amphetamines can increase this unwanted side effect. However, Ginkgo exhibited a positive mollifying effect on irritability for the individuals in the study.

  • While one of the knocks against Ginkgo biloba is that it can sometimes result in sedative effects, the study found these to be extremely mild. However, to go along with the irritability-reducing benefits above, Ginkgo was able to improve the individuals' tolerance for frustration (to the degree that this behavior could be measured).

  • We have seen previously that oppositional defiant behaviors are often comorbid to ADHD (which can often manifest themselves alongside seemingly unrelated disorders such as auditory processing disorders or even bedwetting). One of the strongest suits of Ginkgo biloba may actually be in curbing these oppositional behaviors. This suggests that Ginkgo may be effective for the more Hyperactive/Impulsive or Combined Subtypes of ADHD, where comorbid oppositional behaviors are more often seen (as opposed to the predominantly inattentive subtype of the Disorder).

  • Nevertheless, Ginkgo biloba appeared to boost symptoms of attention and working memory as well. This may suggest Ginkgo's versatility, and that it could be used universally across the ADHD "spectrum", including for the 3 classic or traditional subtypes of the disorder.

  • The study highlights the relative success for co-treatment with methylphenidate and clonidine for individuals with ADHD and comorbid anxiety disorders. The authors suggest a functional comparison between Ginkgo and clonidine, and hint at its use as an alternative to clonidine/methylphenidate treatment (of course, it is also possible that Ginkgo may be used alongside lower doses of stimulant medications, which could be very useful in reducing unwanted side effects, which are often mild for low doses of stimulants, but typically begin to appear with greater frequency when stimulant dosing is increased). Thus, Ginkgo could possibly act as a side-effect-saving alternative to higher doses of medication.

  • As a precautionary measure, due, in part to some of its anti-clotting properties, there is some concern about Ginkgo triggering internal cerebral bleeding. Indeed, other studies have also addressed this possible concern, highlighting issues such as haemmorrhage risks, as well as herb-drug interactions with Ginkgo and anti-coagulant medications.

  • Keep in mind the extremely small nature of the study (only 6 individuals) should be met with healthy skepticism. However, the results were still notable. Statistically significant reductions in some of the trademark ADHD symptoms (fidgeting, restlessness, inattention, etc.) upon Ginkgo biloba treatment definitely highlight its potential as a more "natural" alternative treatment method for ADHD.