Ginkgo Biloba for the treatment of migraine headaches: an introduction
Ginkgo biloba – one of the most popular natural remedies in the world – has been used for thousands of years as an herbal treatment. It is often called one of the world’s oldest trees. Ginkgo biloba, also just called ginkgo, has long been used in Chinese medicine. Ginkgo has historically been used for many conditions, including migraine headache symptoms, dementia, asthma, bronchitis, eye problems like glaucoma, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), leg pain caused by narrowing of the arteries (intermittent claudication), and other health problems.1
Most supplements use the concentrated gingko biloba extract which comes from dried green leaves of the tree. The active ingredients in gingko are believed to be flavonoids, which act as antioxidants, and terpenoids, which can help improve circulation by relaxing blood vessels and decreasing the stickiness of platelets.2
Research on ginkgo biloba
Most of the research that has been done on ginkgo biloba focuses on its possible benefits in dementia and in pain caused by narrowed blood vessels (claudication). However, the evidence from research has not found any significant benefits for either condition, and no scientific research has been able to conclusively determine a benefit for ginkgo for any health condition.1,2
Studies on ginkgo biloba and migraine
There are very few studies of ginkgo in migraine sufferers. One small 2009 study looked at 50 women who suffered from migraine with aura or migraine aura without headache. For four months, the Italian women were given ginkgo biloba supplements for migraine. The study found that the total number of migraine attacks were reduced significantly. However, the study’s results aren’t as convincing because ginkgo wasn’t compared to an inactive placebo or another treatment. Also, women in the study as well as the investigators knew they were given ginkgo biloba, so the results may have been influenced by that knowledge.3
Another small study was conducted in 2011 on school-aged children with migraine. The children were given a combination of ginkgo biloba, coenzyme Q10, magnesium, and riboflavin for three months. While the study showed a reduction in migraine attacks in the patients, the study’s results are not reliable as the supplements were not compared to a placebo.4
As a natural remedy, ginkgo biloba is available without a prescription in several formulations, including:
- Liquid extract
- Herbal tea
Side effects and other precautions
For most people ginkgo seems to be safe when taken in moderate amounts. Side effects that may be experienced include:
- Upset stomach
- Allergic skin reactions1,2
Who should not take ginkgo biloba
Before taking ginkgo biloba for migraine, discuss it with your doctor. You should tell your doctor about all your medications, vitamins, and supplements, as some may interact with each other and could cause serious side effects.
People who have other health conditions should talk to their doctor before taking ginkgo biloba, especially those with:
- Diabetes, as it may interfere with blood sugar levels
- Epilepsy or a history of seizures, as it may cause seizures
- Bleeding disorders, as it may increase the risk of bleeding
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding, as it may be dangerous to the baby1,2
Fresh, raw or roasted ginkgo seeds should not be eaten. The seeds can be poisonous.
As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your physician.
- Ginkgo. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Available at https://nccih.nih.gov/health/ginger. Accessed 5/8/18.
- Ginkgo. Mayo Clinic. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-ginkgo/art-20362032. Accessed 5/8/18.