A canna’ change the laws of physics

Scotty, The Naked Time, stardate 1704.3, Episode 7

The ASA change tack on ginkgo biloba

Posted by apgaylard on January 3, 2009

bigstockphoto_ginkgo_biloba_and_pills_planne_1859585It seems that the ASA has changed its position on Gingko Biloba.  This is a good thing and speaks well of the organisation. 

 In 2001 the ASA commissioned a, “report by an academic in the field of Pharmacognosy” which concluded that, “most research appeared to suggest that there was sufficient proof Ginkgo Biloba was likely to improve short-term memory and blood-flow in healthy individuals.” 

On the basis of this work the ASA told me that they had, “… accepted that this particular product can, in the short term, help with the maintenance of memory in healthy individuals.”  It does them credit that when I queried this position on the basis of the current literature they committed themselves to reviewing the evidence.  They haven’t let me know the outcome of the review directly, but they did formally take up my complaint against the claims that Holland and Barrett have been making for Ginkgo.  

As a result Holland and Barrett have reportedly assured the ASA that, 

“the ad will not be used again and that they will remove the claim “GINKGO BILOBA TABLETS … HELPS THE MAINTENANCE OF GOOD COGNITIVE FUNCTION …” from all future advertising.” 

So it looks like the ASA have changed their position on Ginkgo; which is important as the best evidence indicates that this herb is not helpful for maintaining cognitive function in either healthy or cognitively impaired elderly individuals. (DeKosky et al., 2008; Birks and Grimley Evans, 2007; Solomon, et al., 2002).  Neither is there any reliable evidence to suggest that Ginkgo improves or helps maintain cognitive function in healthy younger adults.  (Though the Cochrane Library lists a protocol entitled, “Ginkgo biloba for cognitive improvement in healthy individuals (November 2003)”.  Perhaps this might eventually shed further light on the topic.) 

It is interesting to see the tide of publicity start to turn towards the evidence.  For instance Dr Tom Smith, who writes The Guardian‘s “Doctor, doctor” column, has clearly picked up on DeKosky et al..  In today’s Guardian he gives this advice to a correspondent whose father takes Ginkgo, “because … it ‘helps his brain’ and could prevent Alzheimer’s disease”, 

“I’m sorry to disappoint you and your father, but there’s no evidence that it makes a difference to the brain … a study of more than 3,000 Americans of 75 and over, with no dementia when they started the drug or the placebo, found no difference between the two groups in their subsequent dementia rates.  In fact, in one subgroup – people with circulation disorders – there was more dementia in the ginkgo group.  So don’t bother starting.” 

[Dr Tom Smith, Doctor, doctor.  The Guardian, 3rd January 2009.  www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/jan/03/adhd-ginkgo-biloba-blood-pressure (Accessed 3rd January 2009)]

This study was also covered by The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail.  (Also, see the NHS “Behind the headlines” commentary.)

It’s heartening to see advice published in the national press that is based on good evidence, rather than the marketing flimflam of the supplement pill-pushers.  

Finally, if you see any (UK based) advertisers making claims about Ginkgo Biloba and memory, do let the ASA know!

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3 Responses to “The ASA change tack on ginkgo biloba”

  1. dvnutrix said

    You are on a definite roll – congratulations.

    It’s heartening to see advice published in the national press that is based on good evidence, rather than the marketing flimflam of the supplement pill-pushers.

    After a recent piece in the Daily Record that was nothing more than a credulous reproduction of some Holford nonsense (including the bizarre claim that chicken breast has carbs and has a higher glycaemic load than the thigh or drumstick) it is good to see signs of commonsense in other media outlets.

    Again, congratulations.

  2. apgaylard said

    dvnutrix:
    As ever, thanks for the kind words. It just shows that it’s always worth asking a question or two.

    As for the Holford chicken nonsense, and cook knows that the thigh is the ‘fattiest’ of those cuts (largely subcutaneous I would guess) but carbs? Surely all those cuts will have negligible carb content? Truly bizarre. Keep up the good work.

    USDA chicken data
    USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21 (2008)
    raw, with skin, minus bone
    Breast 9% lipids, 0% carbohydrate.
    Leg 12% lipids, 0% carbohydrate.
    Thigh 15% lipids, 0% carbohydrate.
    [Edit. See you already used this source on you blog piece, though I went with it in the raw.]

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