The ASA change tack on ginkgo biloba
Posted by apgaylard on January 3, 2009
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)]
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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