DIMENSIONS Autumn 1997


Q. I have heard that herbs are being used to treat Alzheimer's disease. Should I start giving herbs to my husband who has Alzheimer's disease?

A. In relation to Alzheimer's disease, several herbs such as St. John's Wort, ginkgo biloba, and soy, have recently received attention in the lay and professional literature.

St. John's Wort is used to treat depression, anxiety, tension, and insomniačall characteristics associated with Alzheimer's disease. Soy is known to stimulate circulation and act as a general detoxicant. Ginkgo biloba is used in Western herbal medicine to increase circulation to the brain, improving concentration, memory, and energy levels.It is also an effective anti-inflammatory for asthma.

Although there is no empirical research to date on soy and St. John's Wort as treatments for AD, there is research on ginko biloba. Studies have found that attention and memory improved after using ginko biloba extract treatment for one month or greater, and that the herb was well tolerated. A recent study published in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, has focused much attention on this topic. Le Bars and colleagues (1997) found that ginkgo biloba appears to be capable of stabilizing and even improving the social functioning and cognitive performance of AD and Multi-Infarct dementia patients after six months to one year. However, a number of researchers have raised concerns about whether this study adequately evaluated the effects.

While these studies may seem promising, further research is needed to evaluate the possible effects of ginkgo biloba on Alzheimer's and other dementias. This area of research is still preliminary. Studies must be done to determine the long term effects and potential side effects of this herb. Early studies have shown that ginkgo biloba may reduce the ability of blood to clot. Please consult your doctor before giving any drugs or herbs to people with dementia. Combining drug treatments may cause potentially harmful side effects.

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