A Ban on Ginkgo? Even FDA Thinks It’s a Silly Idea

June 18, 2013
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So why has the media been jumping on the bandwagon?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) wrote a letter this month to the FDA requesting a ban on ginkgo biloba. First the letter dismisses ginkgo’s efficacy on memory and cognitive function (“Claims regarding Ginkgo’s supposed health benefits…are false and should be stopped”), then cites a report that finds ginkgo extracts cause cancer in humans.


Except that the report actually did nothing of the sort.

The report, released in March by the National Toxicology Program (NPT, an interagency program overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services), linked extremely high dosages of one highly concentrated, specially formulated version of ginkgo biloba to an increased risk of cancer in the thyroid, liver, and noses of lab rats. A review clearly shows the many flaws in this research:

  • The ginkgo extract used in the study is not even remotely representative of the ginkgo extracts sold in the US. The supplier of the extract wanted to make a unique formulation that could be used for drug development. As this was a far more concentrated, synthetic version of ginkgo, it would be absurd to extend these results to all forms of ginkgo on the market.
  • There were issues with the stability of the formulation used. Moreover, the rat population received a much higher dosage than humans taking ginkgo in supplement form would receive, based on the dosage-to-weight ratio.
  • The particular rat population that was used is known for their spontaneous development of liver tumors.
  • The study authors explicitly state that the results should not be extrapolated to humans, and said that the review panel of the ginkgo was “specifically not to enter into any risk assessment related to humans.”

CSPI didn’t stop there. In their letter to FDA, they use the NTP report to make a broad attack on supplements and health claims. They mention dietary supplement companies and products by name, even though the ginkgo in the study was not the same formulation used in the products.

Then CSPI shifted their attention to the media: “The dietary supplement industry is full of snake oil salesmen,” CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson told The Daily News. “It’s frustrating to see so many deceptive claims for dietary supplements.” CSPI is threatening to sue Bayer over their One a Day line of nutritional supplements. They say Bayer’s health claims “[fail to] satisfy the FTC’s requirements for substantiation in order to be lawful. The FTC has recently required a higher standard of proof for companies making health-related claims.” Unfortunately, media outlets as august as The New York Times gobbled up the story. However, the FTC required a higher standard of proof for only those few companies, and enforced that standard via litigation and a consent decree for each company. It’s not a regulation that applies to every company, much to the disappointment of FTC and apparently CSPI—but it is a deeply troubling precedent.

We told you about CSPI’s agenda three years ago: they want the abolition of both Structure/Function Claims and Qualified Health Claims, which would eliminate almost entirely consumers’ access to information about what health considerations supplements support. Absurdly, they want food, supplements, and drugs to be treated exactly alike. In their view, no health claims of any sort should be allowed unless the product is brought through a full FDA approval process. Accordingly, when CSPI challenges a product’s health claims, it almost always cites the lack of a random controlled trial (RCT)—as if such a hugely expensive undertaking could be afforded for a natural food or supplement that has no patent protection!

Despite CSPI’s professed “concern for consumers,” they have been silent on GMO labeling and have defended the government’s revolving door policy that allowed Michael Taylor to hop from Monsanto to the FDA.

Happily, this time it doesn’t appear that CSPI will get its way. Even the FDA, that bastion of anti-supplement bias, has dismissed CSPI’s request to ban ginkgo biloba. An FDA spokesperson was quoted as saying, “It is not scientifically valid to conclude with certainty that dietary supplement products containing ginkgo biloba are unsafe based solely on data from the new NTP study.”

Let’s look at a few other ginkgo studies to contextualize the NTP’s report:

  • Antioxidant extracts of the leaves of the ginkgo biloba tree may protect cells from radiation damage, according to a study published in the International Journal of Low Radiation.
  • In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial, researchers tested ginkgo in a cohort of twenty-seven patients with visual field damage resulting from normal-tension glaucoma. At the end of the study, the researchers noted a significant improvement in the ginkgo group’s visual field, and none of the participants reported any side effects from taking the ginkgo.
  • ginkgo taken in combination with CoQ10, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and magnesium may reduce migraines.

As always, consumers should be sure to take only high quality supplements, together with the right cofactors, in consultation with a qualified health practitioner.

19 Responses to “A Ban on Ginkgo? Even FDA Thinks It’s a Silly Idea”

  1. Mary says:

    Of course what a lot of people don’t recognize or refuse to recognize is that most herbs have been subject to the biggest “clinical trials” in history, meaning over thousands of years! The safety profile should not be an issue since mankind has already learned to avoid the stuff that is obviously poisonous ( although even some poisonous stuff can be carefully used in small amounts.). As to effectiveness a lot of herbs have mixed results but if it works for someone then the government should not try to stop that person from taking it. Let people make up their own minds!


  2. James Stevens says:

    Gingko has many uses including helping circulation throughout the body. I had some swelling in my feet and take Gingko for that. It works well. Follow the money on any study. My bet is that the study is funded by big Pharma or any of those who favor agenda 21 and reducing the population down to 500 million with most of those as slaves.


  3. hank hudson says:

    Do you remember the movie where the great line, “Show me the money” was used? Well you can use the same approach and rationale for why much so-called “scientific research” comes up with such nonsense and harmful studies. Whenever there’s a possibility for an organization to make big $$$, even though it’s unethical and unscientific, that organization will publicize any junk science to “bring in the money.” It’s that simple


  4. Camille Angileri says:

    I have been taking ginkgo for many years and I think it is amazing.I think that there are more
    important matters to be concerned with, like our quality of food. GMO labeling is a major concern
    for many people and Stopping Monsanto from poisoning our crops Thank you


  5. Bern Rose says:

    I am amazed at how much we are trying to govern natural substances. We should be working harder to educate herbalists, and individuals in the wisdom of herbs and the dangers of misusing them. If I ate a pound of chocolate to get caffeine buzz and sugar high, would that be regulated? We need to teach people in a sustainable way how to use and share herbs. Companies who are manufacturing synthetics need to be guided so what they produce is helpful. There is far too much attention given to erectile dysfunction with all the extreme hazards, to make anything less then education and labeling necessary for supplements. Really!


  6. Tamari says:

    I’ve had tinnitis & dizziness most of my life &,after using various medications from the GP ( none of which actually worked & there were many unacceptable side effects(, I heard about Gingko Biloba; at first I took 1 2xs a day for 2 months then ! on 1 day & 2 the next for about 6 months & now 1 a day ( every 4 weeks I don’t take any for a week); been taking Gingko Biloba for nearly 10 years now with absolutely no dodgy side effects whatsoever & the hissing in my ears hasn’t entirely disappeared it’s definitely not as bad as it was.


  7. Elaine Brown says:

    Ginkgo Biloba is one of the oldest trees in the world. I have several planted on my property. Are they planning on making me cut down my own trees? How ridiculous! Is this part of the plan to dumb us all down?


  8. william dekking says:

    I feel a ban on Ginko serves no purpose


  9. misty stephenson says:

    work on cleaning up our food supply. work on destroying GMO’s. work on cleaning the air and water. There, that will keep you busy. Leave our supplements alone — keep the bees from dying. Find something better to do with your time and resources!!!!!


  10. Are you kidding me? Are THEY kidding us? Gingko biloba has been used since antiquity. They are a beneficial natural drug. Good Lord. I had a Gingko tree for a while till it died. Keep up the good work.


  11. Tony Shay says:

    I’ve been taking Ginkgo , CoQ10 and many vitamins necessary for my health for years. I’m 82 and I say screw that monster CSPI !


  12. Melissa Weaver says:

    Leave the vitamin companies ALONE – look at the pharmaceutical companies instead!!


  13. Clara Adams says:

    I have used Ginkgo on and off for years. I have no side effects from it.
    When I use it I feel better.

    Clara Adams


  14. Pat Scott says:

    I use gingko tincture to cope with fibromyalgia pain and increase mental alertness, it helps me to the point that I no longer rely on narcotics for pain relief, please do not take it off the market.


  15. CPSI’s ties to big pharma need to be thoroughly investigated and then made public.


  16. Thank you very much for the information, but please note that the word “ginkgo” is misspelled throughout this entire article.


    • Melissa says:

      ??? The article spelled “ginkgo” correctly, every time. A few folks who commented misspelled it, but the article did not. ???


  17. Shasha says:

    Hi, I use 12Omg of ginkgo daily. It helps circulation. It has only helped me, so this upsets me. Dr. Oz did not promote of protect ginkgo or GMO/Celiac and much more. People should not rely on his show to know the whole story. Compounding pharmacies were not promoted on Orpah. Then they started attacking them. What is truth in the world should not be decided by a TV show. I use compounding pharmacies and I take many supplements daily to help my MS I would be very sad to have awesome supplements removed due to untruth is sad. Thank you for telling us about the attacks on ginkgo.


  18. Shasha says:

    Hi, I use 12Omg of ginkgo daily. It helps circulation. It has only helped me, so this upsets me. Dr. Oz did not promote of protect ginkgo or GMO/Celiac and much more. People should not rely on his show to know the whole story. Compounding pharmacies were not promoted on Orpah. Then they started attacking them. What is truth in the world should not be decided by a TV show. I use compounding pharmacies and I take many supplements daily to help my MS I would be very sad to have awesome supplements removed due to untruth is sad. Thank you for telling us about this.


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