New study says memory supplement not effective

By Sara Story - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Ginkgo biloba is a popular botanical that has been around for hundreds of years and is often used to improve memory loss. But, according to the most extensive study ever done on the supplement, it does not prevent cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer's disease. An East Texas neurologist says that he agrees 100% with the research, but one woman says she still believes in the herbal remedy.

At age 88, Mavis Culpepper says her memory is starting to slip.

"It's just here lately that I'm starting to forget a little bit," said Culpepper.

She blames her forgetfulness, not on age, but because she stopped taking ginkgo biloba, an herb aimed at improving cognitive functions, like memory and thinking.

"Maybe it was just me, but I think it helped me," said Culpepper.

And, Mavis is not alone. Health food store workers say the herb is flying off their shelves.

"It is one of the first things we recommend when people come in looking for something like that," said Katy Manganella, who works at Whole Health in Tyler.

Despite the praises, a new study involving 3,000 people suggests ginkgo biloba is useless.

"This is the gold standard type of study," said Dr. George Plotkin, who runs the neurology program at ETMC. "There was no question that there was absolutely no benefit, and people who had mild cognitive impairment, which is the precursor for Alzheimer's, none of them have any change in the progression of their disease. I would never suggest this."

In fact, he says people should be careful when taking it.

"This is a potentially dangerous substance because it thins your blood, which is the only thing it appears to do [and] makes platelets less sticky," said Plotkin. "So it's an aspirin equivalent."

Still, the supplement industry and customers like Culpepper dispute the study.

"I have been here for about five years," said Manganella. "To my knowledge, we have not had anyone who has bought it come back in and said this did not work for me."

"I don't think I will let any body change my mind because I really truly believe that it helped me," said Culpepper.

Helpful or not, Plotkin says to tell your doctor if using this botanical. The Alzheimer's Association says a better way to improve memory and cognitive decline is routine exercise and staying active.

©2009 KLTV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.