Ginkgo biloba for memory-a dream that did not materalize

Just a quick post about Ginkgo biloba. Some of my patients use Ginkgo biloba extract as a supplement to enhance memory and prevent neurodegenerative conditions like Alzhemier’s dementia. The data that it is indeed effective has always been inconclusive. I always feel that if  a drug is truly effective for a condition then we seldom need studies to prove it. It is only when the evidence is insufficient to suport a recommendation that studies are needed. Many of these are funded by the drug manufacturer (large pharmaceutical companies).

Recently results were made available from a big study looking at whether Ginkgo biloba extract actually aided in preventing Alzheimer’s dementia. The study found that Ginkgo biloba did not prevent or delay dementia or Alzhemier’s disease. In simple words, the study showed that it does not work. Further there is some data to show that it may actually be dangerous to take this extract as it increases the risk of hemorrhagic strokes (bleeding in the brain).

My advise to my readers would be to avoid taking this supplement till we have more conclusive data on its effectiveness. Especially avoid taking supratherapeutic doses (large doses).


Nitin Sethi, MD

Forget so that you can remember

Read another fascinating article by Melinda Beck in the Wall Street Journal titled ” You must remember this: forgetting has its benefits”. Her articles in the Wall Street Journal always tweak the neurologist in me. Ms. Beck in her piece talks about the importance of forgetting and how it is important in formulation and consolidation of memories.

Let us take a simple example, how many of us remember what we were doing at noon last Monday or what we ate for dinner a week ago (now some of you may very well remember what you ate for dinner a week ago if you eat the same thing every night or lead a very regimented life). The rest of us do not remember this information. Why you may ask does out brain not remember all these details? Well the answer is simple. This information is trivial and the brain does not consolidate these memories and hence these memoried are easily erased.

To continue with the above example, you may very well remember what you ate or did the night Senator Obama became President Elect Obama and you might be able to recall that information even many years from now. Why?  Well the brain has linked the “trivial information” of what you were eating or wearing that night to more important information “the night when history was made with the election of Senator Obama as President elect”. This linking of information leads to long term potentiation and hence consolidation of memories. Memories like these are not easily erased or lost.

The brain is always purging trivial memories, this keeps the hippocampi and other memory pathways always available and free to make new memories. Put in a different way, it prevents memory overload. If we remembered each and everything we did in our lives we shall be inundated with memories and not know what is important and what is not.

So is there anything practical which you can take away from what I said above? Well for one thing if you want to remember something and never forget, associate that memory to something important to you (eg associate something  to your birthday). Memory becomes more and more resilient when you associate it with other memories (eg a scent to a pretty lady, you smell the perfume, her picture comes up in your mind!!!).  Secondly forgetting is not always bad, it “frees up” space in the brain so that when something important comes along your brain has space to store that memory trace.

Nitin Sethi, MD

More neurobics anyone?

Came with a few more neurobics which can be fun and at the same time healthy for the brain. Have fun with neurobics everyone!

1) run or walk backwards (be careful not to fall though please). I tried this myself. It is amazing how your brain is more active and conscious about the task of walking or runing backwards. Compare this with when you walk or run normally forwards, the task is nearly subconsciously attempted by the brain without even thinking about it.

2) use your left hand (if you are right handed) to answer your phone. If you use a mobile phone this has the added advantage of reducing the radiofrequecy exposure to the right side of the brain as nowdays there are some reports commenting on the increased risk of brain tumors in heavy mobile phone users.

3) learn a new language (I recommend this one).

4) hear a song and commit it to your memory. Now write down the lyrics on a piece of paper.

5)commit more things to your own memory rather than the memory of your palm-pilot. Buy a palm pilot with less memory and use it less too!!!

Personal Regards,

Nitin Sethi, MD