Ginkgo Biloba for Tinnitus

Can this herb help quiet the ringing in your ears?

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Hearing a persistent ringing or buzzing in your ears when there is no external sound present can be agitating and make it difficult for you to focus. Known as tinnitus, the condition is thought to result from a variety of conditions ranging from age-related hearing loss to blood vessel abnormalities.

For people with mild to moderate tinnitus, the herbal extract of the ginkgo biloba leaf is sometimes recommended as a natural remedy. An antioxidant-rich herb often used to protect against age-related health issues, ginkgo is said to improve blood flow to the brain.

The Research on Ginkgo and Tinnitus: Does It Really Work?

While some proponents claim that ginkgo can help treat tinnitus (particularly when it is due to a lack of blood flow), there is very little scientific support for this claim.

The available research includes a 2013 report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Researchers sized up four previously published clinical trials (with a total of 1,543 participants) on ginkgo and tinnitus.

In their review, the researchers concluded that "the limited evidence does not demonstrate that Ginkgo biloba is effective for tinnitus when this is the primary complaint." In one of the studies they analyzed, however, a small but statistically significant reduction in tinnitus symptoms was seen in people who had vascular dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

In a review published in Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery, researchers concluded that Gingko biloba "may have an impact on selected patients" and that treatment options should "take into account the possible cause of the tinnitus and other associated symptoms."

Possible Side Effects

Ginkgo is known to cause a number of side effects (including stomach upset, headache, dizziness, allergic reactions, and constipation). Little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of ginkgo, and the herb appears to interact with other medications.

Ginkgo contains a compound known as ginkgotoxin. Structurally similar to vitamin B6, there is some concern that it can block vitamin B6 activity. According to a case report, a woman developed generalized tonic clonic seizure after eating large amounts of ginkgo nuts and had a decreased vitamin B6 level in her blood. (After treatment, which included vitamin B6 medication, her symptoms resolved and no seizures recurred.) Although ginkgotoxin is found in the largest amounts in ginkgo nuts, it's also present in smaller quantities in the leaves.

Ginkgo leaf extract can increase the risk of bleeding and bruising, and can be harmful when combined with anticoagulant/antiplatelet medications. It should not be taken before or after surgery or by pregnant women due to the risk of bleeding. Breastfeeding women and children should avoid ginkgo.

Since tinnitus can signal an underlying health problem (including high blood pressure, tumors, allergies, or cardiovascular disorders), it's important to consult your doctor as soon as possible if you're experiencing tinnitus symptoms and to speak with him or her if you're considering taking ginkgo. Avoiding or delaying doctor-prescribed treatment and using ginkgo to relieve your symptoms may have serious health consequences.

There are many ginkgo products marketed for tinnitus. It's important to keep in mind that supplements are largely unregulated and aren't tested for safety, and the risks may be greater with products containing a blend of herbs. In some cases, the product may differ from what is listed on the label. Or it may contain undisclosed ingredients. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

The Bottom Line

Living with bothersome noise can be difficult, especially if it's noise that only you can hear. Although ginkgo may sound like an easy solution, there's currently little evidence to show it can help. What's more, it can increase the risk of bleeding, especially when taken with common medications or supplements.

If you're still interested in using it, be sure to talk with your doctor first to weigh the potential risks and benefits.

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