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Ginkgo Biloba, CODEX Alimentarius

September 2002 - Print | Index

A few weeks ago, I heard Norman Solomon being interviewed on National Public Radio regarding his study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  It showed that Ginkgo biloba does not improve memory in healthy people. Instead of asking Solomon about the extensive previous research that demonstrates the efficacy of Ginkgo, the interviewer asked him, "Why are people taking Ginkgo?"

"Because of the advertising and marketing of the product," answered Solomon. It remained unexplained how the miniscule advertising for Ginkgo had overcome, in the minds of the these vitamin store shoppers, the massive print, radio, and TV advertising for prescription drugs we are all constantly subjected to.

Neither the uninformed interviewer nor the "expert" Solomon made any mention of the fact that Ginkgo is the most frequently prescribed medicinal herb in Europe, based on decades of scientific research. To give one example from hundreds: In 1997, JAMA published a study which showed that gingko can stabilize and, in some cases, improve cognition and social functioning of dementia patients. The seventy-plus references at the end of this newsletter represent just a sample of Ginkgo research.

Finally though, we heard the real bias behind the amazing media blitz given this small, short-term study. Mr. Solomon ended the interview with a solemn statement that consumers need to understand that when they go to a doctor and are given a medicine, it has been carefully studied and proven to work, whereas when they buy something at a store, it has not been proven at all.

In response, I put together a few facts about what we actually know about Ginkgo biloba.

Ginkgo Biloba, Temple Tree of Longevity

The Ginkgo tree (also called maidenhair tree, fossil tree, or temple tree) is one of the oldest living plant species on earth, its lifespan measured in centuries rather than years. Because of its longevity, the Ginkgo tree is considered sacred in the East, an object of veneration. It first appeared in eastern China, was transplanted to Japan, and by the 1730's had arrived in Holland. It came to America in 1784, where it became a widely planted street tree. There are Ginkgo trees growing in the neighborhood around Vitamin Express in Berkeley.

In the late 1950's, German physician and botanist Dr. Willmar Schwabe analyzed the constituents and activity of the substances found in Ginkgo leaves, and in 1965 he produced tincture and tablet forms in a concentration of 10:1. Other companies continued the development of Ginkgo leaf extracts, until present time when the standardized concentration is mostly 50:1 (50 pounds of leaves result in 1 pound of extract). This is generally expressed as a concentration of 24% Ginkgo flavoglycosides and 6% triterpenes. Although the seeds have many uses in eastern cultures, the standardized leaf extract is the subject of most research and is generally what is used as a dietary supplement.

In Germany, more than five million prescriptions for Ginkgo are written every year. According to the German Commission E monograph on Ginkgo, its active ingredients are flavonoids, which are natural substances found in botanicals, fruits and vegetables. Ginkgo contains flavonoid glycosides, including quercetin, kaempferol (named after the European Kaempfer who "discovered" Ginkgo in Japan in 1690), isorhamnetine, and terpene lactones, containing Ginkgolides A, B, C, J, M and bilobalides.

Researchers have so far been frustrated in their attempts to derive a patentable drug from Ginkgo. Tests involving one or a few of the components of Ginkgo leaves have had disappointing results. The effect of Ginkgo seems to be due to a combination of natural components, some of them still unidentified.

Ginkgo: What is it good for?

"Out of the research it appears that basically there are three important effects of the extract on the human body: it improves blood flow (including microcirculation in small capillaries) to most tissues and organs, it protects against oxidative cell damage from free radicals (antioxidant), and blocks many of the effects of PAF (platelet aggregation: "blood clotting") that have been related to the development of a number of cardiovascular, renal, respiratory and CNS (Central Nervous System) disorders." - Cor Kwant, Ginkgo researcher

Both the leaf and seed of Ginkgo have been used as a medicinal herb in China, Japan and elsewhere. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ginkgo leaves have been involved for thousands of years in the treatments for asthma, bronchitis, hearing loss, tuberculosis, poor circulation, memory loss, gonorrhea, stomach pain, skin diseases, angina pectoris, dysentery, high blood pressure and anxiety. The powdered leaf is inhaled for ear, nose and throat disorders. Topically applied juice of boiled leaves is used for chilblains, and the leaf is also used as a wound plaster.

Modern science is now confirming possible reasons for Ginkgo's effectiveness. For instance, TCM practitioners have used Ginkgo in the treatment of asthma. We now know that Ginkgo leaf extract can dilate blood vessels and help inhibit platelet activating factor (PAF), two actions which benefit asthma sufferers.

Hundreds of scientific studies, done over many decades by mostly European researchers, have shown positive effects for Ginkgo in many health areas. From these studies, it is reported that Ginkgo:

  • Has the ability to increase circulation which can help enhance memory, delay the onset of Alzheimer's, and in some cases reduce the effects of senile dementia, tinnitus and vertigo.
  • May be useful in the treatment of headache, migraine, arterial insufficiency of lower limbs, leg pain from intermittent claudication, chronic arterial obliteration, cochlear deafness, and diminished sight and hearing ability due to vascular insufficiency.
  • May help cerebral conditions such as atherosclerosis, edema, ischemia, and vascular insufficiency.
  • The increased blood flow to the brain can improve delivery of nutrients, and the disposal of waste products.
  • Increases blood flow to the periphery as well as to the brain (unlike some drugs), which can benefit sensitivity to cold in the extremities.
  • Has antioxidant ability, which can help rid the body of free radicals and reduce the risk of chronic degenerative diseases. This may also help prevent macular degeneration and decrease damage from radiation and drugs, including chemotherapy.
  • May improve circulatory conditions such as cyanosis, Raynaud's Syndrome, and the complications of diabetes, including angiopathy.
  • In combination with antidepressant therapy has been used to treat impotence.
  • Reduced the tendency for thrombus formation, which could help prevention of coronary thrombosis and recovery from strokes and heart attacks.
  • Has helped lower blood pressure.
  • Holds promise for anxiety, depression, neurological disorders, complications of skull injuries, and circulatory disorders of the skin.

Not all the studies are conclusive, fsuch as a few studies looking at Ginkgo for dementia. This is likely due to our incomplete understanding of all the causes of dementia, and the need for further refinement of testing methods. There is no doubt that Ginkgo is of possible benefit. For instance, one study compared four commonly used medications for dementia to a standardized Ginkgo extract and a placebo for their use in Alzheimer's disease. The authors concluded that standardized Ginkgo extract is equally effective to three of the drugs in the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.

The most commonly heard precautions regarding the use of Ginkgo leaf extract are to consult with your doctor before using it if you have a bleeding disorder, and to stop using it for at least 14 days prior to surgery.

The more one contemplates both the studied uses of Ginkgo biloba and the unique tree itself, the more beautiful and amazing it becomes. In Japan the leaves are traditionally used as bookmarks. They have been observed to reduce damage from booklice and silverfishes. Although not scientifically proven, it is thought that this is due to Ginkgo's chemical defensive properties.

Let's end with the words of an actual expert, David L. Hoffman, President of the American Herbalist Guild. About Ginkgo he says, "An abundance of research has been undertaken on this ancient plant, revealing a wide range of profound and important therapeutic effects."

Good online sources for information about Ginkgo:

  • Dietary Supplement Information Bureau http://www.supplementinfo.org
  • Brian Chandler's Imaginatorium http://imaginatorium.org/sano/Ginkgo.htm
  • Cor Kwant's "The Ginkgo Pages" http://www.xs4all.nl/~kwanten/
  • HerbMed http://www.herbmed.org/Herbs/Herb1.htm
  • David L Hoffman, President of the American Herbalist Guild, article on Ginkgo, http://www.healthy.net/asp/templates/article.asp?PageType=article&ID=1169
  • http://www.rxlist.com/cgi/alt/Ginkgo_ids.htm

"Over there" is only one step from "over here"

For some time we've been telling you about the dangers of the World Trade Organization's Codex Alimentarius. Now the European Union's latest actions are a bad dream come true. Why do we oppose the power of the WTO, the Codex, and now the EU? Because for six years, we see that a group of non-elected, corporate representatives are determining rules, regulations and laws that impact human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This is the equivalent of turning over the running of our democratic government, the Congress, Presidency and Supreme Court, to the boardrooms and CEO's of corporations. Imagine a government in which no one is elected, where all the representatives are paid lobbyists, in which the one with the most money controls the choice of and access to all products in the marketplace. Imagine a government in which access to anything is controlled and tied up in regulations determined by monopolies that seek to maintain their control over everything. Imagine a government in which profit is more important than people or the consequences of that profit. Imagine a place where even imagination is regulated.

Next look at the perpetrators of these regulations. The most powerful of these non-elected rule makers are employees of the major pharmaceutical companies. These companies earn billions of dollars annually. Through lobbying, they have placed themselves on a pedestal of acceptance beyond question. These companies are the major accounts of the largest banks in the world, and the major revenue source for advertising and the media. They are also the major contributors to medical schools and the reason doctors get such high prestige and riches in the US (along with the best seats in the baseball stadiums!) These companies will do anything to maintain their control.

But don't these pharmaceutical giants have the intent to help us attain health? Consider the following facts: The fourth major cause of death in the US occurs in hospitals with properly prescribed and administered pharmaceutical drugs. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. These drugs also result in suicides and other major complications, producing premature death. There are approximately 102 million or more reported patient complaints each year of the bad effects of a prescription drug.

On top of this, the same companies produce chemicals for industrial and home use, which are the major environmental hazards of the 21st century. These poisonous chemicals are linked to cancer, lung and respiratory problems, and other diseases. Low-nutrient commercially-fertilized fruits and vegetables cause malnutrition, and increase the risk of chronic illness and obesity, which is a major factor in heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Industrial pharmaceutical medicine and chemicals have pretty well polluted our land, our water, and our air, everything in the environment.

There you have it: the fascism of choice, the elimination of democracy, the thwarting of the people's will, the drowning of the benefits of competition, the true "evilness" of taking away an individual's use of health giving herbs and supplements, and the forcing of death impending pharmaceutical drugs. It is time to call your Congress person and demand action that protects this country. It is time to replace greed and ignorance with mature responsibility and enlightened education.

The EU Directive

The European Union directive in question is part of an avalanche of fast-tracked EU legislation tailored to speed the "harmonization" of the laws of eastern European countries before they can join the EU. It's called the Herbal Medicines Products directive, for which the pharmaceutical industry has been lobbying for many years.

Although initiated by Great Britain, it reverses a basic principle of British law, namely, that everything is allowed unless specifically prohibited, to the principle that nothing is allowed unless specifically authorized. Once enacted, herbal remedies will only be allowed for sale if they go through prohibitively expensive licensing procedures. Thousands of safe and effective herbal products will be either completely unavailable, or available only with a doctor's prescription at a much higher price. This will endanger the health and well-being of millions of people, and force the closure of several thousand health shops.

It's not clear to me that the British and European authorities behind this directive are even bothering to cloak it in the usual verbiage about "protecting public health". The very few adverse reactions to herbal products are almost all from those made by Chinese practitioners. There have long been documented reports of problems with certain imported Chinese medicines, including heavy-metal contamination, misidentification, and ironically, contamination with pharmaceutical drugs. In the Herbal Medicines Products directive, Chinese herbal preparations are specifically exempted!

Drugs law is bitter pill for health shops, By Christopher Booker, Sunday Telegraph, 21. July 2002, UK

Codex Update

After their last meeting in November 2001, Codex Alimentarius delegate Josef Hasslberger issued the following note:

"The 23rd meeting of the Codex Committee for Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses has now come to an end. The guideline made next to no progress. What particularly struck me during these consultations was that hardly any of the official delegates had ever taken a detailed look at the subject matter. Hardly any of them knew what vitamins and minerals are good for. The knowledge of the great majority of them was at best superficial. What should raise our suspicions is the following: why are nutritional scientists not interested in the potential for disease prevention and even cure of high-dose nutrients and, above all, why do they want to 'protect' the consumer from this scientific progress?" - Josef Hasslberger, Rome, December 2001

The primary voting delegate representing the United States at these meetings is Dr. Elizabeth A. Yetley, from the FDA. Do you believe that the FDA has now changed its tune and is working to protect your access to truthful and non-misleading information about nutritional supplements? According to US Congressman Peter DeFazio, the FDA has been ignoring these provisions of the law, and instead, has attempted to "enforce regulations aimed at keeping the American public in the dark about the benefits of dietary supplements."

Durk Pearson and others sued the FDA about this, and won their case in 1999, the court reaffirming consumers' first amendment right to learn about how using dietary supplements can improve their health without unnecessary interference from the FDA. Despite this defeat, DeFazio has stated that "members of Congress have had to intervene with the FDA on several occasions to ensure that they followed the court's order."

DeFazio explains why the Codex is such a threat to dietary supplement users in this country. This analysis applies equally well to the directives from the EU:

"The freedom of consumers to use, or even obtain truthful information about, dietary supplements could also be threatened by the United States participation in the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex)

Codex is currently creating a guideline on the proper regulations for dietary supplements with the participation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We are concerned that the end result of this process will force the United States to adopt the same strict regulations of dietary supplements common in European countries such as Germany, where consumers' cannot even examine a bottle of dietary supplements without a pharmacist's permission. By participating in this process, the FDA is ignoring the will of Congress as expressed in DSHEA and in the FDA Modernization Act of 1997, which expressly forbids the FDA from participating in the harmonization process, as well as the will of the American people.

While Codex has no direct authority to force Americans to adopt stringent regulations of dietary supplements, we are concerned that the United States may be forced to adopt Codex standards as a result of the United States' status as a member of the WTO. According to an August 1999 report of the Congressional Research Service, "As a member of the WTO, the United States does commit to act in accordance with the rules of the multilateral body. It [the US] is legally obligated to ensure national laws do not conflict with WTO rules." Thus, Congress may have a legal obligation to again change American laws and regulations to conform with WTO rules! [Editor: Good-bye, Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which we all worked so hard to pass!]

If Congress were to refuse to "harmonize" US laws according to strict Codex/WTO guidelines, a WTO "dispute resolution panel" could find that the United States is engaging in unfair trade because of our failure to "harmonize" our regulations with the rest of the world. In any such trade dispute, the scales are tipped in favor of countries using the Codex standards because of WTO rules presuming that a nation who has adopted Codex has not erected an unfair trade barrier. Therefore, in a dispute with a country that has adopted the Codex standards it is highly probable that America would lose and be subject to heavy sanctions unless Congress harmonized our laws with the other WTO countries. Harmonization may be beneficial for the large corporations and international bureaucrats that control the WTO but it would be a disaster for American consumers of dietary supplements!"
- US Congressman Peter DeFazio (all emphasis added) (see - http://www.house.gov/defazio/ for full text)

At some point I will do a point-by-point analysis of the double-speak of the Codex. But I have to give you a quick example. In the current revision, let's look at Point 14:

"Directive 79/112/EEC provides that the labelling should not mislead the consumer. In this context, attention should be paid to ensure that the labelling of these products does not state or imply that a varied and adequate diet cannot provide sufficient quantities of nutrients."

So, you can buy these products because you believe they provide benefits not found in just eating your food, but it will be against the law for us to say that we also believe that to be true. In other words, we must be prevented against misleading you to believe something you already believe!

An occasional voice of sanity heard in Europe: "It does seem ridiculous to be reducing choice on supplements when the Government says it wants to increase the availability of prescription drugs, such as Viagra, the pill and antibiotics, to give patients more choice." - Should vitamins face ban? Daily Express, March 5 2002

The next meeting of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses is coming soon, from November 4 to November 8, 2002, in Berlin. I'm not invited. I am bereft of one of the main qualifications for attendance: complete ignorance about nutrition and dietary supplements.

If you value your right to buy, sell and use supplements as you see fit, it's time to start asking your elected representatives in Congress what they intend to do to assure that international trade agreements do not overwhelm U.S. law. You can do it online - go to Congress.org. Refuse to accept a patronizing "pat on the head" and the story, "it can't happen here". That's what consumers and health food store owners in the UK thought.


The BEST of health to you!
Michael LeVesque, President

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products listed in this newsletter are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult with your physician before taking any of these products.