For people struggling with tinnitus, the herb ginkgo biloba is often recommended as a natural remedy. Tinnitus, a common condition marked by persistent ringing in the ears, is thought to result from blood vessel abnormalities in some cases. While some proponents claim that ginkgo can help treat tinnitus by improving the health of blood vessels, there is very little scientific support for this claim.
The Science Behind Ginkgo and Tinnitus
To date, very few studies have tested ginkgo's effects on people with tinnitus. The available research includes a 2001 study from the journal BMJ, in which 1,121 tinnitus patients were treated with either ginkgo or a placebo for 12 weeks. Study results showed ginkgo was no more effective than the placebo in treatment of tinnitus.
For a 2004 report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, researchers sized up 12 clinical trials on ginkgo and tinnitus, and found that 10 of the studies had serious flaws. Looking at findings from the other two studies, the report's authors concluded that ginkgo is unlikely to be effective in treatment of tinnitus.
In a report published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology the following year, scientists caution that using ginkgo to treat tinnitus may "not only waste money but can potentially prevent patients from seeking therapy that is efficacious."
Is Ginkgo a Safe Treatment for Tinnitus?
Ginkgo is known to cause a number of side effects (including stomach upset, headache, and constipation), and may be harmful when combined with ibuprofen or blood-thinning medications (such as warfarin).
Since tinnitus may 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. Avoiding or delaying doctor-prescribed treatment and using ginkgo to relieve your symptoms may have serious health consequences.
Should You Use Ginkgo to Treat Tinnitus?
If you're interested in using alternative medicine to treat tinnitus, talk to your doctor about the potential benefits of treatments like biofeedback and acupuncture. Given the lack of supporting research, using ginkgo to treat tinnitus is not advised.
Drew S, Davies E. "Effectiveness of Ginkgo biloba in treating tinnitus: double blind, placebo controlled trial." BMJ. 2001 Jan 13;322(7278):73.
Hilton M, Stuart E. "Ginkgo biloba for tinnitus." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(2):CD003852.
National Institutes of Health. "Ginkgo: MedlinePlus Supplements". January 2011.
National Institutes of Health. "Tinnitus: MedlinePlus". August 2010.
Smith PF, Zheng Y, Darlington CL. "Ginkgo biloba extracts for tinnitus: More hype than hope?" J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Aug 22;100(1-2):95-9.