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Extracts from an ancient Chinese herb improves stroke victims’ recovery, study finds

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Intravenous injections of the traditional Chinese herb gingko biloba significantly enhances early cognitive recovery in stroke patients, a new study has found.

Potential breakthrough in stroke treatment: A preliminary study conducted across multiple centers in China has demonstrated the efficacy of intravenous injections of ginkgo biloba components in aiding the recovery of ischemic stroke victims. The research, to be presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2024 this week, revealed that treatment with ginkgo diterpene lactone meglumine (GDLM), a compound derived from ginkgo biloba, led to notable improvements in cognitive scores compared to a placebo group.

About the herb: Ginkgo biloba is an herb extracted from the leaves and seeds of the ancient ginkgo tree native to East Asia. It is widely used in China to treat stroke via intravenous (IV) delivery of its active ingredients, due to potential antioxidant properties protecting nerve cells.

While it’s currently available as a supplement in the U.S., it is not approved by the FDA for any medical use. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health cautions there is insufficient evidence to support its use for any non-FDA approved condition.

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About the study: In early 2023, researchers in China studied the recovery of 3,163 stroke survivors (average age 63) who had received treatment for mild to moderate ischemic strokes at 100 different medical centers. These patients were given intravenous injections of GDLM for 14 days immediately after their stroke and again 3 months later.

Promising results and implications: The study not only found that the herbal concoction led to better overall stroke symptom recovery but also revealed that participants who received it experienced improved cognitive function compared to those who didn't. Researchers noted that further studies are necessary to confirm the efficacy and safety of this treatment before its clinical application can be considered.

“If our positive results are confirmed in other trials, GDLM injections may someday be used to improve cognitive function for patients after ischemic stroke,” Dr. Anxin Wang, study co-author and clinical epidemiology expert at Beijing Tiantan Hospital, said.

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Rigorous clinical trials recommended: Experts emphasize the importance of caution when considering complementary treatments like ginkgo biloba. In a statement to the American Stroke Association, Dr. Sheryl L. Chow, an associate professor of pharmacy practice and administration, highlighted the need for rigorous clinical trials to establish the injections’ effectiveness and safety. Chow noted that further research is warranted to explore the long-term effects and potential applications of this treatment beyond the initial 90-day period studied.

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