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Biloba May Help Skiers, Climbers Avoid Altitude Sickness
By JANET RAE BROOKS, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
Sunday, Dec 08, 2002
This spring, 100 test subjects are scheduled to be driven up the slopes of
Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano to try to pin down whether an inexpensive herbal
extract can protect climbers, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts from the
debilitating effects of high altitude.
Ginkgo biloba, an extract of
the leaf of the ginkgo
biloba tree, seemed like the answer to mountaineers' prayers after a 1996 French
study showed it provided remarkable protection against altitude sickness for
climbers on a Himalayan expedition.
Two U.S. researchers, inspired to
study gingko after reading the French study, have not duplicated the startling
results, but are intrigued enough to continue investigating.
French study, researchers divided a group of 44 climbers, who all had
experienced altitude sickness on previous expeditions, into two groups. One
group received 160 milligrams of ginkgo extract daily while
slowly climbing to a base camp of 14,700 feet and making further ascents to
various altitudes. The other group took a placebo.
Only 14 percent of
the climbers who took ginkgo experienced one or
more symptoms of altitude sickness, compared to 82 percent in the placebo group.
None of the ginkgo group
developed the full symptoms of acute mountain sickness, while 41 percent of
those taking placebo did.
The ginkgo group, which happened
to contain two smokers and three ex-smokers, also had fewer cold-related
vascular problems. There were no smokers or ex-smokers in the placebo group.
When Janet Onopa of the University of Hawaii
told a class of first-year medical students that the findings of the
extraordinary French study -- which no one was using -- could easily be
replicated in Hawaii, a student volunteered to help do just that.
climber," he told Onopa after the class. "I get sick. I will work my butt off on
it, if you are willing to do it."
Onopa, the student and others studied
whether ginkgo would help
during rapid ascent. Their subjects started taking ginkgo a day before they
were driven from sea level to the 13,796-foot summit of Mauna Kea. In the ginkgo group, just 17
percent developed acute mountain sickness, while 64 percent of the placebo group
did. But the small number of subjects -- a total of 26 in both groups --
prevented the researchers from drawing definitive conclusions.
climbing student has been testing the use of gingko in a study in Nepal, but the
results don't look as promising, Onopa said.
"Research is like that,"
she said. Ginkgo,
commonly prescribed by homeopaths as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, may
still be an altitude panacea, "but until we get large numbers, we just don't
know. It will take another 50 years to sort it out because it's a complicated
Onopa's next study, to be conducted in the spring on Mauna
Kea with 100 subjects, will compare the use of ginkgo to the sulfonamide
drug acetazolamide, marketed as Diamox, which is used to accelerate
Meanwhile, Onopa has no hesitation in using ginkgo herself. "Its
side-effect profile is very benign and it's very inexpensive," she said.
Those taking aspirin and blood thinners should avoid taking ginkgo, as it is thought
that ginkgo could induce
internal bleeding, although bleeding has not occurred in trials.
Hackett, president of the International Society for Mountain Medicine, also
began studying ginkgo
after reading the French study.
"I read it and I couldn't believe it,"
said Hackett, who is based in Ridgeway, Colo. "I had to do my own study."
Hackett had subjects take ginkgo five days before a
quick ascent of 14,110-foot Pike's Peak. Those in the ginkgo group were half as
likely to experience acute mountain sickness as those taking placebo. But in
September, when Hackett compared the use of ginkgo, taken beginning
three days before ascent, to low-dose acetazolamide, the drug prevented acute
mountain sickness, but ginkgo did not.
"That's science for you," said Hackett, who is now designing a third study. He
also believes larger studies are needed to nail down ginkgo's effectiveness.
Hackett still advises climbers who consult him to try ginkgo.
helps some people and it's safe," said Hackett, who included information on ginkgo while lecturing
Wednesday at the Special Operations Medical Association conference in Tampa,
Fla. "It doesn't have as many side effects as Diamox. Since it's not harmful,
and there are studies showing it works for some people, it's worth a try."
Many climbers who consult him write back to laud ginkgo, Hackett said.
For those sleeping at 8,000 feet or higher, or known to be particularly
susceptible to altitude sickness, Hackett advises taking 100 mg of ginkgo twice daily,
beginning five days before ascent.
|New ginkgo study flawed, say experts
Jan 5, 2010 Natural Food Merchandiser
|Ginkgo extract doesn't slow cognitive decline
Dec 29, 2009 Reuters
|Ginkgo No Help for Heart, but May Aid Leg Arteries
Nov 30, 2009 Reuters
|UCLA Researchers Find Gingko Biloba May Help Improve
Nov 10, 2003 UCLA News
|Struggling to Avoid Alzheimer's Legacy
Feb 23, 2003 Washington Post
Biloba May Help Skiers, Climbers Avoid Altitude Sickness
Dec 08, 2002 THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
|Ginkgo Offers No Mental Benefit, Study Says
Aug 20, 2002 Reuters
|"Thank you once again for bringing such a
high quality yet affordable product to market. I have taken
Gingko Biloba made by others, and after taking yours, I honestly
wonder if there was any active ingredient in them all! With your product, I have
actually seen and felt a difference! Keep up the good work!"|
-- Adam, Y., Milwaukee, WI, Aug. 2009
(The customer has been taking our ginkgo since January 2006)