Extracts from the leaves of the Gingko biloba tree may protect cells from radiation, say Korean scientists. Their discovery may one day help reduce side effects in cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy treatment.
Researchers at the Korean Institute of Radiological and Medical Sciences are studying the effects of popular herbal remedies such as Gingko biloba. The Gingko tree is different from many herbal remedies since it is a unique species with no living relatives, and is a popular example of a living fossil. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Currently, G. biloba is sold as an herbal supplement and is promoted as a possible preventative for dementia.
Extracts from Gingko biloba leaves contain the compounds glycosides and terpenoids, antioxidants known as ginkgolides and bilobalides. Antioxidants are believed to protect cells from damage by free radicals. Free radicals are constantly produced by the body during the normal process of metabolism, but some diseases as well as pollution and radiation can increase their production tremendously, damaging cells and DNA.
Chang-Mo Kang and his colleagues collected white blood cells of healthy people ages 18 to 50 years old. They treated half of them with a commercially available G. biloba extract and treated the other half with a saline solution. Then they compared the effects of radiation on the two groups of cells.
They discovered that one in three of the untreated cells died while only one in twenty of the cells treated with the Gingko biloba extract died. Additional studies with mice showed a similar protective effect against radiation poisoning.
Kang’s research suggests that Gingko biloba extracts can neutralize free radicals radiation produces and prevent healthy cells from dying.