Antioxidant in Ginkgo may protect cells from radiation damage

Thursday, November 12, 2009 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: ginkgo biloba, radiation damage, health news

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(NaturalNews) According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the Ginkgo biloba (G. biloba) is one of the oldest types of trees in the world. Ginkgo herbal treatments have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat a host of ills including asthma, bronchitis, fatigue, and tinnitus (ringing or roaring sounds in the ears). Now 21st century scientists may have discovered yet another Ginkgo-based therapy.

According to a study just published in the International Journal of Low Radiation, antioxidant extracts of the leaves of the G. biloba tree may protect cells in the human body from radiation damage. The discovery could offer a way to protect cancer patients from side effects produced by radiotherapy. G. biloba might also offer protection from medical tests that involve radiation, such as X-rays.

Chang-Mo Kang of the Korea Institute of Radiological and Medical Sciences in Taegu and colleagues have been investigating well-known herbal remedies to see what actual medicinal effects they may have. They specifically decided to study extracts made from G. biloba leaves because these substances are known to contain several antioxidant compounds, called ginkgolides and bilobalides, that are thought to protect cells in the body from damage caused by free radicals and other reactive oxidizing species. Free radicals are generated by the body's normal metabolism and are also produced in excess as a result of certain diseases and from exposure to pollution or radiation. If left unchecked, they can damage proteins and DNA and even kill cells.

Dr. Kang and his research team collected human white blood cells, known as lymphocytes, from healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 50. Then they treated half of these cells in the lab with a G. biloba extract. The other half of the cells were used as a control group and exposed to only a salt solution. Next, both sets of white blood cells were treated with gamma radiation from radioactive cesium.

The scientists used a light microscope to measure how many lymphocytes were undergoing programmed cell death, known as apoptosis, caused by the exposure to radiation. They found a significant increase in apoptosis in the untreated cells but the lymphocytes treated with G. biloba extract tended to be protected from the radiation. In all, about a third of the untreated cells underwent apoptosis compared with only one in twenty of the Ginkgo treated cells.

In a statement to the media, the researchers noted that other studies using laboratory mice have also demonstrated a similar protective effect when Ginkgo was used to shield the animals against radiation poisoning. The results of the latest research suggest that the G. biloba extracts actually neutralize the free radicals and oxidizing agents produced in the cells by radiation -- and that appears to prevent the cells from undergoing apoptosis.

As NaturalNews reported recently, other research has found evidence Ginkgo biloba extract may reduce brain damage after a stroke by about 50 percent (http://www.naturalnews.com/025981.html) and it may also be a natural memory booster (http://www.naturalnews.com/025722_disease_de...). NCCAM is currently funding numerous studies on Ginkgo for asthma, symptoms of multiple sclerosis, vascular function (intermittent claudication), cognitive decline, sexual dysfunction due to antidepressants, and insulin resistance.

"Protective effect of Ginkgo biloba against radiation-induced cellular damage in human peripheral lymphocytes and murine spleen cells", International Journal of Low Radiation, 2009, 6, 209-218.

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