Ginkgo Biloba vs Fish Oil: Which is Better for What?

Gingko Biloba vs Fish Oil: What's Better for the Brain?

Gingko Biloba vs Fish Oil – which supplement is better for brain function? Which one will help you more with memory, focus, cognition, brain aging and other aspects of your daily lifestyle?

For starters, Ginkgo Biloba is an ancient tree. The main active compounds in Ginkgo Biloba that benefit brain health are Flavones and Terpene Lactones. These are mainly found in the leaves of the Ginkgo tree. Ginkgo is commonly taken in doses between 120mg-720mg per day to alleviate symptoms of cognitive decline. As such, Ginkgo is most popular amongst the elderly population, unlike Fish Oil which is used for many goals alongside brain health.

Fish Oil is a mixture of fatty acids, with the omega-3 fatty acids – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – being the dominant ones. These fatty acids are behind most of fish oil’s benefits, which include lower inflammation in the brain and body, increased levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin (and consequently brighter mood), and improved triglycerides. Fish oil is also used amongst athletes to boost recovery and other aspects of fitness performance.

So, it’s obvious that fish oil has more diverse benefits. Whereas Ginkgo Biloba is more focused. But which one is better for you?

Here’s a closer look at the science.

Ginkgo Biloba’s Reported Effects

1. Protects Brain Tissue

Gingko’s biggest benefits come from its antioxidants, as mentioned, terpene lactones and flavones. These compounds are known for their neutralizing effects on free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable particles that your body generates as by-products from normal metabolic functions, such as detoxification and conversion of food to energy.

Free radicals can damage healthy tissue, which contributes to disease development, faster aging, and brain cell degeneration. Ginkgo’s antioxidants, much like many other antioxidants, have an extra electron molecule that they donate to free radicals, turning them into healthy molecules in the process.

2. May Help Fight Inflammation

Inflammation is your body’s natural reaction to injury or invasion of foreign substances. Your body recruits various parts of the immune system to fight against invaders or heal the injured part of the body.

Some chronic diseases, however, trigger a continuous inflammatory response. Even when there’s no injury or illness present. Over time, this chronic inflammation can damage your DNA and bodily tissues – permanently. Leading to brain fog, memory loss, and premature mental decline.

Keep in mind that there are no human studies that prove that Ginkgo can effectively reduce inflammation. However, animal and test-tube studies on human cells show amazing results. In these studies, Ginkgo extract was shown to reduce the following types of inflammation:

  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis
  • Irritable Bowel Disease (IBS)

Again, while these studies look promising, they haven’t been done on humans. So take them with a grain of salt.

3. Improves Nitric Oxide (NO) and Blood Flow to the Brain

Ginkgo Biloba has extensively been used in traditional Chinese Medicine to “open channels” of energy to different parts of the body, including the brain, kidneys, liver and lungs.

As it turns out, many of Ginkgo’s benefits stem from its reported ability to boost blood flow. In one study, older adults with a heart condition who took ginkgo biloba experienced an immediate increase in blood flow to their body and brain. This was due to a 12-percent increase in nitric oxide, a compound that dilates your blood vessels. [1]

A similar study showed the same effects on older people who took ginkgo extract. [2] Additional animal research shows that thanks to improved blood flow, ginkgo may offer protective effects on the brain and other organs in your body. [3]

4. Reduces Anxiety & Depression in Animal Models

Some research shows that Ginkgo can reduce symptoms of anxiety. A number of animal studies showed it’s Gingko’s antioxidants that are behind its mood-boosting effects.

In one human study, 170 subjects with generalized anxiety took either 240 or 480mg of ginkgo. THe third group took a placebo pill. The group that took the highest dose of Ginkgo saw a 45% greater reduction in their anxiety symptoms. [4]

A review of animal research shows that ginkgo can help treat symptoms of depression, too. Mice who were given ginkgo before a stressful situation were less affected by the stressor than the placebo group. In this study, the researchers suggested that Ginkgo’s anti-depressant effect came from its anti-inflammatory properties, which improve the body’s ability to deal with stress when cortisol goes up. [5]

However, most of the research on Ginkgo’s mood benefits has been done on animals, so we don’t quite yet know how effective it really is for these purposes in humans.

5. May Reduce the Rate of Cognitive Decline

Ginkgo has been studied for its potential to reduce lack of focus, memory loss, and other symptoms linked to Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline.

However, the research in this area is fairly inconsistent. Some studies show a significant reduction in symptoms of cognitive decline, while others fail to achieve the same result.

A review of 21 studies showed that when combined with conventional medicine, Gingko may be useful in increasing mental capabilities in those with mild Alzheimer’s. [6]

Another smaller review looked at 4 studies and found a notable reduction in symptoms associated with dementia when Ginkgo was used for 22-24 weeks – suggesting that long-term supplementation may be needed to reap its benefits. [7]

Fish Oil’s Reported Effects

1. Supports Overall Brain Function

About 60% of your brain is fat. Much of that fat is omega-3 fatty acids. This makes omega-3s essential for normal brain function. [8, 9]

Some studies show that people with mental disorders have lower levels of omega-3s in their blood. Interestingly, experts have found evidence that fish oil supplements may prevent the onset or improve the symptoms of existing mental conditions. For example, it can reduce the chance of developing a psychotic disorder in people who’re at risk of developing one. [10, 11]

2. Reduces Certain Types of Inflammation

Although Ginkgo may reduce inflammation too, it’s not nearly as potent as fish oil in this regard. Fish oil has been shown to posses powerful anti-inflammatory effects that may assist in treating chronic conditions.

For example, research shows that fish oil can reduce the production and gene expression of inflammatory particles cytokines in stressed and obese people. [12, 13]

What’s more, fish oil supplements can also reduce inflammation in people with joint issues, including joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis, stiffness and swelling. [14, 15]

In the context of this post, the EPA omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil can reduce neuroinflammation, which is linked to cognitive decline and a whole host of other mental conditions.

3. May Help Alleviate Symptoms of Depression

Depression is suggested to become the second most common cause of illness by 2030. Curiously, people with major depression disorder seem to have lower levels of omega-3s in their blood. [16]

Studies show that fish oil supplements, including omega-3 supplements, help alleviate symptoms of depression. EPA, specifically, has been shown to be the most effective part of fish oil at reducing depressive symptoms. As mentioned above, this is thought to be the result of EPA’s strong anti-inflammatory effects in the brain. [17, 18, 19, 20, 21]

4. May Boost Focus

Fish oil can help reduce symptoms of ADHD – including a lack of focus. Given that omega-3s make up a large part of our brain, taking enough of them may help prevent behavioral problems in early life.

Fish oil supplements have been shown to boost focus, reduce inattention, block impulsiveness and hyperactivity, and appease aggression in children. [22, 23, 24]

While we need to see the same research done on older adults, current studies look promising.

5. May Help Offset Symptoms of Mental Decline

As you age, your mental function slows down, and your risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease increases. People who eat more fish are shown to experience a slower rate of decline in brain function. [25, 26]

However, research still isn’t clear on whether fish oil supplements can yield the same results. Nonetheless, some very small studies reported that fish oil may boost memory in healthy old adults. [27]

Side Effects – Which One is Safer?

Ginkgo Biloba and Fish Oil are both considered safe when taken in recommended doses.

That said, high doses of fish oil can thin your blood. And so can Ginkgo Biloba. This is something you should talk with your doctor about if you have any kind of bleeding disorder, or if you take anticoagulant medicine.

How to Take (Dosage Notes)

Ginkgo Biloba

Gingko Biloba’s standard dosage is 120-480 divided into one to three daily doses. Most research hasn’t tested doses higher than 600mg per day, so it’s probably best not to go over that amount. Remember that Ginkgo’s effects can take at least 6 weeks to start showing.

You’ll usually find Ginkgo supplements available as either capsules, tablets or powder. Most of the research has focused on Ginkgo’s extracts that have a precise ratio of its active compounds – 24% terpene lactones and 6% flavones.

*Warning: Don’t eat raw ginkgo biloba seeds – they’re poisonous!

Fish Oil

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating 1-2 portions of fish per week. [28]

In terms of fish oil supplements, 250mg of combined EPA and DHA is the minimum dose to get any of its benefits. However, this is far below the dosage necessary to receive fish oil’s nootropic (brain boosting) benefits.

The American Heart Association recommends consuming 1g of fish oil each day. [29] And according to Nootropics Expert, you should aim to get 1,000mg of DHA specifically, to get the most out of fish oil’s brain benefits. [30]

Conclusion to Ginkgo Biloba vs Fish Oil

So, Ginkgo Biloba or Fish Oil: which one should you take? If you can afford it and if you’re healthy, then there’s no reason not to take both, as they have synergistic benefits.

If you can only pick one, though, fish oil remains the superior option. It covers a wider array of cognitive functions, including mood, memory, focus, and long-term brain health. Fish oil is one of the most essential supplements you can have in your daily stack for improving cognitive function as well as other aspects of your health. Of course, fish oil can’t do wonders on its own, which is why I often talk about brain supplements that stack the best brain ingredients together to create the biggest impact on your overall mental function.

Ginkgo Biloba, meanwhile, is a more focused supplement. It’s specifically beneficial for improving blood flow to your brain. This is thanks to its ability to boost nitric oxide (NO), a molecule that dilates, relaxes and widens your blood vessels. Leading to improved oxygen and nutrient delivery to your brain tissues. Gingko also has antioxidants that help protect brain cells and boost focus. So if you’re looking for these benefits specifically, Ginkgo is the better choice.

Again, though, if you’re looking for best results, you should check supplements with multiple proven brain boosters, each one addressing a different aspect of cognition for complete brain optimization.

References

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  2. Wu Y, Li S, Cui W, Zu X, Du J, Wang F. Ginkgo biloba extract improves coronary blood flow in healthy elderly adults: role of endothelium-dependent vasodilation. Phytomedicine. 2008;15(3):164-169. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2007.12.002
  3. Yang Y, Li Y, Wang J, et al. Systematic Investigation of Ginkgo Biloba Leaves for Treating Cardio-cerebrovascular Diseases in an Animal Model. ACS Chem Biol. 2017;12(5):1363-1372. doi:10.1021/acschembio.6b00762
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  13. Haghiac M, Yang XH, Presley L, et al. Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation Reduces Inflammation in Obese Pregnant Women: A Randomized Double-Blind Controlled Clinical Trial. PLoS One. 2015;10(9):e0137309. Published 2015 Sep 4. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0137309
  14. Fortin PR, Lew RA, Liang MH, et al. Validation of a meta-analysis: the effects of fish oil in rheumatoid arthritis. J Clin Epidemiol. 1995;48(11):1379-1390. doi:10.1016/0895-4356(95)00028-3
  15. Goldberg RJ, Katz J. A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain. Pain. 2007;129(1-2):210-223. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2007.01.020
  16. Mathers CD, Loncar D. Projections of global mortality and burden of disease from 2002 to 2030. PLoS Med. 2006;3(11):e442. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030442
  17. da Silva TM, Munhoz RP, Alvarez C, et al. Depression in Parkinson’s disease: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study of omega-3 fatty-acid supplementation. J Affect Disord. 2008;111(2-3):351-359. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2008.03.008
  18. Su KP, Huang SY, Chiu CC, Shen WW. Omega-3 fatty acids in major depressive disorder. A preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial [published correction appears in Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2004 Mar;14(2):173]. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2003;13(4):267-271. doi:10.1016/s0924-977x(03)00032-4
  19. Ginty AT, Conklin SM. Short-term supplementation of acute long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may alter depression status and decrease symptomology among young adults with depression: A preliminary randomized and placebo controlled trial. Psychiatry Res. 2015;229(1-2):485-489. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2015.05.072
  20. Martins JG. EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009;28(5):525-542. doi:10.1080/07315724.2009.10719785
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  27. Nilsson A, Radeborg K, Salo I, Björck I. Effects of supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on cognitive performance and cardiometabolic risk markers in healthy 51 to 72 years old subjects: a randomized controlled cross-over study. Nutr J. 2012;11:99. Published 2012 Nov 22. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-11-99
  28. 13 benefits of taking fish oil – Healthline.
  29. Fish Oil – Examine.com
  30. DHA – Nootropics Expert.

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About Valentino M. 98 Articles
Valentino is a nutritionist, author, spiritual practitioner, and health coach. He's been researching nutrition and brain health since 2015, and has launched Valentino's Naturals to help people maximize their cognitive performance. When he isn't writing, Valentino loves to travel around Europe, spend time recharging in nature, and research topics within his field of expertise. More...

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