What's New -- CSPI Press Releases

For Immediate Release: December 4, 1997

Contact: David Schardt 202/332-9110, ext. 326

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STATEMENT OF DAVID SCHARDT

CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST

13th ANNUAL HARLAN PAGE HUBBARD LEMON AWARDS

December 4, 1997

GINKGO: WHAT ITS MANUFACTURERS "FORGET"

I am pleased to accept the 1997 Harlan Page Hubbard Lemon Award for misleading dietary supplement advertising on behalf of Lichtwer Pharma of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for its Ginkai brand of ginkgo biloba. Although there are many brands of ginkgo that also deserve this award, Ginkai was chosen for its television advertisements like this, which have run during the game show Jeopardy, and for its bold and misleading claims on its package label, both of which would have made Harlan Page Hubbard beam with pride.

Want to "remember where you put things?" To "maintain your mental edge.....indefinitely?" To "sharpen your memory and concentration?" Who wouldn't?

These tempting claims from ginkgo manufacturers have seduced millions of students, lawyers, stockbrokers, journalists, and other healthy people--young and old--who want to preserve or sharpen their memories.

There's only one problem: These companies "forget" to tell their customers that there's no good evidence that taking ginkgo regularly does anything for the memories of normal, healthy people.

Ginkgo biloba is an herb that may have modest benefits for those suffering from dementia like Alzheimer's disease or from other severe memory impairments.

But in normal, healthy people--the people depicted in the ads--the only relevant studies have found that ginkgo has no effect on memory.

Even the German herbal industry, which is the biggest booster of ginkgo, doesn't claim that it helps the memory of ordinary people. They recommend its use for memory only in those with dementia.

Ginkai, the brand featured in the television ad we just watched, illustrates how companies exaggerate the evidence for ginkgo. The label on the front says "Clinically Verified to Improve Memory and Concentration."

But when we asked Lichtwer Pharma for substantiation of this claim, here's one of the typical clinical studies they cited. The patients were diagnosed by neurologists as suffering from "cerebral insufficiency," which is a chronically inadequate flow of blood to the brain. They were not able to live independently and were suffering from "pathologic" levels of dizziness, confusion, anxiety, depression, fatigue, indifference to their surroundings, and short-term memory loss. In this study, ginkgo biloba did relieve some of their dizziness and their short-term memory lapses, though it did not restore either to normal (P. Halama et al.: Fortschritte der Medizin 106(19):408-12, 1988.)

But what about healthy people like the woman in the Ginkai television ad or the students, professionals, and others who buy Ginkai?

If supplement companies want to suggest that ginkgo biloba improves the memory of normal people, we have a suggestion: Why not sponsor a good study to see if it's true?


[ Hubbard Awards Press Release ]