Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wasting money: Ginkgo biloba joins the pile

None of this is in any way surprising:
Herbal supplement Ginkgo doesn't stop Alzheimer's: Scientific American

The widely used herbal supplement Ginkgo biloba does not appear to prevent Alzheimer's disease in healthy elderly people or those with mild cognitive impairment, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday...

...Those who took the ginkgo were no more or less likely to develop Alzheimer's or any type of dementia, the researchers wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association....

... Dr. Murali Doraiswamy of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, noted that other Alzheimer's prevention failures include statins, estrogen, anti-inflammatory drugs, vitamin E and drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors...

...Michael McGuffin of the American Herbal Products Association said the findings do not undermine earlier evidence that ginkgo is useful in relieving symptoms in people who already have Alzheimer's.

Daniel Fabricant of the Natural Products Association said a study starting when people are in middle age rather than almost 80 would be the best way to analyze Alzheimer's prevention....

Of course the usual suspects are convinced that it still works somewhere, somehow, on someone. They'll never give up.

The interesting question is whether the study was a waste of money.

Well, since lots of people take Gingko to slow cognitive decline, maybe it was worth doing to persuade them to save their money. On the other hand Gingko is probably a relatively cheap placebo and it's not like we have anything that works. Maybe we should have just ignored the question.

What I'm most interested in is whether there was really any good scientific evidence that it was worth trying Gingko biloba to treat early dementia. Were there any persuasive animal studies? Anything observed in the lab that was really remarkable? Or did we just study it because a lot of people liked it?

Money is not endless. We should be researching promising directions, and we should subject truly interesting "herbal" drugs to the same testing regimens we apply to manufactured drugs.

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