Q. I have had six surgical procedures in as many months, the last being a quadruple bypass. My memory and cognitive thinking has diminished considerably, and I’m wondering if gingko biloba will help that.
A. During bypass surgery a machine takes over the function of pumping blood throughout the body. Cardiac surgeons have known for years that some people experience memory and other cognitive problems after such surgery. Recent research has shown that such deficits can last a long time.
There is even a name for this condition. Some surgeons have dubbed it the “pump head problem.” Older, sicker patients seem to especially vulnerable. Some have attributed the neurological deficits to air bubbles or blood clots from the heart-lung machine. Others believe it is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain during surgery itself. On the other hand, it may have less to do with the surgical procedure than depression brought on by slow post-operative recovery.
Physicians are trying to understand what causes this condition and how to prevent it. Cooling people during surgery, with slow re-warming, may provide some protection. Angioplasty may reduce the need for bypass surgery in many patients and lower the likelihood of experiencing cognitive decline.
There is no data to suggest that the herb ginkgo can counteract this problem. On the other hand, it may be worth discussing with your physician since this herb does appear to increase blood flow to the brain. Make sure it won’t interact with any of your other medications.