Most people worry about their memory, especially when they forget things they shouldn’t, like an important birthday or a PIN number or a password. There’s nothing much scarier than the fear of dementia. That’s why there is great interest in anything that might improve memory, especially if it is a natural product like ginkgo.
Q. I am 54 and worried about my short term memory. My wife gets annoyed because I forget things she’s told me to do. At work I keep lists so I don’t slip up. I used to remember all my appointments but now I’d be lost without my organizer. My doctor says I don’t have Alzheimer’s but I am still concerned.
I take metoprolol for blood pressure and Tylenol PM to get to sleep. I have just started taking ginkgo in the hope it will improve my memory. Please send me any information you have about this herb and interactions with my medicine.
A. Ginkgo has been used in Europe for decades to treat memory problems. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Oct. 22/29, 1997) suggested that this herb might slow the decline due to Alzheimer’s disease.
Although ginkgo improves learning and memory in animals, another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Aug 21, 2002, demonstrated no measurable improvement in memory or cognitive ability in healthy older adults.
More recently a German study published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology (May, 2016) detected “improved cognitive flexibility” with a Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb761). This was a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial involving elderly volunteers with some memory problems.
To learn more about Ginkgo, visit our herb library.
Could Medications Be Adding Insult to Injury?
It is possible that your medication is contributing to the memory problem and mental fuzziness. Beta-blockers such as metoprolol, atenolol and propranolol have been linked to forgetfulness. Don’t stop your medicine, but ask your physician if an alternate drug would be appropriate for you.
Most European physicians have stopped using beta blockers as first-line treatments for hypertension. You can learn about this in much greater deal in our chapter on high blood pressure in our book Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy. This book provides many other options for blood pressure control.
Diphenhydramine (the PM in many nighttime pain relievers such as Advil PM and Tylenol PM) may also reduce alertness. Most people do not appreciate how many medications, including some over-the-counter drugs, can throw a monkey wrench into the mental machinery. Certain drugs for bladder problems, cholesterol control, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and heartburn are just a few examples.
We doubt that Ginkgo biloba can counteract the brain fog that anticholinergic drugs like diphenhydramine may produce. If your doctor comes up with a different strategy for your hypertension and insomnia you might not need anything to improve your memory.
If you would like a more detailed discussion of this problem you can find out about medications can cause memory problems and cognitive dysfunction because of their anticholinergic activity at this link to a comprehensive list.