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Ginkgo Won’t Slow Decline of Aging Brain


3 Star

Ginkgo Won’t Slow Decline of Aging Brain

Our Review Summary

In a story that describes another study raising doubts about this product’s value, there was as much attention given to the remaining true believers as there was to the skeptical evidence. 


Why This Matters

Many people (estimates of ~$100 million in annual US sales) buy this stuff.  Evaluating the evidence about it is not only a health issue but a consumer protection issue.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no mention of how much ginkgo biloba products cost.  Even an NBC story, with limited broadcast time, mentioned that Americans spend more than $100 million on a year on these products. A USA Today story said US sales were $99 million in 2008.  But what does it cost the individual? 

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story stated that the researchers found no evidence that ginkgo delayed or prevented cognitive declines.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The story stated that the study found that ginkgo was safe and no serious side effects were noted. But it could have noted that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that "Side effects of ginkgo may include headache, nausea, gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, dizziness, or allergic skin reactions. More severe allergic reactions have occasionally been reported."

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story did an adequate job explaining the study. But it allowed the American Botanical Council exec to complain about limitations in the study without having the authors or anyone else specifically address those claims point by point. This introduced an imbalance that readers may have found very confusing.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


 There was no exaggeration of the problem of cognitive decline.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

Yes, the story sought out different perspectives.  But oddly, despite the mounting negative evidence, it afforded more space (265 words) to those defending ginkgo biloba than it did to those discussing the evidence raising huge questions about its value (249 words).  He said/she said science journalism doesn’t serve anyone well.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

In a story based on a study that pokes holes in some peoples’ beliefs about a product to prevent cognitive decline, there could have been at least one line about other research into cognitive decline. 

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


It’s clear from the story that ginkgo biloba is used widely.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

The novelty of these products is not in question.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Satisfactory

Quotes from two of the sources – both defending ginkgo bliloba – were apparently taken from news releases.  With the evidence stacking up against this product, why depend on canned responses to continue to breathe life into these product claims?

Total Score: 4 of 9 Satisfactory


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