EXETER, UNITED KINGDOM. Intermittent claudication, an early symptom of peripheral arterial disease, manifests itself as cramping pain that is induced by exercise and relieved by rest. It is caused by an inadequate supply of blood (atherosclerosis) to the affected muscles, most often those of the calf and leg. The incidence of intermittent claudication (IC) increases sharply with age and it is estimated that over 1.5 million Americans over the age of 65 years suffer from this disorder. Paradoxically, the most effective treatment of IC is regular physical exercise. The pharmaceutical drugs prescribed for the condition, pentoxifylline and cilostazol, are not terribly effective and are associated with serious side effects including heart arrhythmias and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Researchers at the University of Exeter now report that ginkgo biloba (120 to
160 mg of standardized extract per day) is quite effective in increasing the
pain-free and maximal walking distance of IC patients. Their meta-analysis
covered eight randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trials. The
researchers found that ginkgo biloba supplementation increased the average pain-
free walking distance by 34 meters and the maximal walking distance by 36 to 189
meters when compared with placebo. This improvement is significantly better
than that obtained with pharmaceuticals, but not as good as that obtained with
exercise training – an average increase of 139 meters in pain-free walking
distance. The researchers point out that the daily cost of ginkgo biloba
therapy (120 mg/day) ranges from $0.41 to $0.84 in the USA as compared to the
daily cost of treatment with pentoxifylline (1200 mg) at $1.83 to $1.93 and for
cilostazol (200 mg) at $2.90 to $4.23. Side effects of ginkgo biloba
supplementation were found to be rare, mild, and temporary.