1- Featured Article: Ginkgo biloba: Helping take the stress out of exercise
This Month’s Featured Article:
Ginkgo biloba: Helping take the stress out of exercise
by Alfredo Franco, PhD
Cortisol is the nemesis of any strength athlete. Cortisol is one of our principal stress hormones and is released in order to make nutrients available to the body in times of emergency. So, why is this a problem for athletes? Two reasons: 1) the body interprets strenuous exercise as stress; and 2) the nutrients that are released to the body for energy usage largely originate from muscle. That is, over training liberates cortisol, which then breaks our muscles down for energy acquisition - defeating the point of exercise in the first place.
It is really a simple matter of offsetting muscle catabolism with muscle anabolism. Anabolism refers to a process of building, whereas catabolism refers to a state of net breakdown. Both processes are under the control of hormones, although this month we are more concerned about the degradative properties of cortisol, a catabolic hormone. Here is the deal, exercise stimulates the release of your anabolic hormones, which instigates muscle growth. Go too far with exercise, however, and the release of cortisol gains precedence over this delicate hormonal balance and you enter a state of net muscle breakdown.
Ginkgo is the oldest tree species to survive on earth. It turns out moreover, that some of ginkgo’s resilience may be transmitted to humans who consume extracts made from its leaves. Ginkgo has been shown in scientific studies to improve circulation of the brain and body, reduce oxidative stress, and act as a general mood enhancer. In these capacities, ginkgo is being studied to treat Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, erectile dysfunction, asthma, coughs and convulsions.
Ginkgo leaf showing characteristic bi-lobed (biloba) structure.
Photograph by A. Franco
Ginkgo reduces cortisol release
One recent study found that a special extract of Ginkgo biloba, EGb 761, reduces cortisol release and prevents the characteristic rise in blood pressure brought on by a combination of physical and mental stresses (Ref 1). The results from this study suggest that ginkgo extracts may be of use in preventing the production of cortisol in response to heavy exercise. This is something that you should definitely keep in mind as a preventative measure to help offset the development of overtraining syndrome, or OTS.
Read the results of this study in detail.
Other than ginkgo’s potential benefits for athletes, I would also strongly recommend anyone over 30, and most certainly urge the elderly, to take this particular extract of ginkgo on a daily basis. However, as always check with your doctor, or health care professional, before making any changes to your nutritional regimen.
The list of healthful benefits attributed to ginkgo continues to grow with the appearance of each new study examining this remarkable tree. It now appears that ginkgo may reduce the catabolic effects of stress, both on the physical and mental levels. This is very good news for athletes training heavily.
(Ref. 1) Jezova, D. et al. (2002) Reduction of rise in blood pressure and cortisol release during stress by Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb 761) in healthy volunteers. American Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, Volume 53 (3), pages 337-348.
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