George Kudolo, Ph.D., associate
professor in the Department of Clinical Laboratory
Sciences, is studying Gingko biloba, a Chinese herbal
medicine, to assess its effects on diabetes.
Although the debate continues about the validity of popular herbal medicines, a Health Science Center researcher has taken one of these herbs into his laboratory to investigate its effects on diabetes.
George Kudolo, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, is studying Gingko biloba, which dates back almost 5,000 years but has only recently become popular in the United States as a dietary supplement.
Much of its popularity stems from published scientific studies during the past few years showing the herb's possible effects as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Gingko biloba also is said to help circulation, combat migraines and improve memory and concentration, but few studies have been conducted to provide the necessary data to back these claims.
Dr. Kudolo is researching what effects, if any, this herb may have on patients suffering from the insulin resistance syndrome - a term used to describe a number of conditions associated with diabetes, including hypertension, atherosclerosis, obesity and stroke.
In his research, Dr. Kudolo has observed that short-term ingestion of Gingko biloba extract (50:1 extract) may reduce platelet hypersensitivity that is usually seen in patients with diabetes - a condition that leads to clot formation and the increased risk of stroke. Some of his study participants have claimed to experience an improvement in poor circulation and memory while taking the herb.
Dr. Kudolo's research centers around the role of platelet-activating factor (PAF), a glycero-phospholipid that acts as a chemical mediator for a wide variety of biological activities, in the insulin resistance syndrome.
Dr. Kudolo is using Gingko biloba because it contains compounds that act as antagonists to PAF, which will provide biochemical information on the connection between PAF and the insulin resistance syndrome.
"If we can break the code to the syndrome, we can pinpoint where the defects are," said Dr. Kudolo. "Factors that control the synthesis of PAF may play a significant role. We have already shown the possible involvement of PAF in Type II diabetes, obesity and hypertension." The results may lead to the development of new treatments based on active compounds in Gingko biloba.
Dr. Kudolo is studying other aspects of the herb, including its effect on the pancreas (which provides a direct link to diabetes) and its anti-oxidant properties. Dr. Kudolo is quick to point out that Gingko biloba should not be considered a cure for all ailments and that more testing is needed before it is known who benefits from the herb. He is hoping his research also will provide information on a safe dosage and drug interactions.
Nicole Mercier, administrative assistant in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, participated in the study and found her blood pressure dropped by more than 20 points.
"It was tremendous," said Mercier. "At the time, I was not on a diet and I was not doing anything different, with the exception of taking the Gingko biloba."
When Linda Bennett, assistant to the dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences, first heard about the herb Gingko biloba, she was curious about claims that it could improve memory and concentration. She joined Dr. Kudolo's study as a control subject. During the three-month trial, she found she was "more focused" and her ability to retain information had improved.
"My energy level seems to have increased as well," said Bennett, who now buys the supplement on her own, still taking the dosage she used while participating in the study.
Dr. Kudolo cautions that while the supplement may benefit some people, it is not for everyone.
"When something is natural, there is often the misconception that it is good for you," said Dr. Kudolo. "That is not always the case. If you are on medications, you should be careful because there could be drug interaction issues."