Protease Inhibitor from Ginko?

A study published in the August 1 edition of the Medical Science Monitor reports that a chemical found in the shells of ginko biloba seeds may be an HIV protease inhibitor. The study examined the effects of ginkgolic acid on HIV in a laboratory setting. How it might effect HIV in the human body is currently unknown.

Ginko seeds are not often used as Western medicine. Ginko leaves are the well known herbal treatment that may help slow the damage of Alzheimer’s disease and treat some kinds of leg pain. However Ginko seeds have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Traditional uses include preventing and treatment cancer and aiding circulation and digestion.

The study published last week may have found a new use for Ginko seeds: fighting HIV. Researchers found that ginkgolic acid from the shells of ginko seeds can act as a protease inhibitor in the lab. The ginkgolic acid both interfered with HIV in test tubes and prevented HIV replication in cultured immune cells. The study also found that high concentrations of the formula did not cause severe damage to the cells, an important test for any potential medication.

Proteases Inhibitors Protease inhibitors(PI) are an important class of antiretroviral medication that many HIV strains are developing a resistance to. The current PI ARVs are the first generation of PI medications, and researchers around the world are working to find and develop a second generation of PIs that might be effective on resistant HIV strains.

Ginko’s Possibilities Unfortunately, eating ginko seeds to benefit from ginkgolic acid may not be a safe option. Ginkogolic acid has been found to cause side effects varying from mind to severe. Severe side effects can include seizures. In fact, while ginkgo seeds are eaten as food (and are a great source of protein) the recommended way to cook them is boiling, because it destroys the ginkcolic acid. Roasting the seeds destroys some of the ginkgolic acid, but adults are advised not to eat more than 8 roasted ginkgo seeds a day, to avoid a toxic reaction.

The toxicity of ginkgolic acid will be a challenge to researchers trying to use it to develop a new ARV. However, given both the numerous side effects of current ARVs, and the possibility of developing a safer version of the compound, it is likely research will continue. For most people, the side effects of moderate amounts of ginkgolic acid are less severe than those associated with many current ARVs.

Anyone interested in taking ginko seeds as an alternative therapy should speak with both their doctor and a trained naturopath or doctor of Chinese medicine. The risks associated with ginkgolic acid make it very important to take only under medical supervision. People should also be aware that if researchers develop a PI ARV from ginkgolic acid, eating ginko seeds now may result in developing a resistance to the new PI.

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