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Are breakfast cereals fortified with gingko biloba worth the extra cost?

I hope that you will not be fooled by the unbelievable advertising on some food packages. For example, labels on ginseng tea and gingko- fortified cereal both claim they will promote sharp thinking.

There is no solid evidence that either ginseng or gingko improve thinking, but for this discussion, let’s assume they do. Ginseng is a stimulant just like an amphetamine. If you were to take too much ginseng, you would get diarrhea and a headache; a massive overdose could raise your blood pressure, cause a stroke and even death. If the correct dose of ginseng is contained in one cup of the tea, that means that you are taking a drug when you drink a cupful; two cups can give you a headache and five may kill you.

It’s the dose that makes a poison. If a substance is to cause a health benefit, you have to eat an exact dose. If you take less, you don’t receive any benefit. If you take too much, you can suffer unpleasant side effects or even die. Drugs and supplements specify the dose on the bottle; if you take a whole bottle-full instead of one pill and die of an overdose, the manufacturer will not be held responsible. But nobody measures exact portions of food. What happens if you drink the ginseng tea all day to quench your thirst?

The same applies to gingko-fortified cereals. How much cereal do you have to eat to improve your mind? What happens if your child likes the flavor and eats the whole box? Foods that truly contain medicines would harm you if you ate too much. Of course the food manufacturers are not stupid, so they put in so little of the substance that it cannot possibly harm you in any amount – and therefore, of course, cannot have any benefit. This is deceptive advertising at its worst. Save your money.

Checked November 20, 2005

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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