For thousands of years, herbalists have used ginger root to alleviate stomach problems. Due to its natural anti-inflammatory effects, ginger is commonly used to treat arthritis, high cholesterol, menstrual cramps and other health problems.
Ginger, used either fresh or as a powdered spice, is a common part of many food recipes. It is also used for medicinal purposes. The spice is made from the root of a plant that is widely grown in warmer parts of Asia, Africa and South America.
Ginger has been used for centuries to treat a variety of medical conditions, including:
- Movement disease
- Morning sickness
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Muscle pain (myalgie)
- Joint ache (arthralgia)
- Menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea)
- High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia)
Many alternative doctors also believe that ginger can help prevent heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Some of these claims are better supported by research than others.
Ginger Health Benefits
The health benefits of ginger can be broadly categorized as either gastrointestinal, anti-inflammatory or metabolic.
A number of studies have supported the effects of ginger on stomach sedation. In addition to relieving nausea and vomiting after surgery, the herb appears to reduce the symptoms of movement sickness and morning sickness. Perhaps the best evidence of this anti-nausea effect is in people undergoing cancer treatment.
AND 2012 study from the University of Rochester found that ginger supplements reduced nausea after chemotherapy by 40 percent. The largest reduction was seen in those taking between 500 and 1,000 milligrams (mg).
The benefits of ginger with other types of gastrointestinal diseases are less clear. A 2014 study from the University of North Carolina concluded that ginger does not provide greater relief from IBS symptoms than placebo.
Although ginger also appears to have a minimal effect on acid reflux, according to a 2012 study from India, when used in combination with a probiotic, it can help heal GERD-related gastric ulcers.
Ginger contains an anti-inflammatory substance known as gingerol, which can help treat chronic or acute pain. Current research is divided on how effective gingerol really is.
AND 2015 overview of studies concluded that ginger was only “moderately effective” in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Similar results have been observed in rheumatoid arthritis and non-arthritis conditions such as tendonitis and bursitis.
Although a review of studies from 2016 suggested that ginger may work as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve severe menstrual pain, researchers quickly acknowledged that the overall quality of the studies was poor.
All of this suggests that ginger may support, not replace, the standard pain medications used to treat arthritis and other chronic or acute disorders.
There is limited but compelling evidence that ginger can help treat conditions such as high cholesterol or high blood sugar.
AND 2008 study from Iran concluded that a daily 3 gram supplement of ginger given for 45 days improved the lipid profile of 45 people with high cholesterol.
Triglycerides, total cholesterol, and “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were reduced, while “good” high-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol was significantly increased. The reduction in these values alone corresponds to an overall reduction in the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Similarly, a 2015 study from Iran reported that a daily ginger supplement improved many key diagnostic measures for type 2 diabetes. After 12 weeks, people who received a 2 gram supplement a day saw a 12 percent decrease in their content fasting glucose level and a 10% decrease in their HbA1c. Similar results were recorded in a 2018 study from China.
To date, there is limited evidence that ginger can either prevent or treat cancer. Current research is limited mainly to test tubes. While gingerol appears to slow the growth of certain carcinogenic cells in vitro (particularly colorectal and ovarian cancer cells), it is difficult to reach any reasonable conclusion at this stage.
The same goes for Alzheimer’s disease. While 2017 research from Egypt suggests that gingerol may help prevent or slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease, the anti-inflammatory effect on the brain has been found to be the same as with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex (celecoxib).
Ginger Side Effects
If ginger is used in the form of spices or drunk as tea, it is considered safe for both adults and children. In some people, ginger can cause mild side effects, including nausea, heartburn, diarrhea, and flatulence. Ginger is also known to increase bile production and should be avoided in people with gallbladder disease.
The long-term safety of ginger supplements and extracts is unknown. There is also limited research on possible drug interactions, especially at higher doses.
Ginger can slow blood clotting and can interfere with anticoagulants such as aspirin, heparin, Coumadin (warfarin), Plavix (clopidogrel), Fragmin (dalteparin) and Lovenox (enoxaparin).
Ginger is available fresh and can be eaten fresh, juiced or brewed in tea. Some people even put strands of ginger under their tongues to relieve bouts of nausea.
Ginger is also available as a spice, tea, extract or oral tablet or capsule. Ginger essential oil is used mainly for aromatherapy rather than for oral consumption. There are even topical ginger infused ointments used for a warm massage.
There is no standardized dosing schedule for ginger supplements. Manufacturers generally recommend a dose of 500 mg taken twice a day to relieve nausea. Others recommend doses of 250 mg to 500 mg, taken two to four times a day, to treat morning sickness, menstrual cramps and arthritis pain.
What to look for
If you take ginger supplements, you can usually find them in drugstores, health food stores, or stores that specialize in nutritional supplements. They can also be easily obtained online.
To ensure that the ginger supplement is safe and manufactured to the highest standards, make sure the label has been tested and approved by an independent third-party certification body, such as the US Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, and ConsumerLab.
If you are considering using the ginger supplement in any form, talk to your doctor to make sure you are fully aware of the potential risks and benefits.
People are often looking for new ways to incorporate ginger into their diets. While most are considered safe, be careful when buying imported snacks or confectionery made from ginger. In 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration and appeal when popular ginger candies from Vietnam, made from dehydrated sugar-coated ginger, were found to contain excessive amounts of lead.
Similar appeals have been issued for candied ginger product from Asia, often due to unreported or excessive use of sulfites as a preservative.
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