The Healing Power of Ginger
The wide-reaching health benefits of ginger.
Since the beginning of civilization, people have turned to plants-fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices-as sources of medicine. Today, Americans are more
likely to describe these plants as "nutritious" rather than "therapeutic."
However, scientists have not forgotten that many plant-derived foods were once held in high regard because of their potential healing properties.
One such example is ginger, the popular spice that is used to flavor soups, Japanese dishes, beverages and more. But did you know that ginger has been used
medicinally for more than two millennia in parts of the world such as China, India and the Arab nations?
The main difference today is that researchers are able to objectively evaluate and verify the health benefits of ginger. Thus far, science has shown that
this spice may be linked to improvements in heart health, immunity, digestion and more.
A Powerful Antioxidant
One of the biggest health concerns among consumers is the unhealthy aging effects of free radicals. These compounds cause DNA damage and are among the
biggest drivers of chronic disease. Prominent sources of free radicals include cigarette smoke, environmental pollution and ultraviolet radiation. The
human body also produces free radicals as byproducts of the metabolic processes that convert food into energy.
are healthy compounds that counteract the negative effects of free radicals. These nutrients are usually found in a wide variety of different
foods-including ginger. In fact, ginger is full of various antioxidants, including gingerols and shogaols, according to a review published by the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
Various laboratory experiments in animal and cellular models of disease have demonstrated that the compounds in ginger may protect the body from malignant
diseases such as cancers of the colon, lungs, skin, liver, stomach, breast and ovaries. These potential outcomes may be the result of antioxidants
neutralizing free radicals, as well as ginger's phytochemicals interacting with the body's enzymes in a beneficial manner.
Experiments on ginger's influence on malignant disease have mostly been conducted on animal and cellular models, so further studies are needed to verify
these effects. However, authors of the review are optimistic.
Ginger and Heart Health
While many people fear cancer, heart disease is actually the leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for about one-fourth of deaths. Two of the most
prominent factors in heart disease are hypertension and high cholesterol levels. According to the latest data from the CDC, about 32 percent of Americans
aged 20 and older have hypertension, while 16 percent have high cholesterol. If not treated properly, these conditions may increase the risk of heart
attack or stroke.
According to the review from the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, ginger may help improve both lipid profiles and blood pressure,
findings that have both been bolstered by other research articles.
A study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology discussed how scientists used rodent models to measure ginger's effects on
hypertension. The scientists observed that extracts from ginger help blood vessels relax, therefore lowering blood pressure.
Another experiment, published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, divided obese Iranian men into four groups that received different
regimens: placebos, ginger supplements or either of the preceding treatments combined with resistance exercise training.
One of the most prominent findings from this study is that ginger supplements were strongly associated with reductions in inflammation, with or without the
resistance drills. This is important considering that inflammation is a major factor in heart disease, particularly among obese individuals.
Ginger and Immunity
Inflammation is an important process for the immune system. Under the right conditions, inflammation helps promote healing by fighting off pathogens and
breaking down dead and diseased tissue. However, if this mechanism persists unchecked, it may lead to health issues. For example, chronic inflammation has
been linked to cancer, atherosclerosis, heart attack, diabetes, asthma, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel
Fortunately, ginger helps temper inflammation and improve the symptoms of these illnesses.
This concept is supported by a study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. According to the study authors, cells in the immune
system known as macrophages help spur the inflammatory process by stimulating T cells, which are also part of the immune system. Using rodent models, the
researchers demonstrated that ginger extract prevents macrophages from inappropriately activating the T cells.
Controlling inflammation may alleviate conditions such as osteoarthritis. In one study, published in the Indian Journal of Rheumatology, a team of
scientists conducted an experiment on 52 individuals who were coping with osteoarthritis-related knee pain. The participants were randomized to receive
regimens of either ginger supplements or indomethacin, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID). Results showed that ginger was just as
effective as the NSAID in reducing pain. However, the ginger was associated with fewer side effects.
These findings may be important given the prevalence of osteoarthritis. Currently, about 27 million people in the U.S. aged 25 and older have this joint
condition, and that figure is expected to reach 67 million by the year 2030, due in part to the aging population.
Ginger's anti-inflammatory properties may also have positive effects among individuals who have colon inflammation, which is a risk factor for cancer in
that organ. This observation was supported by an published in Cancer Prevention Research.
For the study, 30 research participants were randomly assigned to receive either ginger root supplements or placebo for 28 days. At the end of the trial
period, the scientists discovered that individuals who received the ginger supplements had lower markers of inflammation in their colons.
"We need to apply the same rigor to the sorts of questions about the effect of ginger root that we apply to other clinical trial research," said researcher
Suzanna Zick, N.D., M.P.H. "Interest in this is only going to increase as people look for ways to prevent cancer that are nontoxic, and improve their
quality of life in a cost-effective way."
Ginger and Digestion
Scientists' interest in ginger's effects on digestive health is not new. One of the earliest known applications of ginger was in the relief of gastric
disturbances. In ancient China, the spice was used to treat problems such as upset stomach, motion sickness, diarrhea and nausea. These days, ginger may
prove to be effective for nausea associated with surgery, chemotherapy and pregnancy.
One study, conducted in Thailand, included 170 pregnant women who had problems with nausea and vomiting. Scientists assigned these research participants to
receive either ginger supplements or the medication dimenhydrinate. After one week, the researchers did not observe any differences in effectiveness
between the two regimens.
According to the review published in the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, ginger may also promote the health of the digestive
system by supporting the gastrointestinal tract's local population of beneficial bacteria. These microorganisms are important because they help fight off
disease-causing pathogens while aiding the body in digesting its food. According to the review, ginger helps enhance the growth of some of the helpful
species of bacteria, but prevents harmful species from thriving.
Ginger can be found as a spice in foods and beverages such as gingerbread and ginger ale. Fresh roots may be bought and brewed into tea. However, dietary
supplements may be one of the most accessible and potent forms of commercially available ginger.
As with any dietary supplement, it may be best to consult a healthcare professional before beginning any new regimen. A qualified practitioner can help you
decide which supplements are most helpful, and how to use them correctly. For example, ginger should not be mixed with prescriptions to treat high blood
pressure, diabetes or blood thinning medications.
People with certain health conditions should also consult a professional before starting a ginger regimen. These include individuals who are pregnant or
have gallstones, diabetes, heart disease or bleeding disorders.