Health Benefits of Ginger:
powerful ally against inflammation
As we consider the benefits of ginger, we take a refreshing look at a food which is also a spice, which also has been used as a natural medicine for centuries.
Ginger has the botanical name Zingiber officinale, indicating its “official” place in the historical pharmacy of natural medicines. It is closely related to the turmericplant. The root of the plant is the part we consume, and it was first widely cultivated and used as a medicinal food in China and India. The many benefits of ginger are reflected in its value historically. It was brought to Europe centuries ago on the early spice trade routes, and because of its value was cultivated as a commodity on colonial islands in the Caribbean. We know it has been used for perhaps 2000 years in traditional Chinese medicine for nausea and improving digestion, has been thought in Ayurvedic medicine to prevent heart disease and treat arthritic complaints, and is generally seen as a “warming” remedy for illnesses and conditions associated with cold. In the modern era, we have learned that ginger has potent anti-inflammatory properties, reducing production of prostaglandins and leukotrienes which circulate in higher levels in the blood during inflammatory states.
Hoping not to sound like a grocery list, let me list here a number of the better researched health benefits of ginger. There are quite a few, so I will not go into a lot of detail beyond listing them.
Ginger may be best known for improving digestive health. It has a 2500 year history in Traditional Chinese Medicine against nausea, and has been approved by the German Commission E for indigestion and for motion sickness. It has a long history in European herbal medicine for general “tummy aches” in kids and adults. Historically it has been used as a carminative (anti-gas), but I have no data to back this one up. Medical research in animals shows that it protects the stomach against ulcer development, and may work as well as the prescription drug metaclopramide to improve gastric emptying and intestinal peristalsis, which means it could reduce reflux symptoms. Human studies document its effectiveness in morning sickness, chemotherapy induced nausea, post-op nausea and motion sickness.
As an anti-inflammatory, the benefits of ginger are unquestioned. In history, the traditional medicines of both India and China have valued ginger against arthritis and rheumatic complaints. From modern medical research, we know that laboratory studies show that ginger blocks the formation of inflammatory compounds such as leukotrienes and prostaglandins (very much like the COX-2 inhibitors which are conventional arthritis medications ). And as you might expect from this, there are some case reports in human medical literature of reduced pain and swelling in arthritis (both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis).
That anti-inflammatory property of ginger is significant from the standpoint of preventing brain disease. Here’s why. We know that Alzheimer’s dementia is associated with increased inflammatory markers in the brain, and that specifically a compound called TNF-alpha increases its activity in the brain in Alzheimer’s. A 2004 article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (authored by some researchers from my alma mater, Johns Hopkins) showed that a ginger extract has the potential to slow the progression of brain cell loss in Alzheimer’s disease. So while we have no clinical studies in humans showing that ginger can impact Alzheimer’s or any dementia, the data suggest that a ginger extract could prevent some of the damage to brain cells that marks the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
And this brings me to an important point. The safety of ginger is the very thing that allows me to recommend it to people concerned about brain disease even though it has not been proven to help people with brain disease. There is no “down-side”, and some science shows there could be benefit. So while an individual continues to get good conventional medical care, I can recommend ginger supplements and food with no reservation.
While I personally prefer to take my medicine as food, I am frequently asked “how much ginger should I take?” There are no definitive dosing guidelines, but if you want to take a powdered ginger extract in capsules, a minimum dose would be 250mg four times daily (with meals and bedtime). If you like the crystallized ginger, one cube is probably 1000 mg of ginger, and one or two a day would be a good dose. This is a very safe herb with virtually no toxicity or interaction with drugs. But why not enjoy its delicious and pungent flavor and aroma in food? Exploring new tastes by adding ginger to familiar foods can bring excitement to a meal, so just enjoy it, and feel free to ignore its medicinal qualities which will benefit your body while you just focus on the flavor!
So I hope you are excited enough now to check out a
recipe , and enjoy the benefits of ginger as a medicinal herb on a regular basis.
to your health and wellness,
Robert Pendergrast, MD