What is Ginger?

Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe), is the underground portion of a flowering plant. Its botanical family includes cardamom and turmeric. The English word comes from the Sanskrit word Sringavera which means “horn-like.” Ginger is cultivated mainly in Asia and tropical areas of Australia and Nigeria and, in addition to its spicy function, has been used since antiquity in traditional medicine to treat colds, fevers, and digestive problems, and as an appetite stimulant. Its glycemic index is very low. It is used worldwide as a spice in foods and beverages.

Ginger contains various bioactive phenolic compounds, which are responsible for the ginger’s strong aroma. It is becoming more evident that the beneficial effects of ginger are due to an interaction of all the compounds present in it, rather than any single compound alone. [1]

The consumed part of ginger is the rhizome, often called “ginger root” even if it is not actually a root. The rhizome is the horizontal stem of the plant that puts out the roots. This rhizome is used to produce ginger products such as powder, syrup, volatile oil, and oleoresin. It contains carbohydrates, fats, fiber, protein, water, and volatile oil. Ginger is classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food additive and has been studied as a treatment for nausea and vomiting, as well as for arthritis. [2]

To evaluate the effects of ginger on health, clinical studies have used between 250 mg and 1000 mg of the powdered root in capsule form, taken one to four times daily. [3]

In Which Food(s) Can We Find Ginger?

Ginger is consumed as a fresh or dried root and is usually prepared in teas, soft drinks (including ales), and breads.

3 Interesting Facts About Ginger

  • Ginger may provide relief from migraine
  • Ginger has antibacterial properties
  • Ginger could reduce seasickness

Health Benefits Of Ginger

Ginger has long been used in traditional medicine for treating various gastric disorders like:

  • constipation
  • belching
  • bloating
  • gastritis
  • dyspepsia (caused by acid reflux or irritable bowel syndrome, among others)
  • gastric ulcerations
  • epigastric discomfort
  • indigestion
  • vomiting
  • nausea

Scientific studies have confirmed these ethno-medicinal uses. It has also been successful in laboratory animal tests in preventing gastric ulcers induced by anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like aspirin and other OTC pain relievers), or by ethanol, reserpine, stress, acetic acid and bacteria-induced gastric ulcers. Several studies have also reported that ginger has anti-nausea effects against different nausea-inducing agents. [4]

Ginger and Gastrointestinal Disorders

Ginger has an anti-gas effect and helps by reducing pressure on the lower esophagus, preventing dyspepsia, and lowering intestinal cramping, flatulence, and bloating. Some studies have reported that consumption of ginger increases the speed at which foods travel through the stomach (gastric emptying), and these effects may facilitate the anti-flatulent properties of ginger. [5]

A study done with functional dyspepsia patients showed that the gastric emptying was more rapid in the group who consumed ginger. [6]

Scientific studies have reported the effectiveness of ginger in preventing nausea and vomiting in various conditions, such as motion sickness or from some cancer treatments. However, there are differing opinions on the effects of ginger in regard to nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Some studies reported positive effects; others indicated adverse effects. You should check with your doctor to monitor its effectiveness in your own body.

A study evaluated the effect of ginger on women’s acute menstrual cramps, which are caused by an inflammation of hormones in the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger were shown to decrease the inflammation of both these hormones and other molecules. After the intake of ginger root powder capsules (250 mg four times a day), women with menstrual cramps showed a reduced severity of cramps and a degree of pain relief.  [7]

Ginger and Cancer

Whether or not ginger has cancer-preventing properties remains conflicted among researchers. Ginger compounds have shown anti-inflammatory and antitumorigenic (combats tumor formation) properties. They are valuable in monitoring the extent of colo-rectal, ovarian, liver, gastric, skin, breast, and prostate cancers.

Colo-rectal cancer is widespread among vegetarians, and ginger could be valuable in reducing the extent of this disease. Some authors evaluated the effectiveness of ginger against 1, 2 dimethylhydrazine (DMH)-induced colon cancer. They reported that ginger supplementation can activate various enzymes involved in the inhibition of cancerous cells, suppressing colon cancer formation. [8]

A study observed that a ginger compound can inhibit both proliferation and invasion of liver cancer cells. [9]

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Clinical studies assessing the effectiveness of ginger in patients with osteoarthritis have controversial results. One study observed that ginger extract has a significant effect on reducing symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee. In gout as a rheumatic disease of joints, ginger has shown anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and may  be used as a curative agent.  [10]

A study published in the 2010 Journal of Pain observed that treatment of patients with ginger has hypo-algesic (decreased sensitivity to pain) effects. In their studies on 36 subjects, the authors used 2000 mg daily of ginger supplement for eleven days to cure muscle pain. They demonstrated that daily consumption of raw and heat-treated ginger resulted in moderate-to-large reduction in muscle pain. [11]

A study demonstrated a substantial increase in preventing blood clots after dietary supplementation with 5000 mg of ginger powder. [3]

Ginger may also have nerve-protecting properties.

Anti-Diabetic Effects

Some studies reported the effectiveness of ginger against diabetes and its complications. Researchers observed that ethanol-based ginger extract did not cause significant changes in blood glucose, blood coagulation, blood pressure, and heart rate in healthy rat models.  But, in rats that were diabetic or those that had received a high-fat diet, an ethanol-based ginger extract significantly decreased blood glucose, serum total cholesterol, “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, and increased  “good” cholesterol (HDL). [10]

Is Ginger Ever Bad For You?

Several studies have reported that ginger could be associated negatively with many health-related issues such as blood clotting, stomach acid production, and herb-herb and herb-medication interactions. [12]

Negative effects after the consumption of ginger are infrequent, but they can include mild gastrointestinal effects such as heartburn, diarrhea, and irritation of the mouth.

Since there is a chance that ginger can influence anti-clotting activity, people taking anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin) should be cautious; their doctor should closely monitor their international normalized ratio (INR) response. [3]

The Takeaway

Ginger has many well-known and proven health benefits. But because there are still some controversies on the effectiveness of ginger for certain conditions, more research to examine adverse reactions and potential drug interactions needs to be done.

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