Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is more than a spice, and very safe for general use in the diet. It has found usefulness in many conditions.
Revered around the world for its pungent taste, ginger is a natural spice that is also widely prized for its medicinal properties. Zesty flavor notwithstanding, ginger is often taken for its calming effects on a upset stomach. It is also taken to treat nausea
and motion sickness. In some people it also can help reduce a fever or lessen the symptoms of a cold. Also, it is a very mild anticoagulant
and contains twelve potent antioxidants
. It also has a claim for antiaging.
Since ancient times, traditional healers in a diverse array of cultures have used this plant primarily to help settle upset stomachs. Chinese herbalists have relied on ginger as a medicine and flavoring for more than 2,500 years. The early Greeks mixed it into breads (hence the first gingerbread), and North American colonists sipped nausea-quelling ginger beer, the precursor of modern ginger ale. Today, many cultures continue to rely on ginger for controlling nausea
and also for reducing inflammation
A botanical relative of marjoram and turmeric, the ginger plant is indigenous to southeast Asia and is now also extensively cultivated in Jamaica and other tropical areas. It's the plant's aromatic rhizome (or underground stem) that's used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Ginger can be found in many forms, including: tincture, tablet, softgel, powder, oil, liquid, fresh herb, dried herb/tea, capsule, extract, syrup and candied herb.
You can also buy ginger essential oil, which can be diffused into the air for inhalation or diluted in a vegetable oil for inhalation, or diluted in a vegetable oil for topical
application (or massage). The fresh root can be used, but it is quite sharp. Ginger from the spice shelf is very handy and useful. Three to four shakes in ginger ale or club soda also works.
Recommendation: Select ginger supplements standardized to contain the "pungent compounds," namely, gingerols and shogaols. These are the plant's critical active ingredients.
Function; Why it is Recommended
Ginger's effectiveness as a digestive aid is due largely to its active ingredients: gingerols and shogaols. These substances help to neutralize stomach acids, enhance the secretion of digestive juices (stimulating the appetite), and tone the muscles of the digestive tract. Research confirms the presence of anti-inflammatory
properties in ginger as well.
Some uses of Ginger include:
- Nausea: Ginger is often used to ease nausea caused by motion sickness, pregnancy, cancer or other causes. Standard anti-nausea medications often work through the central nervous system, causing drowsiness. Ginger isn't likely to cause this reaction, however, because it acts directly on the digestive tract.
In studies of women undergoing major gynecological or exploratory (laparoscopic) surgery, those who took 1gm of ginger before the procedure experienced significantly less postoperative reaction to anesthesia and surgery – namely, nausea and vomiting – than did those who were given a placebo. Ginger also may be useful in easing the nausea that frequently follows chemotherapy treatments. Use 100-300mg every 4 hours as needed.
- Motion Sickness: In a widely cited study of Danish naval cadets, those given 1gm of powdered ginger daily had much fewer incidents of cold sweats and vomiting (classic symptoms of seasickness) than did those given a placebo. A number of other studies have demonstrated similar findings concerning ginger's calming effect on motion sickness. It is sold as a safe alternative to over-the-counter motion sickness remedies. Take 100 mg two hours before departing and then every four hours afterward as needed.
- Dizziness: Ginger's anti-nausea action also helps dispel dizziness, particularly when the dizziness is aggravated by motion sickness. Older people, who can be unsteady on their feet, may particularly benefit from ginger's steadying influence.
- Digestion: It has the ability to calm the stomach, promote the flow of bile, and improve the appetite. It is a digestive stimulant, useful when appetite may be low.
- Stomach and Intestinal cramps from gas; Flatulence: It can relieve these, often quicker than any other herbal medicine. Because Ginger soothes the digestive tract, it can be useful in relieving flatulence. Supplements or freshly grated Ginger root mixed with diluted lime juice work well for this purpose.
- Circulation: It helps to support a healthy cardiovascular system by making platelets less sticky, therefore reducing the likelihood of clots. For this reason, self-medication is advised against, especially if you are taking anticoagulant drugs or are using aspirin. Much recent work has focused on the use of ginger in circulatory disorders such as cold extremities and Raynaud's disease. Ginger may lower blood pressure for several hours. There may also be a pulse-lowering effect.
- Muscle Aches: Ginger oil massaged into sore or aching muscles offers a measure of relief from muscle strain, in part because of the herb's anti-inflammatory properties. When taken in standardized extract form, ginger may additionally lower the level of the body's natural pain-causing compounds called prostaglandins. Add a few drops of ginger oil to 1 tablespoon of a neutral oil (such as almond oil), blend well, then rub the mixture into the painful area.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: It has traditionally been used to help inflammatory joint diseases such as arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may respond to treatment with ginger, either in massage oil or standardized extract form. In a study of seven women with rheumatoid arthritis, reduced joint swelling and pain were reported following a daily regimen of up to 1gm of powdered ginger or 5-50gm of fresh ginger. Ginger is also valued for its analgesic action, which may help arthritic conditions. Take 100mg three times a day or drink up to four cups of ginger tea daily.
- Chronic Pain: Ginger helps indirectly to relieve chronic pain by reducing inflammation and, particularly when taken in standardized extract form, by lowering the body's level of natural pain-causing compounds called prostaglandins. Localized chronic pain may also respond well to ginger oil massages.
Take 100-300mg standardized extract or 300mg freeze-dried herb or 500mg of whole-root herb 3 times a day. Can also use ginger oil as part of a massage blend with essential oils of lavender and birch combined with 1 tbsp. neutral oil, such as almond oil; gently rub oil mixture into the affected area.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Take 100-300mg 3 times a day (depending on standardization).
- For women: It may be of use in ovarian and menstrual pain.
- Cholesterol: Studies have suggested that ginger may be useful in keeping cholesterol levels under control, although the mechanism for this is not yet understood.
- Respiratory infections: It is well known for its warming expectorant action on the upper respiratory tract, and this is why Chinese herbalists have traditionally used ginger to treat colds and influenza. Ginger can minimize symptoms of the common cold, allergies, and other respiratory conditions. Ginger is a natural antihistamine and decongestant. It seems to provide a measure of relief from cold and allergy symptoms by dilating constricted bronchial tubes. It is often included in herbal decongestant blends that are designed for sinusitis and other respiratory complaints. Drink up to four cups of ginger tea daily as needed. Folk practitioners also recommend chewing fresh ginger, drinking real ginger ale, or squeezing juice from a fresh ginger root and mixing it with a spoonful of honey.
Ginger can be used in the following forms and dosages for the majority of conditions mentioned:
- Standardized extract in pill form: Take 100-200mg every four hours or up to three times a day.
- Fresh powdered ginger: Take 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon every four hours or up to three times a day.
- Fresh ginger root: Take a 1/4- to 1/2-inch (peeled) slice every four hours or up to three times a day.
- Ginger tea: Drink several cups a day. Tea is available in prepackaged bags or can be prepared by steeping 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger root in 8 ounces of very hot water for five to ten minutes. A cup of tea, when steeped for this amount of time, can contain about 250mg of ginger.
- Ginger ale: Drink several cups a day; an 8-ounce glass contains approximately 1gm of ginger. Be sure to select products made with real ginger.
- Crystallized ginger: Enjoy two pieces of crystallized ginger a day; about 500mg of ginger is present in a 1-inch-square, 1/4-inch-thick piece of ginger prepared this way.
Take ginger capsules with a glass of water or other fluid. To prevent postoperative nausea, start taking ginger the day after surgery. Only do so under a doctor's guidance, however. If you are undergoing chemotherapy
, take ginger with food to reduce the chance of stomach irritation.
Side-Effects; Counter-Indicators and Warnings
Ginger, in all available forms, is very safe to take for a wide variety of ailments. Some people report heartburn
after taking ginger. There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with ginger.
Ginger has a long history of being taken in relatively large doses (up to several grams) without causing any toxicity or side-effects. Many pregnant women use it to help control morning sickness, but there have been no studies in which women have taken large doses of ginger during pregnancy. Don't treat pregnancy-related nausea
with ginger for longer than the first two months of pregnancy. Similarly, don't take more than 250mg four times a day during pregnancy without consulting your obstetrician.
Do not ingest the essential oil
and be sure to dilute it before applying to your skin. The fresh root is very spicy.
Because ginger can make blood platelets
less sticky – and thus increase the risk for bleeding – it's probably a good precautionary measure to stop taking ginger three to four days before any scheduled surgery. Start up again right after surgery.