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.
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.
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.
Ginger can be used in the following forms and dosages for the majority of conditions mentioned:
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.
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.
A warming herb sometimes helpful in improving circulation.
Do not use more than 3-5gm of dried ginger per day during early pregnancy.
The liberal use of ginger, cayenne and other spicy herbs has helped restore a normal body temperature for some people with hypothyroidism.
Both ginger and the homeopathic remedy Nux vomica can help to quell nausea the morning after. Either make ginger tea by infusing freshly grated root ginger in hot water or swallow a 1,000mg supplement.
A concentrated extract of 2 ginger species (255mg bid) over a period of 6 weeks reduced pain in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 261patients with moderate to severe pain from osteoarthritis of the knee. Acetaminophen was allowed to be used if the pain was not controlled sufficiently. [Arthritis Rheum 2001;44(11): pp.2531-2538]
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