Ginger is loaded with bioactive compounds that can provide relief and potential improvement for a variety of health conditions.
A flowering plant native to China, ginger is related to turmeric, galangal and cardamom, all of which are members of the Zingiberaceae family.
The section of stem that grows underground is called a rhizome, or in this case, the ginger root. Powdered ginger spice is made from the root, and whole roots can also be sliced, diced, juiced, or made into an oil.
Medicinal qualities of ginger have been known for thousands of years, and it is effective in reducing nausea, as a digestive aid, and fighting flu and the common cold.
Ginger is a popular cooking spice, and is often added to processed foods as well as to some cosmetics. Its natural oils give it the distinctive smell and flavor, which arise mostly from gingerol, the main bioactive compound.
Gingerol has powerful antioxidant properties, as well as the ability to tame inflammation. (1)
Soothe Your Digestion with Ginger
Ginger has long been used as a treatment for seasickness, helping to back off intense feelings of nausea. (2)
Also effective in soothing nausea after surgery, ginger has been used by chemotherapy patients to reduce vomiting. (3)
Where ginger really shines is in calming morning sickness during pregnancy. An analysis of 12 separate studies with more than 1,200 pregnant women indicated just over a gram of ginger powder can significantly reduce symptoms of nausea. (4)
Pregnant women should discuss using ginger with their doctor before taking it; while no evidence exists to support the idea, some believe ginger taken in large quantities raises the risk of miscarriage.
The pain of menstrual cramping has also been traditionally relieved with ginger. A study with 150 women taking a gram of ginger on each of the first three days of their periods indicated the herbal therapy reduced pain as effectively as ibuprofen and mefenamic acid. (5)
Chronic indigestion, or dyspepsia, is another common digestive issue that may be helped by ginger.
Ginger Fights Infection and Can Help Prevent the Development of
Gingerol, which is the bioactive compound found in fresh ginger, has been shown to inhibit the growth of many types of bacteria. (8) It is especially effective in discouraging oral bacteria that contribute to gum diseases like periodontitis and gingivitis. (9)
The RSV virus, which can lead to respiratory infections, is also susceptible to the anti-viral properties associated with fresh ginger. (10)
Reduce the Risk of Chronic Diseases with Ginger
Researchers have begun to explore the potential of ginger in treating diabetes, with promising results.
A study done in 2014 tracked blood sugar levels of 41 test subjects diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, concluding that a dosage of two grams of ginger powder daily dropped fasting blood sugar readings by an average of 12%. (11)
Other significant changes noted in the study include a 10% reduction in HbA1c (a marker associated with long-term levels of blood sugar) over the 3-month period, as well as lower levels of lipoprotein oxidation, which could positively impact risk factors for heart disease.
Even though the study was small, the impressive statistics will likely inspire another look at the potential of ginger in preventing diabetes and heart disease.
Other research explored the effectiveness of ginger in lowering cholesterol levels, another important marker associated with the development of heart disease.
When 85 patients with high cholesterol took 3 grams of powdered ginger daily for 6 weeks, most cholesterol markers showed significant improvement. (12)
In animal studies, ginger’s performance rivaled that of the cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin. (13)
Both human and animal studies reflected lower total cholesterol levels, as well as lower blood triglyceride measurements.
Cancer is another chronic disease that ginger may be able to help prevent.
Studies using 6-gingerol, a substance abundant in raw ginger, have evaluated the strategy as a cancer preventive; the responses of 30 patients to a 2-gram daily dosage of ginger extract included a reduction in molecules involved in pro-inflammatory signaling in the colon. (14)
However, data from a follow-up study failed to confirm those results with patients rated as high-risk for developing colon cancer. (15)
Other Health Benefits of Ginger
If you overworked yourself at the gym, ginger may help decrease the pain of sore muscles.
When people engaging in elbow exercises took 2 grams of ginger daily over an 11-day period, muscle pain was significantly reduced. (19)
It appears that ginger doesn’t necessarily lead to immediate relief, but rather slows down the progression of pain development over a period of time. (20)
Researchers believe this is due to the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger. Fighting inflammation could prove useful in preventing a number of conditions, and has been successfully used to decrease the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Joint pain and stiffness results from deterioration of joints in this increasingly common health problem, and many suffering from osteoarthritis require high doses of medication to control pain.
One group of 25 test subjects who had debilitating knee pain were able to decrease the amount of medication they took when supplementing with daily doses of ginger extract. (21)
Another study indicated osteoarthritis patients experienced noticeable relief after applying a topical remedy containing mastic, ginger, sesame oil and cinnamon to painful areas. (22)
The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger may even help protect against chronic inflammation and oxidative stress that contributes to the aging process; this could positively influence cognitive decline related to aging, as well as decreasing the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Animal studies suggest the active components in ginger have the potential to reduce inflammation in the brain, and human clinical trials show supplementing with ginger helped middle-aged women improve memory and reaction time. (23, 24)
Adding ginger as a spice to foods you already enjoy is a great way to start cashing in on the benefits of this superfood, and you may also find it effective in treating specific disorders when taken as a supplement in the form of extracts, oils or capsules.
Summary: Bioactive substances in ginger can impart a wide range of health benefits, including lowering blood sugar, improving markers associated with heart health and other chronic diseases, staving off nausea, decreasing pain, and sharpening cognitive processes.