Health Benefits and Diet Tips of Ginger

Ginger not only adds delicious flavor to food — it’s also full of nutrients. People have been using the root for cooking and healing for thousands of years.

Ancient writings from Rome, Greece, China, and Arab countries all describe ginger’s uses as a medicine. It was especially popular in Asian medicine as a treatment for stomach issues, including nausea and diarrhea. Other traditional medical uses for ginger include treating muscle and joint pain, cold and flu symptoms, stomach pain, menstrual cramps, and skin burns.

People have used ginger in cooking and medicine since ancient times. It is a popular home remedy for nausea, stomach pain, and other health issues.

Antioxidants and other nutrients in ginger may help prevent or treat arthritis, inflammation, and various types of infection. Researchers have also studied its potential to reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer, and other health problems.

What It’s Good for

Ginger is a tropical flowering plant that originally grew in Southeast Asia but is now widely available from growers around the world. It’s classified as a member of the Zingiberaceae family, making it a close relative of turmeric.

The scientific name for ginger is Zingiber officinale, which is thought to come from the Sanskrit name for the spice (singabera).

The leafy plant grows to about three feet tall and produces clusters of greenish-purple flowers. Ginger’s root or rhizome is the part used as a spice or healing aid. Depending on the variety, the inside of the root can be yellow, red, or white. It’s harvested by pulling the entire plant out of the soil, removing the leaves and cleaning the root.

Ginger can be eaten fresh, dried and stored as a spice, or made into tablets, capsules, and liquid extracts. There’s about 2 percent of essential oil in the root, which is used in the cosmetic industry as a fragrance in soaps and beauty products.

Possibly Effective for

  • Nausea and vomiting caused by drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS (antiretroviral-induced nausea and vomiting). Research suggests that taking ginger daily, 30 minutes before each dose of antiretroviral treatment for 14 days, reduces the risk of nausea and vomiting in patients receiving HIV treatment.
  • Morning sickness. Taking ginger by mouth seems to reduce nausea and vomiting in some people during pregnancy. But it might work slower or not as well as some drugs used for nausea. Also, taking any herb or medication during pregnancy is a big decision. Before taking ginger, be sure to discuss the possible risks with your healthcare provider.
  • Osteoarthritis. Most research shows that taking ginger by mouth can slightly reduce pain in some people with osteoarthritis. There is some evidence that taking ginger by mouth works as well as ibuprofen 400 mg daily for pain in hip and knee osteoarthritis. But most research shows that applying ginger gel or oil to the knee doesn’t improve pain in people with osteoarthritis.
  • Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea). Research shows that taking ginger powder 500-2000 mg during the first 3-4 days of a menstrual cycle modestly decreases pain from painful menstrual periods. Ginger was given for approximately 3 days starting at the beginning of the menstrual period or at the beginning of pain. Some research shows that taking ginger seems to work about as well as some pain medications, like ibuprofen, mefenamic acid, or Novafen. Adding ginger to medicines such as mefenamic acid also seems to be helpful.

Benefits

Ginger may have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and other healthful properties. Below are some of the possible medicinal uses of ginger.

Relieving nausea

Some research indicates that ginger can help alleviate morning sickness and relieve nausea following cancer treatment.

One small study from 2010 examined the effects of ginger root powder supplements on nausea in 60 children and young adults who underwent chemotherapy. The analysis showed that the supplement led to reduced nausea in most of the people who took it.

Authors of a 2011 review of studies arrived at similar conclusions. They reported that taking a divided daily dosage of 1,500 milligrams (mg) of ginger extract helped alleviate symptoms of nausea.

They also called for further studies in humans to fully understand the effects of ginger on nausea and other gastrointestinal issues.

Reducing gas and improving digestion

Several studies have investigated ginger’s effects on the gasses that form in the intestinal tract during digestion.

Some research indicates that enzymes in ginger can help the body break up and expel this gas, providing relief from any discomfort.

Ginger also appears to have beneficial effects on the enzymes trypsin and pancreatic lipase, which are important for digestion.

In addition, ginger may help increase movement through the digestive tract, suggesting that it may relieve or prevent constipation.

Relieving pain

Researchers behind a small study which included 74 volunteers, found that a daily dosage of 2 grams (g) of raw or heated ginger reduced exercise-induced muscle pain by about 25%.

Meanwhile, a 2016 review of studies concluded that ginger may help reduce dysmenorrhea — pain right before or during menstruation. However, the authors acknowledge that the included studies were often small or of poor quality.

Easing a cold or the flu

Many people use ginger to help recover from a cold or the flu. However, the evidence supporting this remedy is mostly anecdotal.

In 2013, researchers studied the effects of fresh and dried ginger on one respiratory virus in human cells.

The results indicated that fresh ginger may help protect the respiratory system, while dried ginger did not have the same impact.

Also in 2013, a small study set out to investigate the popularity of herbal medicine as a cold or flu treatment.

After polling 300 pharmacy customers in two different locations, the researchers determined that 69% of those polled used herbal medicine and that most of this group found it effective.

However, while ginger was among the most popular ingredients in these remedies, some of the participants may not have used it.

Lowering cancer risk

Ginger does not provide protein or other nutrients, but it is an excellent source of antioxidants. Studies have shown that, for this reason, ginger can reduce various types of oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress happens when too many free radicals build up in the body. Free radicals are toxic substances produced by metabolism and other factors.

The body needs to eliminate free radicals to prevent them from causing cellular damage that can lead to a range of diseases, including cancer. Dietary antioxidants help the body get rid of free radicals.

In a 2013 trial researchers gave 20 participants either 2 g of ginger or a placebo for 28 days. The participants all had a high risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Biopsies showed that the participants who had consumed the ginger had fewer negative changes in healthy colon tissue. This group also had reduced cellular proliferation. The findings indicate that ginger could play a role in preventing colorectal cancer.

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Reducing inflammation

One group of researchers concluded that taking ginger by mouth is “modestly efficacious and reasonably safe” for treating inflammation caused by osteoarthritis.

However, they noted that the studies included in their meta-analysis were small and may not represent the general population.

Meanwhile, a 2017 review of 16 clinical trials determined that the phytochemical properties in ginger may combat inflammation. These authors also called for further research into the most effective dosages and types of ginger extract.

Nutrition

Ginger is a good source of antioxidants, but it does not provide many vitamins, minerals, or calories.

Side Effects

When taken by mouth: Ginger is LIKELY SAFE when taken appropriately. Ginger can cause mild side effects including heartburn, diarrhea, burping, and general stomach discomfort. Some people have reported more menstrual bleeding while taking ginger.

When applied to the skin: Ginger is POSSIBLY SAFE when applied to the skin appropriately, short-term. It might cause irritation on the skin for some people.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy: Ginger is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth for medicinal uses during pregnancy. Most studies in pregnancy suggest that ginger can be used safely for morning sickness without harm to the baby. There is some concern that ginger might increase the risk of bleeding, so some experts advise against using it close to the delivery date. As with any medication given during pregnancy, it’s important to weigh the benefit against the risk. Before using ginger during pregnancy, talk it over with your healthcare provider.

Breast-feeding: There isn’t enough reliable information to know if ginger is safe when breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Children: Ginger is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth for up to 4 days by teenagers around the start of their period.

Bleeding disorders: Taking ginger might increase your risk of bleeding.

Heart conditions: High doses of ginger might worsen some heart conditions.

Surgery: Ginger might slow blood clotting. It might cause extra bleeding during and after surgery. Stop using ginger at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Bottom Line

Some research indicates that ginger may improve digestive health, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain, among other benefits.

However, studies often use high dosages of extracts — a person may not experience positive health effects from simply adding ginger to their diet.

Also, studies investigating the health benefits of ginger have often been small or inconclusive. Fully understanding the effects and safety of ginger supplements will require more research.

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