Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is an herbaceous perennial plant native to south China. Producing leafy shoots that reach four feet in height and cone-shaped spikes that bloom with yellow flowers, the most treasured part of the ginger plant is the gnarled and bulbous rhizomes that grow beneath the soil.
Ginger roots are aromatic and warming with a pungent, lemony spiciness. The flavor of ginger is due to the presence of gingerol, a phenolic compound that gives the rhizomes their fiery heat. When cooked, gingerols are converted into zingerone, rendering a much milder and spicy-sweet taste. When dried, gingerol reacts by forming peppery shogaols, which explains why powdered ginger is twice as spicy as raw ginger.
Beyond its notable taste, ginger possesses a wealth of positive attributes. This versatile herb has been used for at least 5,000 years as a treatment for many common ailments in Indian and Chinese medicine. In fact, at one time, ginger was so rare and valuable that one pound of this spice was the equivalent to the cost of a sheep. Of the 115 constituents found in ginger root, gingerol is the most dynamic. Read on to discover the myriad of benefits gingerol has as robust therapeutic and preventative remedy.
1. Ginger Fights Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting us against infection, healing us during injury, and warning us when we come into contact with chemical irritants. Causing pain, redness, swelling, heat, and loss of function, normally inflammation is a short-term response that is alleviated within minutes or hours after removing the harmful stimuli.
Chronic inflammation, however, happens when the immune system reacts to traumas when there aren’t any, doing damage to otherwise healthy tissues. Persistent and prolonged inflammation is considered to be the key driver in practically all diseases and disorders, a common denominator in autoimmune diseases, asthma, arthritis, eczema, acne, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, depression, and even aging itself.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin and ibuprofen, target and inhibit enzymes that cause inflammation – though long-term use of these medications have their own worrisome health effects.
Ginger has been used for centuries in herbal medicine to treat inflammation and, over the past 30 years, many scientific studies have backed up this claim. Heralded as a powerful anti-inflammatory, ginger (and specifically gingerol) is able to suppress pro-inflammatory enzymes in a similar fashion as NSAIDs, but without the adverse side effects.
The most efficacious way to use ginger as an anti-inflammatory is to take it in capsule form. To ensure the ginger capsules are as pure as possible, look for brands that use supercritical extraction, like this one. Ginger can interact with other medications, so always speak to your doctor before taking ginger supplements.
2. Ginger Relieves Pain
Since pain is one of the symptoms of inflammation, studies that have identified ginger as an anti-inflammatory have also found it to be an excellent natural pain reliever as well. Delving deeper into this finding, research published in 2010 specifically examined ginger’s effects on muscle pain after exercise.
Using 74 volunteers as test subjects, participants performed 18 eccentric exercises meant to induce muscle soreness and pain. Over the course of 11 days, the volunteers consumed two grams of either raw ginger, heat-treated ginger, or placebo daily. The results: consuming ginger reduced pain by 25% (raw ginger) and 23% (heated ginger), as compared with the placebo group.
Additionally, ginger was found to help alleviate the pain associated with intense menstrual cramps (primary dysmenorrhoea) in a study published in 2013. Along with a placebo control, women were given 500 mg ginger capsules to be taken three times per day for the first three days of their menstrual cycle. Of the women who were provided with ginger, the vast majority (82.85%) reported a significant improvement in symptoms; mean pain scores were also much lower than the control group.
Further Reading: 30 Potent Herbs & Spices That Fight Pain
3. Ginger Eases Nausea
If you tend to drink ginger ale to settle an upset stomach, you would be much better served by drinking a cup of ginger tea instead. Made with artificial flavorings and no actual ginger, commercially-prepared ginger ale won’t help with the symptoms of nausea – at least scientifically speaking.
Real ginger, though, has been found to be a viable antiemetic treatment for feelings of unease, queasiness, cold sweats, vertigo, and involuntary vomiting, regardless of what caused the nausea in the first place. Ginger root was effective in significantly reducing the symptoms of seasickness in naval cadets unaccustomed to sailing on the high seas; likewise, it also worked on motion sickness sufferers; it helped relieve hyperemesis gravidarum, a complication during pregnancy that is characterized by extreme, persistent nausea and vomiting; it can be used to prevent post-operative nausea and vomiting; and in studies on cancer patients, ginger was able to reduce the severity of chemotherapy-induced nausea.
4. Ginger Lowers Cholesterol
Managing cholesterol levels is essential for maintaining good cardiovascular health. This waxy substance, found throughout the body, is needed to keep cells healthy, produce hormones, aid in the digestion of food, and synthesize vitamin D.
The body has natural mechanisms in place to help regulate cholesterol levels. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is the good kind of cholesterol; it helps remove cholesterol from the body. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) is the bad kind of cholesterol; it can build up in the walls of your arteries, making blood vessels hard and narrow, slowing blood flow to the heart and other organs. Low HDL levels accompanied by high LDL levels is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Including more cholesterol-lowering foods in your diet is a way to naturally reduce bad cholesterol in your body. And you can add ginger to the list: a study on patients who suffer from elevated lipid levels found that taking three grams of ginger per day had the effect of drastically reducing LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol when taken over the span of 45 days. Ginger may have this result because gingerol is a phenolic antioxidant that has cardio-protective effects.
5. Ginger Improves Blood Circulation & Prevents Blood Clotting
Another way that ginger does wonders for heart heath is its ability to thin blood and prevent blood clots from forming. Under normal circumstances, blood cells (called platelets) clump together to create blood clots, plugging up open wounds to stop excessive bleeding. Sometimes, though, platelets form inside blood vessels and obstruct blood flow throughout the circulatory system, which can result in poor blood circulation, embolisms, strokes, and heart attacks.
In findings published in Thrombosis Research, ginger functioned as an anti-platelet agent and was more effective than aspirin in preventing platelets from binding and forming clots. Even if you don’t suffer from abnormal blood clotting, improving blood circulation helps promote cell growth, brain and organ function, and healthy skin.
6. Ginger Aids Digestion
Indigestion is a common stomach ailment, responsible for heartburn, nausea, bloating, and upper abdominal discomfort after eating. While it can be caused by things like eating greasy and spicy foods, or eating too quickly, when indigestion is chronic and occurs without reason, it is called functional dyspepsia (FD). It is believed that FD may be caused by an issue with gastric motility and emptying – whereby the contents of the stomach are not properly processed, creating a delay in the time it takes for food to liquefy and empty into the small intestine.
While ginger has been used for millennia as a digestive aid, findings in a 2008 study confirmed that ginger helped stimulate muscle contractions in the stomach (which helps break food down) and speed up the time it takes to empty stomach contents into the small intestine. Another study, published in 2011, drew the same conclusions.
7. Ginger Shows Promise as a Cancer Chemopreventative
Several studies have examined whether ginger could be a viable treatment for cancer patients and become a part of a larger strategy for cancer prevention.
A handful of in vitro experiments on cultured cancer cells have yielded exciting results. Gingerol was able to inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer cells, and induce cell death while keeping healthy cells intact. Similarly, breast cancer cells were diminished after a treatment of gingerol; it also stopped cancer from metastasizing. In the case of ovarian cancer cells, growth of all the cancer cell lines tested was halted with gingerol.
Preliminary findings on gingerol’s effect on colon cancer are just as promising. One study found that gingerol inhibited growth and spread of human colorectal cancer cells in mice when the rodents were fed gingerol three times per week. Another study investigated ginger root extract’s effect as a preventative for colon cancer on healthy human volunteers. Specifically targeting inflammatory enzymes that are precursors for developing colon cancer, two grams of ginger root extract per day had the effect of inhibiting some of these enzymes, potentially reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.
8. Ginger Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
And in a bit of good news for type 2 diabetes sufferers, a daily dose of two grams of ginger per day can greatly reduce fasting blood sugar levels according to a study published in 2015. Moreover, proteins that increase the risk of complications associated with diabetes – specifically, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, high cholesterol, and damage to the retinas – were significantly decreased as well. Ginger supplements also had the effect of raising the good variety of cholesterol in diabetes patients.
9. Ginger Improves Brain Function
Oxidative stress is defined as an imbalance between free radicals (that harm molecules, proteins, and genes) and antioxidants (that defend against and repair the damage). It is involved in the development of a number of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Because of ginger’s antioxidant properties, its potential to enhance brain function and protect against cognitive decline has been the subject of a slew of studies.
Investigating ginger extract’s effect on healthy middle aged women, researchers found that a dose of 400 to 800 mg per day for two months improved working memory, reaction time, attention, and mental processing in the participants.
In research on Alzheimer’s disease, a study performed on rats revealed that ginger decreased the production of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which contributes to the loss of neurons and synapses in the brain. Another study, which used computer simulations to observe its effect on various neurodegenerative enzymes, also found that it holds a lot of potential as a future treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
10. Ginger is Antiviral
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is so common that most people have been infected with it by the age of two. Most often, infection results in mild cold-like symptoms that resolve within a week or two. In high risk groups, like infants and older adults, RSV can lead to bronchiolitis, pneumonia, and respiratory illnesses.
Although antibiotics won’t alleviate the symptoms of RSV, apparently ginger will. According to a study published in 2013, fresh ginger stimulated antiviral cell signalling, preventing RSV from infecting the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Ginger was most effective when used prior to becoming infected – which is all the more reason to sip a cup of fresh ginger tea during cold and flu season.
11. Ginger is Effective Against Drug-Resistant Bacteria
At a time when antibiotic resistance is a serious public health concern, fuelling a rise in so-called “super bugs”, it’s comforting to know that herbal medicines can help ward off bacterial infections.
Along with garlic, ginger has demonstrated an ability to fight bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics – namely, E. Coli, the multi-drug resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Klebsilla, Enterobacter, Shigella flexnerii, Bacillus, and Vibrio cholerae.
Further, ginger has been shown to inhibit the activity of oral pathogens that cause gingivitis, perodontis, endodontic infections, tooth pulp necrosis, and other diseases of the mouth.