Ginger is an herb that is known for its gut health benefits and anti-inflammatory properties. Throughout history, it has been used heavily as both food and medicine.
In traditional Ayurvedic, Iranian, and Chinese medicine ginger root was used as a tonic for a number of different ailments ranging from digestive support to colds and inflammation.
Modern research shows that ginger and its phytochemicals may be helpful for gastrointestinal issues, blood sugar stabilization, reducing inflammation, and preventing nausea.
In this article, we will look at the health benefits of ginger, its safety, and its history.
Table of Contents
What is Ginger?
Ginger is a perennial, tropical plant with brilliant reddish-pink flowers. It belongs to the Zingiberaceae family and is native to Southeastern Asia.
Ginger’s Latin name is Zingiber officinale.
Contrary to popular belief, the part of the ginger plant that we use isn’t actually a root. It’s technically a rhizome, which is a part of the stem that lives underground that provides both roots and stem with nutrients.
There are over 1,300 species of ginger, some that are interchangeably used with Zingiber officinale, and some that are ornamental. Most varieties share many of the same active constituents as Zingiber officinale.
The ginger rhizome has a stimulating, warming effect on the body and has been used to support the gastrointestinal tract, especially for nausea and upset stomach. It is also commonly used to reduce inflammation and pain.
Modern research supports the traditional claims that ginger has digestive, pain-relieving, and antiemetic effects. Research also shows that ginger can help to balance blood sugar levels.
These various health benefits of ginger are attributed to the various phenolic compounds present in the rhizome, including:
Ginger is a well-researched herb with many human clinical trials to support its traditional use. Many of its traditional uses have been scientifically tested (via human, animal, and in vitro trials) and show promising results.
Health Benefits of Ginger:
Below are the top researched-backed ginger benefits for health.
1. May Lower Blood Sugar
The health benefits of ginger have shown promise in supporting individuals with diabetes. In fact, ginger may be one of the best herbs for lowering blood sugar levels.
Diabetes is considered a chronic metabolic disorder defined by persistently high blood glucose levels. Diabetic symptoms occur due to a body’s impaired relationship with insulin. Long-term complications with diabetes can lead to kidney, retina, nerve, and cardiovascular disease.
In a study involving patients with type II diabetes, those that received 1,600-4,000mg of ginger saw a lasting improvement in blood glucose levels compared to the placebo. This improvement was noticed during follow-up sessions, implying that ginger may have the ability to support blood sugar stabilization over longer periods of time.
In another clinical trial involving individuals with type II diabetes, the administration of ginger extract showed promising effects on the body’s ability to metabolize glucose and reduce long-term blood sugar levels. It appears that ginger’s active constituents, shogaol, gingerol, and paradol, are responsible for this action.
Researchers found that administration of ginger (3g/day for 8 weeks) had a positive effect on the patient’s overall blood sugar markers. Both fasting blood sugar (tested after fasting for 8 hours) and HbA1c (average blood sugar levels over 3 months) were reduced after patients took ginger.
In a 2015 study, administration of ginger powder elicited similar results for patients with type II diabetes. Researchers saw improvement in fasting blood sugar, average long-term blood sugar, and cholesterol levels (another marker of diabetes).
Another clinical trial found that 1.2g of dried ginger every day for 90 days effectively decreased blood glucose and cholesterol levels. In addition to “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL) being lowered, ginger was also able to increase levels of “good” cholesterol levels (HDL).
Summary:Research indicates that ginger may help to support healthy blood sugar levels.
2. May Support Gastrointestinal Health
Ginger benefits gastrointestinal health and healthy digestion.
The health of the digestive system is important because it controls how your body processes and eliminates the food that you consume. Gastrointestinal health also plays a role in mental health due to the connection between the gut and the brain.
In a study with healthy subjects, 1g of ginger root was able to prevent abnormal movements in the stomach that are linked to stomach disorders. These abnormal rhythms were brought on by induced hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
A pilot study involving 45 participants with IBS found lackluster results when comparing the ginger group to a placebo. However, the researchers noted that the study’s trends suggest ginger might be an effective treatment when examined via a larger trial.
Researchers discovered in a 2011 study that taking 1.2g of ginger daily increased the rate at which food moved from the stomach to the small intestines. It also stimulated digestion-supporting movement in the gastrointestinal tract.
The European Medicines Agency mentions that ginger is helpful when managing mild complaints of the gut or stomach and is also supportive for nausea.
Summary:Initial research shows that ginger may help to support gut health. However, long-term clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
3. May Reduce and Prevent Nausea
Ginger has been used traditionally and in modern medicine as a way to prevent and reduce nausea.
Nausea can happen from a range of different triggers, such as toxic ingestion, chemotherapy, surgical operations, and motion sickness. Nausea is characterized as being an uncomfortable feeling that, when not treated, can lead to vomiting.
In a study with 13 volunteers, ginger effectively reduced nausea and hormone levels associated with nausea. These hormones are responsible for triggering water retention in the kidneys so the body doesn’t lose too much water if vomiting happens. The capsules also prolonged the time it took for subjects to become nauseous again during another test.
When comparing ginger to chamomile, researchers found that ginger capsules were significantly helpful for reducing the frequency of nausea in participants undergoing chemotherapy. Both ginger and chamomile independently reduced the frequency of vomiting.
In a recent study, patients who underwent chemotherapy saw a drastic improvement in nausea and vomiting when they took ginger extract. Researchers also found that quality of life improved and cancer-related fatigue was reduced for those taking ginger.
Summary:Traditional usage and modern research indicate that ginger may be helpful for reducing nausea.
4. May Reduce Inflammation
Traditional usage, as well as new research, shows that ginger may help to reduce inflammation.
Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response – it plays a role in supporting the body’s immune system when exposed to trauma, infection, toxins, and physical overuse. Short-term inflammation is beneficial for physiological recovery, however, chronic inflammation can be the gateway to a variety of painful symptoms over time.
In a study observing participants with osteoarthritis, powdered ginger capsules were able to decrease the amount of pro-inflammatory proteins after 3 months of therapy. The researchers attribute this effect to the gingerol and shogaol present in ginger.
A trial involving tuberculosis patients discovered that ginger extract brought down pro-inflammatory markers leading to significant inflammation reduction in the lungs. Participants took 3g of ginger daily for one month. With these promising findings, researchers believe ginger should be considered for both anti-inflammatory and anti-tuberculosis therapy.
In an animal study, ginger extract and one of its active constituents, shogaol, inhibited lung inflammation in mice with asthma. Ginger also had the ability to relax the smooth muscle of the airway, causing fewer spasmodic contractions. This shows ginger’s possibility of being one of the most beneficial herbs for asthma.
Another animal study found that ginger extract, specifically the gingerol content, reduced inflammation caused by IBS in rats. Gingerol decreased the amount of pro-inflammatory markers, which could help prevent chronic inflammation commonly caused by IBS.
A study involving rats with osteoarthritis found that shogaol decreased swelling and inflammatory response. Although shogaol reduced inflammatory markers more significantly than the placebo, the anti-inflammatory drug, indomethacin, was still more effective than shogaol.
Summary:Research indicates that ginger may help to reduce inflammation. Additional large-scale clinical trials are needed to verify the precise mechanisms of action.
5. May Provide Pain Relief
The benefits of ginger have been shown to provide pain relief – similar to other herbs like Jamaican dogwood.
In a trial with participants who had gonarthritis (inflammation of the knee joints), ginger extract was able to provide pain relief after 6 months of administration. Using the VAS (visual analog scale), subjects reported less pain when moving and when still.
In a 2012 study, individuals with dysmenorrhea reported reduced pain after taking 500mg of powdered ginger capsules (3x/day) for 5 days. Ginger reduced the intensity of pain and the length of time the individuals felt pain.
Summary:Two human clinical studies suggest that ginger may provide pain relief. Large-scale clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
6. May Prevent Allergies
Ginger is thought to be a helpful herb for allergies.
A clinical trial showed that ginger worked to reduce total serum IgE after 4 weeks of treatment. This helped to improve allergy symptoms in the study participants.
Another clinical trial compared the effects of 500mg of ginger extract vs. loratadine (i.e. Claritin®), a popular antihistamine drug. The results showed that both the ginger extract and loratadine groups significantly decreased allergies, although there was no significant difference between the two groups. The researchers noted that ginger caused fewer side effects, especially drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness, and constipation.
An animal study found that ginger helped to reduce the severity of sneezing and nasal rubbing and suppressed infiltration of mast cells in nasal mucosa and secretion of OVA-specific IgE in serum. Additionally, 6-Gingerol, a phytochemical in ginger was shown to inhibit the expression of not only Th2 cytokines but also Th1 cytokines in OVA-sensitized spleen cells.
Summary:Research indicates that ginger extract may help to reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
7. Other Benefits
Other purported ginger benefits include:
- Weight loss properties: In a study observing weight loss, researchers found that powdered ginger encouraged weight loss in 8 obese women. This effect is thought to be due to ginger’s ability to help with blood sugar stabilization.
- May have Anti-Cancer Properties: An animal study found that ginger extract has the potential to reduce biological markers of cancer and provide an anti-cancer effect.
- Antimicrobial Properties: Ginger may be one of the best herbs for both preventing antifungal growth and antibacterial activity. In one in vitro study, ginger oil prevented and eliminated fungal growth affecting agricultural commodities. In another in vitro study, ginger extract was found to prevent the growth of bacteria biofilm and the fungal strains, Candida albicans and Candida krusei. Another in vitro study discovered that ginger oleoresin effectively inhibited and eliminated a fungal species causing olives to rot.
While these various other health benefits of ginger are interesting, human clinical trials are needed to corroborate these findings.
Summary:Ginger has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Safety Class: 1
Interaction Class: B
Ginger is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The European Medicines Agency notes that ginger is safe for adults and children ages 6 and up.
Consult a healthcare professional if taking any sort of anticoagulant medication, prior to ingesting a ginger formula. Large doses (12g – 14g) of ginger have been known to enhance the effects of this medication due to its ability to inhibit the enzyme that causes blood clotting.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Germany’s Commission E does not recommend ginger for morning sickness, this method has been used traditionally for centuries. Some studies show that ginger is safe and effective for pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting.
There is a lack of scientific evidence around the maximum dosage one should take when pregnant.
Standard dosing for ginger is as follows:
Infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp of the fresh root and cover with a lid (to prevent the essential oils from escaping). Let infuse for 5 mins.
Tincture (1:5): 1.5 – 5ml, 3x/day
Dietary Supplement: 300 – 500mg/day of ginger extract
Fluid Extract (1:1): 0.25 – 1ml, 3x/day
Ginger is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list.
Although ginger is not on the “at-risk” list, there are many cultivars that use toxic contaminants to ensure the productive growth of ginger.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Ginger’s scientific name is Zingiber officinale. It belongs to the Zingiberaceae family and is a perennial plant that produces a reddish-pink, showy, cone-shaped flower. These plants grow in tropical, humid climates.
The ginger plant produces a “swollen stem” just beneath the surface of the ground. This part of the plant is called the rhizome and is the medicinal/edible section of the plant. It is pungent, sweet, and spicy.
Both fresh and dried rhizome is used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Other common names include horn root, srngaveram, ginger root, Sheng Jiang (TCM), and Shunti (Ayurveda).
Some ginger varieties used for food and medicine include:
- Zingiber officinale variety Sunti Val
- Zingiber amomum
- Zingiber missionis
- Zingiber officinale var. macrorhizonum
- Zingiber officinale var. rubens
- Zingiber sichuanense
The ginger plant itself has a tall stem with green leaves that sprout out like a palm leaf. It loves lots of light and well-drained, loose soil. The ginger rhizome is firm, rough, and knotty with a light brown color. Lines or ridges circle the rhizome.
Inside the skin, there is yellow, fibrous flesh. The color of the ginger varies with different varieties, sometimes white or reddish color. However, common ginger is always a yellowish color.
To harvest ginger, the entire plant is usually dug up sometime around the 8 – 10 month mark.
History & Traditional Use:
Ginger root has been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, and as food for nearly 5,000 years. The first record of ginger comes in 500 BCE from Confucius’s book The Analects.
The rhizome was highly revered in India and China and was an important item of trade in the Roman empire over 2,000 years ago. It continued to be a high-demand product throughout the ages, at one point (13th & 14th century) 1lb of ginger held the same value as a sheep.
Evidence of its trade and “flavoring” use is documented up until current times. During the medieval time period, ginger was preserved and then imported so that people could use it for sweets and baked goods. Queen Elizabeth I of England invented the first gingerbread man using ginger.
Presently, India is the largest cultivator of ginger.
Ginger root has been traditionally used for nausea, digestive health, diabetes mellitus, colds, hypertension, anti-inflammation, and arthritis.
Ginger vs. Other Herbs:
Ginger is often compared with many other different types of botanicals. We have put together helpful guides going over the most common herbal comparisons.
Ginger is a highly versatile form of food and medicine. It helps with a number of inflammatory and gastrointestinal issues, such as asthma, arthritis, and nausea.
In addition to these health benefits, ginger root has strong potential for supporting blood sugar levels, providing pain relief, and encouraging weight loss.
It is worth checking into ginger if you are experiencing any of the above indications. However, it is highly important to ensure the source you are getting it from does not work with contaminants.
As always, make sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or adding a new supplement.
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