We have so far produced around 200 blogs covering harmful or beneficial effects of food and food ingredients but none about the potential beneficial effects of ginger. So when a team from the University of Michigan published a story about 6-gingerol, the main bioactive compound in ginger root, and its beneficial effects on certain autoimmune diseases in mice, we decided that it was time for another good news story.
A caveat though, the Michigan Medicine research covered administration of pure 6-gingerol to mice affected by lupus, a disease which attacks the body’s own immune system, and an associated condition called antiphospholipid syndrome causing blood clots. The 6-gingerol prevented neutrophil extracellular trap release, which is triggered by the autoantibodies that these diseases produce.
If it sounds complicated, be reassured that we will rather focus on more general beneficial effects of consuming ginger.
The common use of ginger root
Ginger is a flowering plant whose rhizome, ginger root, is widely used as a spice and a folk medicine. It is actually one of the first spices to have been exported from Asia, arriving in Europe with the spice trade, and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans. It belongs to the same family as turmeric and cardamom.
Ginger has a firm, striated texture. The flesh of the ginger rhizome can be yellow, white or red in colour, depending on the variety. It is covered with a brownish skin that may either be thin if harvested young or thick after mature harvesting.
Ginger has long been perceived to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties and has been used traditionally as a herbal medicine for the treatment of many ailments, including chronic conditions such as asthma and arthritis. The health-promoting properties of ginger have been attributed to its richness in phenolic phytochemicals, such as gingerols and shogaols. The most abundant in fresh ginger is 6-gingerol (used in pure form in the above mentioned research) with concentrations of up to 2 mg/g in the root.
The general benefits researchers have found
Two Spanish researchers reported that ginger appears to be highly effective against nausea in people undergoing certain types of surgery. It may also help chemotherapy-related nausea. However, it may be the most effective when it comes to pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, such as morning sickness. According to their review of 12 studies that included a total of 1,278 pregnant women, 1–1.5 grams of ginger significantly reduced symptoms of nausea in particular and to some extent also vomiting.
Chronic indigestion is characterized by recurrent pain and discomfort in the upper part of the stomach. It’s believed that delayed emptying of the stomach is a major driver of indigestion. Interestingly, ginger has been shown to speed up emptying of the stomach.
In relation to its antiemetic properties, ginger acts peripherally, within the gastrointestinal tract, by increasing the gastric tone and motility due to anticholinenergic and antiserotonergic actions. This combination of functions explains the widely accepted ability of ginger to relieve symptoms of functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as dyspepsia, abdominal pain and nausea, which is often associated with decreased gastric motility.
Ginger has been an important ingredient in Asian medicine for centuries, particularly for pain relief in musculoskeletal diseases. In a meta-analysis of five studies involving 597 patients ginger proved to be moderately effective in reducing pain and disability caused by osteoarthritis, especially affecting the knee. Osteoarthritis is a common health problem. It involves degeneration of joints, leading to symptoms such as joint pain and stiffness.
Initial findings have shown that ginger may have powerful anti-diabetic properties. In a 2015 study of 41 participants with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of ginger powder per day lowered fasting blood sugar by 12%. It also dramatically improved hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a marker for long-term blood sugar levels. HbA1c was reduced by 10% over a period of 12 weeks.
Sounds like ginger should have superfood status, but note that the number of trial participants have usually been low and the doses used and the frequency of administration have varied. A word of caution might be in place, but still worth a try.
Better use ginger in moderation
If you like consuming ginger and experience beneficial effects on your health, just be sure not to overdo it. It is clear that ginger is fine in small doses, but as usual everything in moderation. Some side effects have been reported in daily doses of more than 5 grams a day, which is a lot. They include gas, heartburn and an upset stomach.
Ginger tea doesn’t seem to have serious side effects. For one thing, it would be difficult to drink enough of the tea to be exposed to anything irritating or harmful. To exceed the 5 gram limit requires quite a few cups of tea a day.
High doses of ginger may help lower blood pressure but can in turn cause some lightheadedness as a side effect. Ginger also contains salicylates, the chemical in aspirin, that acts as a blood thinner. This can cause problems for people with bleeding disorders and could interact with blood thinner medication.
Although ginger has been used throughout the world for centuries as a therapeutic agent for pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting, a word of caution is appropriate. The best available evidence suggests that ginger is a safe and effective treatment and that possible adverse events are generally mild and infrequent. However, there is still some uncertainty regarding the maximum safe dosage and the optimal duration of treatment. Both important areas for future research.
The bottom line
It is worth repeating that too much of anything – even something as natural as ginger – is bound to cause problems. But if you’re generally in good health and you like the zest that ginger provides, drink up and don’t worry.
Just be aware that due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, ginger prices across the world have soared.
One of my readers affected by motion sickness pointed to the beneficial effects of consuming ginger to alleviate the symptoms. This has been documented by New York Times citing research published in Lancet involving 36 people highly susceptible to motion sickness. The subjects were given either two capsules of powdered ginger, an antinausea medication or a placebo, and 20 minutes later spun on a motorised chair for up to six minutes. Ginger delayed the onset of sickness about twice as long as the medication. Half the subjects who took ginger lasted the full six minutes, compared with none of those given the placebo or the medication.