Type the word ginger into Google and here’s what you get: An iPhone app, a popular late-night tall show host, and one of the oldest folk remedies on the planet earth. In use for more than 4000 years, ginger has long been a mainstayt in the food, health and fitness industry. Its versatility allows it to hop from the kitchen tabletop to the rack of spices and on to the medicine cabinet of any house in Asia, the Middle East, Western Europe and America. Indigenous to Asia, it is a fundamental element of the natives’ cooking and healing strategies.
What is Ginger?
As a medicinal herb, ginger is in the “generally recognized as safe” category in the Food and Drug Administration. The ginger root is that part of the zingiber officinale plant that is commonly used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Also called the rhizome, it has a light brown color and is thick and knotted. As it matures, its taste and pungent odor increases. Ginger is harvested at 6-20 months and is a basic cooking spice in most households.
The Components of Ginger
There are 400 compounds in ginger. The active components are the compounds found in oleoresin – the gingerol and shogaol homologues, zingerone and volatile oils. According to a 2009 study published in the Global Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences, the antibacterial properties of ginger are found in the rhizome extracts n-hexane, ethyl acetate and soxhlet. Carbohydrates make up the a majority of ginger, while lipids and oleoresin (the hydrocarbon secretion), proteins, vitamins and minerals make up the rest.
The Uses of Ginger
The volatile oils and vitamins provide ginger’s antiviral properties that help in the prevention and fast recovery from colds, sore throat, sinusitis and flu.
The gingerol compounds in ginger have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Intake of ginger twice daily reduces the pain and swelling of the joints in arthritic patients and improves their range of motion in the affected areas.
Some compounds present in ginger have the capacity to bind to human serotonin receptors, helping in the treatment and reduction of depression and anxiety.
A ginger and vinegar concoction used regularly eliminates bad breath.
Ginger promotes good blood circulation, improving blood flow and reducing the risk for clots. Along with this, it also helps in lowering cholesterol levels.
The extracts in ginger, and the compound zingerone found in the oleoresin fights against diarrhea-causing bacteria, E. Coli and staphylococcus aureus.
Clinical trials done on animals to study the ability of ginger in reducing nausea and vomiting caused by different conditions show enhanced gastrointestinal transport, anti-5-hydroxytryptamine effects and possible actions on the central nervous system. In humans, this is not clearly demonstrated but narrative reports substantiate ginger’s antiemetic effects.
In an experiment done on 80 sailors who have a tendency to experience motion sickness, those who were given powdered ginger reported less vomiting than those who were given placebo. Further, synthetic over the counter antiemetic drugs cause dry mouth and drowsiness which were not seen in ginger. Other trials showed that ginger worked to prevent as well as treat motion sickness symptoms with doses ranging from 250 mg to 2 grams.
One gram of ginger taken for not more than four days has provided relief from morning sickness for pregnant women. In a crossover trial of 70 pregnant women, most of them preferred ginger over placebo for its superior results in quelling nausea and vomiting. As a precaution, women should get their doctor’s permission and dosage should not exceed 1 gram once daily for four days.
Ginger’s effectiveness in chemotherapy-related symptoms was demonstrated in the decrease of the severity and continuity of nausea but had little effect in the alleviation of vomiting. However, it reduced the dizziness that occurs upon discontinuation of chemotherapy.
A few trials have been done on the effect of ginger in diminishing nausea and vomiting after an operation. Limitations included a mixed study population and surgical procedures. In five randomized studies, 1 gram of ginger was more effective than placebo in providing postoperative relief from nausea.
Other uses of ginger include relieving menstrual cramps, boosting the immune system, treating gastrointestinal ailments, protecting against certain cancers and improving testosterone production, among others.
The general recommended dose for ginger is 75 mg to 2 grams a day in divided doses, including food sources. Pregnant women should not take more than 1 gram per day and should avoid prolonged intake of more than four days without doctor’s advice.
Ginger is available as a fresh or dried root and in powder form. For convenience and adequate concentration, they are also sold as supplements in the form of capsules, extracts, tinctures and oils.
Ginger is not known to produce allergic reactions but it may interfere with some medications. Consult your doctor if you are taking anticoagulants (Warfarin, aspirin), diabetes and hypertension medications.