Ginger is grown as a root and it’s a common ingredient in Asian and Indian cuisine. However, ginger has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries among many cultures.
Ginger is among the healthiest spices on the planet. It is loaded with nutrients and bioactive compounds that have powerful benefits for your body and brain.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is surprisingly the most widely used dietary condiment in the world today. It’s actually part of the Zingiberaceae plant family that includes turmeric and cardamom.
Ginger is a plant with leafy stems and yellowish green flowers. The ginger spice comes from the roots of the plant. The root or underground stem (rhizome) of the ginger plant can be consumed fresh, powdered, dried as a spice, in oil form or as juice.
Ginger is a native to warmer parts of Asia, such as China, Japan, and India, but now is grown in parts of South American and Africa. It is also now grown in the Middle East to use as medicine and with food. The top commercial producers of ginger now include Jamaica, India, Fiji, Indonesia and Australia.
Possible Health Benefits of Ginger
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like ginger decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight.
Here is a list of some of the amazing benefits of ginger that you may not be aware of. Although some of these are still being debated, you could do your own research if you want to use ginger for medicinal purposes.
1. Digestive Issues
The phenolic compounds in ginger are known to help relieve gastrointestinal irritation, stimulate saliva and bile production and suppress gastric contractions and movement of food and fluids through the GI (gastrointestinal) tract.
Chewing raw ginger or drinking ginger tea is a common home remedy for nausea.
Pregnant women experiencing morning sickness can safely use ginger to relieve nausea and vomiting, often in the form of ginger lozenges or candies.
During cold weather, drinking ginger tea is good way to keep warm. It is diaphoretic, which means that it promotes sweating, working to warm the body from within. As such, in the wake of a cold, ginger tea is particularly useful.
3. Pain Reduction
A study involving 74 volunteers carried out at the University of Georgia found that daily ginger supplementation reduced exercise-induced muscle pain by 25%.
Ginger has also been found to reduce the symptoms of dysmenorrhea (severe pain during a menstrual cycle). In one study, 83% of women taking ginger capsules reported improvements in pain symptoms compared to 47% of those on placebo.
Ginger has been used for centuries to reduce inflammation and treat inflammatory conditions.
A study published in Cancer Prevention Research journal found that a ginger root supplement administered to volunteer participants reduced inflammation markers in the colon within a month. Researchers on the study explained that by decreasing inflammation, the risk of colon cancer is also likely to decrease. Ginger has also shown promise in clinical trials for treating inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.
5. Lower Blood Sugars
Ginger may drastically lower blood sugars and improve heart disease risk factors.
This area of research is relatively new, but ginger may have powerful anti-diabetic properties.
In a recent 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 HbA1c (a marker for long-term blood sugar levels), leading to a 10% reduction over a period of 12 weeks.
6. Ginger May Lower Cholesterol Levels
There is some evidence, in both animals and humans, that ginger can lead to significant reductions in LDL cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels.
High levels of LDL lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol) are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
The foods you eat can have a strong influence on LDL levels.
In a 45-day study of 85 individuals with high cholesterol, 3 grams of ginger powder caused significant reductions in most cholesterol markers.
This is supported by a study in hypothyroid rats, where ginger extract lowered LDL cholesterol to a similar extent as the cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin.
Both studies also showed reductions in total cholesterol and blood triglycerides.
7. Cancer Prevention
Ginger contains a substance called 6-gingerol, which may have protective effects against cancer.
Cancer is a very serious disease that is characterized by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells.
Ginger extract has been studied as an alternative treatment for several forms of cancer.
The anti-cancer properties are attributed to 6-gingerol, a substance that is found in large amounts in raw ginger.
In a study of 30 individuals, 2 grams of ginger extract per day significantly reduced pro-inflammatory signalling molecules in the colon.
However, a follow-up study in individuals at a high risk of colon cancer did not confirm these findings.
There is some, albeit limited, evidence that ginger may be effective against pancreatic cancer, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. More research is needed.
8. Improve Brain Function and Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Studies suggest that ginger can protect against age-related damage to the brain. It can also improve brain function in elderly women.
Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation can accelerate the aging process.
They are believed to be among the key drivers of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline.
Some studies in animals suggest that the antioxidants and bioactive compounds in ginger can inhibit inflammatory responses that occur in the brain.
There is also some evidence that ginger can enhance brain function directly. In a study of 60 middle-aged women, ginger extract was shown to improve reaction time and working memory.
There are also numerous studies in animals showing that ginger can protect against age-related decline in brain function.
9. Ginger Can Help Fight Infections
Gingerol, the bioactive substance in fresh ginger, can help lower the risk of infections.
In fact, ginger extract can inhibit the growth of many different types of bacteria.
It is very effective against the oral bacteria linked to inflammatory diseases in the gums, such as gingivitis and periodontitis.
Fresh ginger may also be effective against the RSV virus, a common cause of respiratory infections.
10. Stroke and Heart Disease
Two of the biggest killers on the planet may be kept at bay with regular ginger use, especially when eaten with other key superfoods. Garlic, ginger and onions all have an anti-blood-clotting ability, yet when they’re eaten together they’re a powerful mainstay against heart attacks and stroke.
11. Ulcers and GERD
Since the 1980s, researchers have known that ginger can cure stomach ulcers. More recently, Indian scientists have been able to more closely quantify this medicinal effect. In a study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, they discovered the ginger was six to eight times more potent than Prevacid, the drug of choice to treat GERD.
12. Maintains Normal Blood Circulation
Ginger contains chromium, magnesium and zinc which can help to improve blood flow, as well as help prevent chills, fever, and excessive sweat.
13. Fights Common Respiratory Problems
If you’re suffering from common respiratory diseases such as a cough, ginger aids in expanding your lungs and loosening up phlegm because it is a natural expectorant that breaks down and removes mucus. That way you can quickly recover from difficulty in breathing.
How to Incorporate more Ginger into your Diet
Ginger pairs well with many different types of seafood, oranges, melon, pork, pumpkin and apples. When buying fresh ginger, look for a root with smooth, taut skin (no wrinkles) and a spicy aroma.
Fresh ginger should be peeled and grated before use. In most recipes, one-eighth teaspoon of ground ginger can be substituted for one tablespoon of fresh grated ginger.
Ground ginger can be found in the herbs and spices section of most grocery stores.
Add fresh ginger into your next smoothie or juice
Add fresh or dried ginger to your next stir-fry or homemade salad dressing
Steep peeled fresh ginger in boiling water to make your own ginger tea
Use fresh or dried ginger to spice up any fish recipe.
Potential Health Risks of Consuming Ginger
Natural ginger is safe for most people and causes little to no known side effects. It may exacerbate symptoms of acid reflux in some people. The effectiveness and side effects from ginger supplements will vary by brand and formulation.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
How to Select and Store
Fresh ginger can be purchased in most supermarkets. Mature ginger has a tough skin that requires peeling. Fresh ginger can be stored in the fridge for up to three weeks if it is left unpeeled. Whenever possible, choose fresh ginger over dried since it is superior in flavour and contains higher levels of the active component gingerol. The root should be fresh looking, firm, smooth and free of mould with no signs of decay or wrinkled skin. If choosing dry ginger, keep it in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark dry place for no more than six months.