Native to southern Asia, ginger is a 2- to 4-foot-long perennial that produces grass-like leaves up to a foot long and almost an inch wide. Although it’s called ginger root in the grocery store, the part of it that is used is actually the rhizome, the underground stem of the plant, with its bark-like outer covering scraped off. Ginger has been used as food and medicine for millennia. Arabian traders carried ginger root from China and India to be used as a food spice in ancient Greece and Rome, and tax records from the second century AD show that ginger was a delightful source of revenue to the Roman treasury. Chinese medical texts from the fourth century BC suggest that ginger is effective in treating nausea, diarrhea and more.
Ginger’s modern use dates back to the early 1980s, when a scientist named D. Mowrey noticed that ginger-filled capsules reduced his nausea during an episode of flu. Inspired by this, he performed the first double-blind study of ginger. Germany’s Commission E subsequently approved ginger as a treatment for indigestion and motion sickness. One of the most prevalent ingredients in fresh ginger is the pungent substance gingerol. However, when ginger is dried and stored, its gingerol rapidly converts to the substances shogaol and zingerone. If any of these substances has medicinal effects, it still remains unknown. As you can see, ginger has historically been known for soothing the tummy and helping with nausea, so let’s check out the medicinal uses and scientific evidence for ginger below as well as more info.
Medicinal Uses and Scientific Evidence for Ginger
- A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 79 Swedish naval cadets at sea found that 1 g of ginger could decrease vomiting and cold sweating, but without significantly decreasing nausea and vertigo.
- A 2003 study has has also shown that ginger is an effective agent in the prevention and treatment of motion sickness.
- While a 1988 study showed that subjects taking scopolamine, a medication commonly prescribed for motion sickness, experienced fewer symptoms than those who received ginger, ginger may still be preferred over scopolamine’s unwanted side effects like dry mouth and drowsiness.
Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy
- A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 70 pregnant women evaluated the effectiveness of ginger for morning sickness. Participants received either placebo or 250 mg of powdered ginger three times daily for a period of four days. The results showed that ginger significantly reduced nausea and vomiting. No significant side effects occurred.
- A 2005 study has also indicated that ginger may be effective for the treatment of pregnancy nausea and vomiting, but feels that more testing still needs to be done.
- Studies have compared ginger to vitamin B6, a commonly recommended treatment for morning sickness. One study found them to be equally beneficial while another study found ginger to be somewhat better.
When it comes to the effectiveness of ginger for treating postsurgical nausea, results have been mixed.
- A 1990 study recorded that there were less incidents of nausea in the group that receiving ginger root versus a placebo while a 2003 double-blind study in Thailand concluded that ginger is definitely effective in prevention of nausea after surgery.
- A British study followed 120 women receiving elective laparoscopic gynecological surgery. Whereas nausea and vomiting developed in 41% of the participants given placebo, in the groups treated with ginger or metoclopramide these symptoms developed in only 21% and 27%, respectively.
- However, a double-blind study of 108 people undergoing similar surgery found no benefit with ginger as compared to placebo. Negative results were also seen in a study of 184 women and another of 180 women.
- The bottom line: If ginger is effective for post-surgical nausea at all, the effect must be very slight.
When it comes to the effectiveness of ginger for treating chemotherapy nausea, results are also mixed.
- One 2008 study concluded that ginger did not add to the effectiveness of standard medications to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
- On the other hand, a 2009 study showed that ginger reduces the severity and duration of nausea (but not vomiting) during chemotherapy.
- A large double-blind study (more than 250 participants) found that a combination of ginger and another Asian spice called galanga (Alpinia galanga) can significantly improve arthritis symptoms. This study was widely publicized as proving that ginger is effective for osteoarthritis. However, the study design makes it impossible to draw any conclusions on the effectiveness of the ginger component of the mixture. Ginger alone has only been tested in two very small double-blind studies, and they had contradictory results as shown here and here.
- One small study with 22 participants concluded that ginger can improve the digestion for some individuals and may even be beneficial for individuals with Type 2 Diabetes.
- A more recent study in 2008 shows that ginger can stimulate digestion by speeding up the movement of food from the stomach into the upper small intestine.
- For most purposes, the standard dosage of powdered ginger is 1 to 4 g daily, divided into 2 to 4 doses per day.
- To prevent motion sickness, it may be best to begin treatment 1 or 2 days before the trip and continue it throughout the period of travel.
- Ginger is on the FDA’s GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list as a food, and the treatment dosages of ginger are comparable to dietary usages. No significant side effects have been observed.
- Like onions and garlic, extracts of ginger inhibit blood coagulation in test tube experiments.
- European studies with actual oral ginger taken alone in normal quantities have not found any significant effect on blood coagulation, but it is still theoretically possible that a very weak anticoagulant could amplify the effects of drugs that have a similar effect, such as warfarin (Coumadin), heparin, clopidogrel (Plavix), ticlopidine Ticlid, pentoxifylline Trental, and aspirin. One fairly solid case report appears to substantiate these theoretical concerns: Use of a ginger product markedly (and dangerously) increased the effect of an anticoagulant drug closely related to Coumadin. However, a double-blind study failed to find any interaction between ginger and Coumadin, leaving the truth regarding this potential risk unclear.
- The maximum safe doses of ginger for pregnant or nursing women, young children, or individuals with severe liver or kidney disease have not been definitively established.
- Note: If you are pregnant or undergoing surgery, do not self-treat with ginger except under physician supervision.
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are taking:
- Strong blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin (Coumadin), heparin, clopidogrel (Plavix), ticlopidine (Ticlid), pentoxifylline (Trental), or even aspirin: Ginger might possibly increase the risk of bleeding problems.
When it comes to ginger, there’s still a lot to be discovered, but at least studies are now being done to learn more about its benefits. Although some of the results have been mixed, it’s good to know that there’s growing evidence to show some of the wonderful benefits that this spice has to offer. However, before you put anything into your body, make sure that it’s not going to do more harm than good. Do the research, whether it’s doing your own reading or contacting either a medical or naturopathic doctor for more info. In the end, you’re the author of your own health story and we all want that story to have a happy ending.
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