10 Health Benefits of Ginger Root – The Wonder Spice
Long-hailed for its medicinal, therapeutic and culinary benefits in India, China and around the world, ginger continues to gain ground as a root for well-being.
Read in Hindi: अदरक के फायदे
As the world’s most widely cultivated spice, ginger may also be the world’s most versatile, evidence-based natural health remedy. Numerous studies have been conducted on the medicinal benefits of this wonder spice for over 100 health conditions. It has a long history of use, and as a testimony to its numerous benefits, it remains a component of more than 50% of all traditional herbal remedies.
Table of Contents
Ginger was cultivated and used as a spice and medicine in India and China, before historical records even begin. The earliest medical texts of both countries extensively discuss the therapeutic uses of the spice, both in fresh and dried form.
Chinese texts from the fourth century BC describe ginger as a remedy for treating stomach issues, nausea, diarrhea, cholera, toothaches, bleeding and rheumatism. Chinese herbalists also use the herb to treat various respiratory conditions, including coughs and colds. In the fifth century, Chinese sailors were using ginger’s vitamin C properties to treat scurvy on long voyages.
In India, Ayurvedic texts consider ginger to be one of the most important herbs available, to the extent of describing it as an entire medicine chest in itself. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe ginger as a powerful digestive aid since it fuels digestive fire, whets the appetite, and clears the body’s micro-circulatory channels. This helps to improve the assimilation and transportation of nutrients to targeted body tissues. Ginger is also used in Ayurveda as a remedy for joint pain, nausea and motion sickness.
With such staggering benefits, it’s no wonder the spice has been a staple in kitchens and medicine cabinets for over five thousand years. Moreover, it continues to prove to be an effective natural remedy for many modern diseases, described below.
Top Ten Therapeutic Benefits of Ginger
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#1 Popular Digestive Aid: Settles stomach issues
Ginger has been used as a digestive aid for thousands of years by ancient cultures. Its carminative properties promote the elimination of intestinal gas to prevent bloating and flatulence, while its intestinal spasmolytic properties relax the gastrointestinal muscles to soothe an upset stomach.
Eating slices of ginger sprinkled with salt before meals can increase saliva flow to aid digestion and prevent stomach issues. It is also helpful to drink ginger tea after a large meal to reduce bloating and flatulence. If your stomach problems are more severe, you can also take ginger to help alleviate the various symptoms of food poisoning.
Ginger is frequently recommended to treat dyspepsia (chronic indigestion), provide relief from colic in children, and help in the treatment of bacteria-induced diarrhea.
#2 Therapy for nausea: Reduces motion sickness and more
Ginger is very good at subsiding various types of nausea and vomiting, including morning sickness in pregnant women, motion sickness in travellers, and even nausea in chemotherapy patients.
70% of patients who undergo chemotherapy report struggling with nausea, despite being given anti-emetics during treatment. A recent study on adult cancer patients found that supplementing a daily dose of 0.5 to 1 gram of ginger before chemo, significantly reduced the severity of acute nausea in 91% of the participants.
The herb also helps reduce the dizziness and nausea associated with vertigo. Research in this area indicates that the spice’s therapeutic chemicals work in the brain and nervous system to control the effects of queasiness.
#3 Powerful anti-inflammatory: Reduces joint pain and relieves arthritis
Ginger contains a very potent anti-inflammatory compound called gingerol, which is the substance responsible for alleviating joint and muscle pain. According to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, ginger affects certain inflammatory processes at a cellular level. It shares pharmacological properties with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, making it an effective treatment for both acute and chronic inflammatory diseases.
Many other scientific studies support the effectiveness of ginger for its pro-analgesic effect on the joints, particularly in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis. Many patients suffering from osteoarthritis have also reported reduced pain and improved mobility by consuming ginger on a regular basis.
Research in Hong Kong suggests that massage therapy using an oil of ginger and orange seems to reduce short-term stiffness and pain in patients with knee issues.
Ginger can also reduce inflammation and muscle pain caused by exercise. In a study carried out by the University of Georgia, researchers administered raw and heat-treated ginger to two groups of 34 and 40 volunteers, over 11 consecutive days. The results, published in The Journal of Pain, concluded that daily use of ginger supplements relieved exercise-induced muscle pain by 25%.
#4 Provides Pain Relief: Soothes migraines and menstrual pain
Research has shown that ginger can provide pain relief from migraine headaches. A study performed in Iran and published in the Phytotherapy Research journal, found that ginger powder is as effective in treating migraine symptoms as sumatriptan - a common medication for the illness.
In the clinical trial, 100 migraine sufferers with acute symptoms were randomly selected to receive either sumatriptan or ginger powder. The researchers found that the efficacy of administering both were similar, while the adverse effects of ginger powder were less than sumatriptan – making it a safer remedy for migraines.
Ginger works on migraines by blocking prostaglandins, which stimulate muscle contractions, control inflammation in the blood vessels, and impact some hormones. Drinking ginger tea at the onset of a migraine attack stifles prostaglandins to block the unbearable pain, and stop the associated nausea and dizziness.
Ginger can also help women effectively reduce the pain associated with dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation). A research study in Iran divided 70 female students into two groups. One group was administered ginger capsules and the other was given a placebo - each for the first three days of their menstrual cycles. The researchers found that 82.85% of the women taking ginger capsules reported improvements in pain symptoms, compared to 47.05% of those on placebo.
Many cultures also pour fresh ginger juice on their skin to treat burns, and topical application of ginger oil has been found to be very effective in treating joint and back pain.
#5 Anti-tumor properties: Successful in killing cancer cells
Modern research has recently been looking to ginger as a potential remedy for various types of cancer, and has come up with some promising results.
One study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center found that ginger not only killed ovarian cancer cells, it also prevented them from building up resistance to chemotherapy - a common issue in ovarian cancer patients.
In the study, researchers applied a solution of ginger powder and water to ovarian cancer cells. In each and every test, they found that the cancer cells died when they came into contact with the ginger solution. Each of the cells either committed suicide, which is known as apoptosis, or they attacked one another, which is referred to as autophagy.
Ginger has also been proven to effectively treat breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer.
Research published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology discovered that chemicals from the ginger plant halted the proliferation of breast cancer cells, without affecting normal mammary cells. This property, known as selective cytotoxicity, is highly significant as it does not occur with conventional methods. And while many tumors respond well to chemotherapy treatment, breast cancer cells can be more difficult. They tend to survive and gain resistance to the treatment.
The use of natural remedies like ginger that are safe and can suppress growth of breast cancer cells is highly desirable. The other advantages of using ginger are that it is easy to administer in capsule form, it has few reported side effects, and it’s a low-cost alternative to conventional drugs.
In 2011, a Georgia State University study set out to explore ginger’s effects on prostate cancer, based on the herb’s proven anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Their results, published in The British Journal of Nutrition, found that ginger extract killed cancer cells in the prostate without affecting any of the healthy cells.
Modern scientific evidence suggests that ginger can also reduce inflammation in the colon to potentially prevent colon cancer. In a University of Michigan study, researchers administered two grams of ginger root supplements or placebo to a group of 30 patients over 28 days. After 28 days, researchers found significant reductions in colon inflammation markers in patients that were assigned ginger root, making it an effective natural prevention method for those at risk of colon cancer.
Ginger compounds have also been studied to inhibit other forms of cancer, including rectal cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, melanoma and pancreatic cancer. It’s also interesting to note that beta-elemene – an anti-cancer pharmaceutical – is derived from ginger.
#6 Anti-diabetic compounds: Lowers blood sugar and increases insulin release
In the case of diabetes, studies have shown ginger to be effective both preventively and therapeutically.
Research at the University of Sydney in Australia found ginger to be effective in glycemic control for people with type 2 diabetes. The study, published in the Planta Medica journal, showed that ginger extracts can increase uptake of glucose into muscle cells without using insulin, therefore it may assist in the management of high blood sugar levels.
Another clinical trial concluded that diabetic patients, that consumed three grams of dry ginger for 30 days, had a significant reduction in blood glucose, triglyceride, and in total and LDL cholesterol levels.
Overall, ginger works on diabetes by increasing insulin release and sensitivity, inhibiting enzymes in carbohydrate metabolism, and improving lipid profiles. Ginger also has a very low glycemic index (GI), which means it breaks down slowly to form glucose, and therefore does not trigger a spike in blood sugar levels like high GI foods do.
Several other studies have also established ginger to have a preventive effect against diabetes complications. Ginger can protect a diabetic's liver, kidneys, and central nervous system, and reduce the risk of cataracts – a common side-effect of the disease.
#7 Heals the heart: Treats a variety of cardiovascular conditions
High in potassium, manganese, chromium, magnesium and zinc, and famous for its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger has been used for years to treat heart conditions.
In Chinese medicine, ginger’s therapeutic properties were said to strengthen the heart, and ginger oil was often used to prevent and treat heart disease.
Modern studies indicate that the herb’s compounds go to work by lowering cholesterol, regulating blood pressure, improving blood flow, and preventing blocked arteries and blood clots – all of which help reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
#8 Relieves respiratory disorders: Effective in treating asthma
Ginger compounds have shown positive results in treating respiratory disorders, and research indicates it is a promising treatment for patients suffering from asthma. Asthma is a chronic disease that occurs when the muscles in the lungs’ oxygen channels become inflamed and sensitive to different substances that induce spasms.
Recent research published in the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology, demonstrates that ginger works on treating asthma in two ways: first, by inhibiting the enzyme that constricts airway muscles, and second, by activating another enzyme that works to relax the airways.
Part of the reason ginger works is due to its potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic compounds, which have properties similar to that of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, but without the negative side effects. While asthma can be a deadly disease, some of the medications used to treat asthma can also carry troubling side effects. Therefore, finding alternative, safe remedies like ginger, is a promising discovery in the treatment of this disease.
#9 Immunity-booster: Reduces coughs and colds
Ginger is a wonderful immune system booster, making it a well-known treatment for colds and flus. And since it helps calm symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection, it also works on coughs, sore throats and bronchitis.
Ginger clears the micro-circulatory channels of the body, including the pesky sinuses that flare up during colds. Drinking ginger with lemon and honey is a popular cold and flu remedy that has been handed down for many generations, both in the east and the west.
Ginger also has thermogenic properties, so it can warm up the body in the cold and, more importantly, can promote healthy sweating. This type of sweating, which helps to detoxify the body and assist in releasing cold symptoms, has also been shown to fight off bacterial and fungal infections.
Recent research in Germany found a potent germ-fighting agent contained in sweat which they named dermicidin. This is manufactured in the body’s sweat glands, secreted into the sweat, and transported to the skin’s surface, where it works to provide protection against bacteria like E. coli and fungi like Candida albicans.
Best of all, ginger has concentrated active substances that are easily absorbed by the body, so you don't have to use very much to receive its beneficial effects.
#10 Potent Antioxidant: Slows down DNA damage
Many worldwide studies have found ginger to contain potent antioxidant properties, which help protect lipids from peroxidation (rancidity) and DNA damage.
Antioxidants are extremely important as they provide protection against free radicals, which helps reduce the various types of degenerative diseases that come with aging, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and more.
While all spices are known to be powerful antioxidants, ginger seems to be extra-potent. It contains 25 different antioxidant properties on its own. This makes it effective at fighting a variety of free radicals, and in different areas of the body.
Ginger is closely related to turmeric, cardamom and galangal. Similar to other plants, ginger is a very complex mixture of compounds, containing several hundred known constituents, including beta-carotene, capsaicin, caffeic acid and curcumin.
The pungency in ginger is derived from the principle compounds gingerol, shogaol and zingerone.
Gingerol is the active component in fresh ginger, and is related to capsaicin, which is the active component in chilli peppers. Zingerone – the least pungent compound – occurs when gingerol is cooked, while shogaol – which is twice as pungent – occurs when gingerol is dried.
Origin and Trade Routes
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Found extensively in the lush tropical jungles in South Asia, ginger is thought to have originated on the Indian subcontinent. The ginger plants that grow in India show the largest amount of genetic variation, implying that the plant has grown longest in that region.
Ginger was first exported from Asia in the first century AD along the lucrative Spice Route. It made its appearance in the Mediterranean over 2000 years ago with the Arab traders, who brought it to the Middle East then across to the Red Sea, where it was sold to the Greeks and Romans.
Records from ancient Rome show that imported ginger was taxed as it made its way ashore at Alexandria. With the fall of Rome, ginger and its uses were lost to most of Europe until the 11th century, when it made a comeback. It was desirable not only for its culinary benefits and medicinal properties, but also for its trade value.
By 1128, Marseilles started placing a tariff on ginger imports, followed by Paris in 1296. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the value of a pound of ginger was equivalent to the cost of a sheep. By the 14th century, ginger had made its way around Europe, and became the most popular spice after black pepper.
By medieval times, ginger was being imported in preserved form to be used in sweets. Queen Elizabeth I of England was said to be very fond of the spice, and is accredited for the famous gingerbread men that are now customary at Christmas in Europe and North America.
The herb made its way from Europe to the New World with the Spanish Conquistadors, and later on, with the western European immigrants as they began to settle the Americas.
Ginger Production Today
Today, ginger is grown in tropical countries around the world and exported globally.
India remains the largest producer, consumer and exporter of the spice, with China close behind, followed by other Asian countries, including Nepal, Japan and Thailand.
The Caribbean islands are also known for their ginger production, especially Jamaica, where the quality of ginger is similar to that of the Indian plant.
South American countries such as Brazil, and African nations like Nigeria and Sierra Leone also cultivate the herb, along with Australia and Fiji, where it is grown on a smaller scale.
Some Things to Note
Brew #1: Helps purify the blood
Brew #2: Aids digestive issues
Brew #3: Reduces risk of colds
This healthy tea recipe will leave you feeling fresh and invigorated, without the side effects of caffeine.
Here’s a “cool” recipe with ginger, honey and watermelon that can be a great boon during the summer months.
Ginger-Broccoli Slaw Recipe
Here’s a wonderful video recipe of a healthy, zesty salad that combines the benefits of ginger with broccoli.
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