Eight Unexpected Health Benefits of Ginger

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If you only think of ginger as a condiment that you eat with sushi, say "Hello" to the powerful therapeutic benefits this plant packs into its roots

Plant-based health alternatives are growing in popularity as more and more people wake up to the potential harms from prescription and over the counter (OTC) drugs. Acetaminophen, for example, is in more than 600 medications, both OTC and prescribed,[i] and represents one of the leading causes of acute liver failure worldwide.[ii]

Individuals seeking a more holistic approach to wellness often look to the plant kingdom for truly traditional medicine. According to the U.S. Forest Service, humans have been using plants to heal and maintain wellness for more than 60,000 years.[iii] Humanity co-evolved with plants in symbiotic fashion, rendering plant-based therapeutics gently effective for regulating body chemistry.

There are thousands of years of history supporting the use of the plant Zingiberaceae, commonly known as ginger, for ailments such as colds, nausea, arthritis, migraines and high blood pressure.[iv] We've highlighted eight unexpected health benefits of ginger, which remains a powerful wellness aid for maintaining balance in the modern world.

1. Ginger Eases Nausea and Vomiting During Pregnancy

A common discomfort of pregnancy, morning sickness typically occurs during the early months of gestation. Symptoms of nausea and vomiting (NVP) can be mild to severe, with 10% of women seeking medication to provide relief.[v] More than 70% of women report having morning sickness during the first trimester (three months), with the most severe symptoms peaking at around nine weeks of pregnancy.[vi]

Many expectant mothers wish to avoid taking unnecessary drugs during gestation and while breastfeeding. Safe, nontoxic medication alternatives that effectively quell NVP are highly sought after, spurring numerous clinical trials testing natural antidotes to morning sickness. An area of focus for researchers is vitamin B6 deficiency, which has been proposed as a possible cause of NVP.[vii]

In a triple-blind clinical trial on 77 pregnant women suffering from mild-to-moderate NVP between six and 16 weeks of pregnancy, researchers tested the efficacy of ginger, vitamin B6 and placebo. Participants were given 500 milligrams (mg) of ginger, 40 mg of B6 or placebo twice daily for four days and were monitored from 24 hours before the study began until four days after dosing was ceased.

Participants were surveyed on frequency and severity of nausea, vomiting and retching, as well as the distress caused by these symptoms. The effectiveness of the interventions was judged by overall reduction in these scores.

All three groups showed significant improvement after treatment, but both ginger and vitamin B6 were more effective than placebo, overall. Ginger was more effective than B6 at reducing both the intensity and distress associated with nausea, and best at reducing the amount of vomiting. Vitamin B6 was most effective for the retching and distress of vomiting.[viii]

For expectant mothers, a daily dose of organic, powdered ginger and accompanying B-vitamin supplement can go a long way toward smoothing out the uncomfortable waves of nausea and vomiting that can be, hopefully, just a small hiccup on the journey of a healthy, happy pregnancy.

2. Ginger Provides Relief From Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea

Undergoing chemotherapy as part of cancer treatment can produce unfortunate side effects that place additional burdens on an already taxed patient. Nausea and vomiting, at times severe, are often associated with chemotherapy, a time when adding additional drugs to the patient's protocol may be contraindicated. The natural anti-emetic effects of ginger can provide a safe means of support and may even boost the cancer patient's quality of life.

A study from 2016 sought to determine the effect of ginger and chamomile on NVP in patients undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer (BC). In the double-blind clinical trial, 65 women who were being treated at the Breast Cancer Research Center were randomized into one of three groups: ginger, chamomile or control. Forty-five women completed the study.

The ginger group was prescribed 500 mg of powdered ginger root supplement; the chamomile group consumed Matricaria Chamomila extract. All groups, including control, were given a routine antiemetic regimen consisting of dexamethasone, metoclopramide and aprepitant (DMA). Medications were taken two times daily, starting five days before and ending five days after chemotherapy. Professional interviewers collected and recorded patients' feedback and analysis was performed by a professional blind statistician.

Results of the analysis showed that both ginger and chamomile, an herb commonly used to soothe and aid digestion, were effective at reducing the frequency of vomiting. Unlike chamomile, ginger was also effective in reducing the frequency of nausea in patients being treated with chemotherapy for breast cancer.[ix]

3. Ginger Treats Migraines as Effectively as a Prescription, but Safer

A common health complaint, migraine headaches affect up to 75% of adults worldwide.[x] Although the condition is rarely diagnosed by a physician, fully half of all adults have suffered at least one migraine headache within the last year.[xi]

In a clinical setting, migraines are gauged by frequency of occurrence and degree of discomfort experienced during an attack. Migraine attacks can be disabling for some sufferers, making the need for safe, non-addictive treatment options a priority for medical researchers.

A research group investigating remedies for migraines compared the effects of ginger against those of sumatriptan, a drug routinely prescribed for migraines and cluster headaches.[xii] Researchers studied 100 participants with diagnosed acute migraines without aura, a visual disturbance that can precede onset of a migraine.

Patients were randomized into ginger or sumatriptan groups and asked to record time of headache onset, pain severity, time elapsed from onset to taking medication and a general self-assessment. These responses were recorded over the course of five subsequent migraine attacks and then analyzed. Patients were also asked to rate satisfaction with their treatment's efficacy and willingness to continue with treatment after one month, post-intervention.

The results may surprise anyone who thinks herbal medicine "isn't real." Two hours after using either drug, mean headache severity significantly decreased, demonstrating ginger's similar pain-relieving potency to the prescription drug, sumatriptan. The ginger group had fewer clinical adverse effects than the sumatriptan group, and both groups had similar satisfaction and willingness to continue the medication protocol.[xiii]

Overall, ginger's demonstrated efficacy at treating migraines is statistically comparable to sumatriptan, with a much better side effect and toxicity profile. Sumatriptan is not approved for use in children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, smokers, or people with high blood pressure, liver or heart disease, among other excluded patient groups.[xiv] Sumatriptan also carries a risk of serious side effects, including overdose.[xv]

4. Ginger Relieves Menstrual Pain as Well as Popular Pain Drugs, Without the Risks

Menstrual pain is a common source of angst and discomfort for women and menstruating girls the world-over. Common menstrual disturbances, clinically termed dysmenorrhea, affect not only physical health but can also negatively impact a woman's mental health and quality of life.

Finding safe and effective treatments for menstrual disturbance led researchers to compare the pain-relieving effects of ginger against an OTC drug called NovafenĀ®, a drug that combines acetaminophen, ibuprofen and caffeine, which is known to boost the analgesic effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). A total of 168 female students from Babol University of Medical Sciences in Iran were enrolled in the clinical trial, testing ginger and Novafen on menstrual pain.[xvi]

Girls were randomized into either ginger or Novafen groups and instructed to take a 200-mg capsule at the onset of pain, and subsequently every six hours for two serial cycles. Pain was measured before treatment, one hour after consuming the drug (for 24 hours) and 48 hours after onset of drug effects. Once again, ginger proved to be as effective as OTC drugs for relieving pain.

Final analysis showed that the intensity of pain reported decreased for both ginger and Novafen users, with no statistically significant differences between the two groups.[xvii] Considering the significant safety benefits of ginger versus NSAID drugs, the researchers recommended the use of natural, non-synthetic ginger to reduce the pain associated with menstruation in girls with dysmenorrhea.[xviii]

5. Ginger Significantly Improves Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease affecting joints and tissues. RA can cause chronic pain, joint deformity and other, sometimes crippling, effects. If not controlled, RA can lead to serious problems with organs like the heart, eyes and lungs.[xix]

Thanks to ginger's well-earned reputation as an anti-inflammatory agent, researchers investigated the effects of ginger on inflammation and immune response in patients with active cases of RA.[xx] In a double-blind placebo-controlled trial, 70 patients with RA were randomized into ginger or placebo groups and monitored over a 12-week study period.

Participants met inclusion criteria that required at least two years of disease duration, being under active treatment with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and not currently receiving NSAIDs. Blood assays were taken to assess medication effects on specific inflammatory and immune system markers that signify RA disease expression and immune response. Sixty-three patients completed the study.

Upon final analysis, ginger was shown to improve immune function in patients with RA by significantly decreasing the expression of inflammatory genes and simultaneously increasing the expression of anti-inflammatory genes.[xxi] Ginger further caused a significant reduction in genes that indicate disease activity, demonstrating ginger's potent ability to improve RA disease symptoms.[xxii]

6. Ginger Eases the Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis

The words "allergic rhinitis" may not be instantly familiar, but it's likely you have met before. Allergic rhinitis (AR) is the clinical term for hay fever or seasonal allergies, a condition that affects an estimated 30% of adults and up to 40% of children in the U.S., making AR the fifth most common chronic disease affecting Americans today.[xxiii]

Despite AR's misleading names, hay fever does not produce a fever, and seasonal allergies can occur year-round. AR can be caused by pet dander, dust mites, mold or even food ingredients that produce allergic reactions, with or without the sufferer knowing what's causing symptoms to erupt. Symptoms of AR include runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, stuffy nose, congestion and fatigue.[xxiv]

Incidents of AR are on the rise in many nations, including Thailand, a country familiar with the use of ginger in cooking and in Thai traditional medicine.[xxv] Researchers at Thailand's Thammasat University studied the efficacy and safety of ginger extract on AR in a study comparing ginger with loratadine, an antihistamine commonly prescribed for AR treatment.

Eighty AR patients between 18 and 70 years of age were chosen for the study. Patients had a clinical diagnosis of moderate AR with no history of serious comorbidities. In this double-blind trial, patients were randomized into ginger or loratadine groups and provided two capsules, two times daily for six weeks. Patients were assessed during the 3rd and 6th weeks for efficacy, safety and patient compliance.

Clinical efficacy of treatments was judged based on primary and secondary variables, including measurements of the affected area of the nasal cavity, severity and range of symptoms, and quality of life. Safety of treatments was measured via blood analysis, blood pressure screenings and patient questionnaires. Seventy-two patients completed the study.

Results showed that both the ginger-treated and the loratadine groups registered significantly improved "total nasal symptoms scores," with no statistically significant difference between the groups.[xxvi] Both treatments reduced itching, runny nose and nasal congestion by the third week of treatment.

By week six, ginger had significantly reduced sneezing, while loratadine reduced sneezing in just three weeks. Volume estimates of the nasal cavity were significantly improved at week six in the ginger group, whereas the loratadine group did not show improvement, creating a significant difference in the affected area at week six. Quality of life assessments were significantly improved for both groups.[xxvii]

Overall, ginger led to greater relief and improvement compared to the antihistamine drug, loratadine.[xxviii] In the safety evaluation, the ginger group also fared significantly better. Loratadine users experienced some negative side effects, including lethargy, and, more disturbingly, showed increased levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP), an indicator of potential liver damage, after six weeks of treatment. Conversely, ginger-treated patients registered decreased ALP levels.[xxix]

Researchers concluded that ginger is as good as loratadine in improving symptoms of AR and improving quality of life for AR sufferers, caused fewer negative side effects, including less drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness and constipation, and presented no risks of liver damage associated with long-term use of synthetic medication.[xxx]

7. Ginger Helps Manage Blood Sugar and Cholesterol in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes

A 2020 study sought to evaluate the effectiveness of ginger at reducing blood sugar and lipid levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.[xxxi] More than 1 in 10 people in the U.S. have diabetes, with one-third of the U.S. population meeting criteria for pre-diabetes.[xxxii]

The study was a randomized, double-blind clinical trial engaging participants with Type 2 diabetes between 20 and 80 years of age, who lived in primary care facilities and were using oral antidiabetic drugs and registering high blood sugar levels. Patients were randomized into two groups, with one group receiving 1.2 grams (g) of ginger and one group receiving an equal amount of placebo daily for 90 days.

Overall, 103 individuals completed the study. Results showed a reduction in fasting blood sugar and glycated hemoglobin, as well as a reduction in lipids and insulin resistance in the ginger group.[xxxiii] The ginger group showed a greater reduction in blood glucose and total cholesterol values compared to the control group. Researchers concluded that ginger can be a safe and effective treatment for people with Type 2 diabetes.[xxxiv]

8. Ginger can Reduce Knee Pain From Osteoarthritis

Another common ailment that may have you reaching for OTC meds, especially if you're an active adult, is the pain of osteoarthritis. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects millions of people worldwide and occurs when the cushion provided by cartilage between bones and tendons wears down over time, causing painful, damaging friction in the joints.

Researchers evaluated the efficacy and safety of a standardized, highly concentrated ginger extract in patients with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. In total, 261 patients were enrolled in a six-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in multiple health centers in parallel groups.[xxxv]

Patients received either ginger extract or placebo twice daily, with acetaminophen allowed as "rescue medication," if needed. Researchers measured participants' pain levels when standing. Overall, 247 patients successfully completed the study, meeting all requirements for inclusion.

Results showed that reduction in knee pain on standing was superior in the ginger extract group compared with the control group (63% versus 50%).[xxxvi] Ginger group participants had a consistently greater response to treatment than control group patients, and better outcomes when analyzing secondary variables like less knee pain after walking a short distance, and less overall knee pain.[xxxvii]

Ginger group patients required less rescue medication but experienced more gastrointestinal effects, albeit mostly mild, than did the placebo group patients. Researchers concluded that ginger extract had a statistically significant effect on reducing pain and symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee.[xxxviii] To learn more about ginger, consult GreenMedInfo.com, the world's most widely referenced, evidence-based natural medical resource.


References

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[xxxviii] Arthritis Rheum. 2001 Nov;44(11):2531-8. doi: 10.1002/1529-0131(200111)44:11<2531::aid-art433>3.0.co;2-j. PMID: 11710709

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
Sayer Ji
Founder of GreenMedInfo.com

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