Ginger or Zingiber officinale is the rhizome of the ginger plant, which is widely used as a spice and also in herbal medicine. Many use it to treat stomach problems such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, nausea and vomiting, and also loss of appetite. It has a great pain relieving property, and thus used against arthritis, cough, menstrual pain, low back pain, and chest pain.
Some use it to stimulate breast milk production, treat malaria and cholera, fight snake bites or poisons, and treat skin burns. In fact, the list is endless. This wonderful plant is full of great phytochemicals that gives it most of the medicinal properties associated with it.
Scientific name – Zingiber officinale
Botanical family – Zingiberaceae
Origin – Indian subcontinent, Southern Asia
In terms of the nutritional value, the USDA has shared the properties of raw ginger root per 100 grams. Below are its notable contents:
- Energy – 80 kcal
- Carbohydrates – 17.77 g
- Fat – 0.75 g
- Protein – 1.82 g
- Vitamins and minerals – Contains vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, and potassium in significant amounts
Medicinal uses / health benefits of Ginger
- Aids digestion
- Fights cancer
- Treats diarrhea
- Lowers cholesterol
- Controls diabetes
- Fights arthritis
- Prevents heart diseases
- Reduces menstrual pain
Ginger is scientifically proven to have a sialagogue property i.e ability to stimulate the production of saliva in our mouth. Saliva initiates the process of digestion, make swallowing easier, and protects our teeth from tooth decay. Apart from this effect, ginger has been found to improve digestion processes by many scientific research.
A particular study showed how the addition of ginger extract to feed increases activity of some digestive enzymes and stored energy compounds in the liver of some fingerlings (1).
Scientific researches have shown the world how ginger is a potent antioxidant, and also has anti-inflammatory properties. It exhibits cancer preventive activity, thanks to the presence of certain pungent compounds known as vallinoids such as paradol and gingerol. Other compounds that also show some anticancer activity in ginger includes zingerone and shogaols.
A scientific study conducted lately, suggested the use of ginger in the prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal cancer (2). The study views ginger as a natural alternative to chemotherapeutic agents in combating cancer, since it carries virtually no side effects than the latter. Moreover, these chemotherapeutic agents are very expensive and cannot be afforded by many.
Ginger has been used in the treatment of diarrhea since ancient days. Folk healers all around the world have been using this great herb in halting diarrhea, while also re-hydrating the body and replenishing lost fluids.
In using this herb for diarrhea treatment, it is recommended to be best consumed as a fresh ginger or make its tea. These ways are considered to be the safest means of taking ginger.
Many have attributed its diarrhea-stopping effect to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antibacterial properties.
High cholesterol in our bodies can cause fatty deposits in the arteries, which interferes with the normal circulation of blood, and cause an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Many scientific researches have shown the effect of ginger in lowering this cholesterol level.
To check the effect of ginger in lowering cholesterol, a research studied the effect of ginger capsules on 45 patients against a control group that included 40 people (3). At the end of the study, patients fed with ginger capsules showed a reduction in their triglyceride, cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL), and very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) levels.
It also suggested how this wonderful herb, when combined with proper dietary and lifestyle interventions, can be effective in managing type-2 diabetes.
Ginger has been used for many centuries by folk healers to fight arthritis. This folk healing actually has a basis; a scientific one. Arthritis is characterized by inflammation and pain, and many studies have proven the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effect of ginger.
One of these studies was carried out on knee pain patients with osteoarthritis(5), where they were fed ginger extract for 6 weeks, against a control group. The results revealed a higher reduction in the symptoms of osteoarthritis in patients fed with ginger extract as compared with the control group.
As we have seen earlier, ginger is capable of reducing blood cholesterol level. Excess cholesterol can clump in our arteries and obstruct the flow of blood, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Foods like ginger, onion, and garlic, possess properties in preventing blood clot, and thus, can be a powerful weapon against these diseases when combined.
Reduces Menstrual pain
Pain relief is one property of ginger that has been utilized for decades. Menstrual pain is no exception. A research showed us how ginger is as effective as mefenamic acid and ibuprofen in relieving menstrual pain in women (6).
Trying out ginger just before your menses is not a bad idea to keep off that persistent pain at bay.
Other uses of ginger includes improving brain function, fighting chronic indigestion, reducing muscle pain, reducing nausea, increasing sexual activity, boosting the immune system, preventing fungal infections, and improving bone health.
Side effects of Ginger
The consumption of ginger by mouth is generally considered safe. However, some people might experience some mild effects such as heartburn, diarrhea, and a discomfort to the stomach.
Special precautions for the use of ginger might arise in pregnancy. The safety of pregnant women through the consumption of ginger has been controversial. Some see it as entirely safe, while others link it certain disorders. Whatever the case may be, a pregnant woman should always consult a physician before using ginger for medicinal purposes to be on the safe side.
There is also little information on the safety of a breastfeeding mother and her baby. So it is best to stay on the safe side.
Other precautions include moderating ginger consumption as well as medications for the diabetics. This should be done by a healthcare professional. This is important because using both ginger and diabetes medications at the same time can make your blood glucose fall below normal level.
There are also some reports that the consumption of high doses of ginger can worsen some heart conditions, and increase the risk of bleeding in case of bleeding disorders.