Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is surprisingly the most widely used dietary condiment in the world today. It’s actually part of the plant family that includes turmeric and cardamom, which may explain why the health benefits of ginger are so extraordinary. Ginger comes from rhizomes; a rhizome is an underground stem that grows horizontally and forms roots downwards while leaves and new stems sprout on top. Buds then form at intervals along each stem.
The Chinese and Indians have used ginger tonics to treat ailments for over 4,700 years, and it was a priceless commodity during the Roman Empire trade around the coming of Christ because of its medicinal properties.
So, what makes ginger so good for us?
In one word: Gingerol.
Of the 115 different chemical components found in ginger root, the therapeutic benefits come from gingerols, the oily resin from the root that acts as a highly potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. These bioactive ingredients, especially -gingerol, have been thoroughly evaluated clinically, and the research backs up why you should use ginger on a regular basis.
Here are the top ginger health benefits proven by medical studies:
1. 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, or acid reflux!
2. Compromised Immunity and Respiratory Function
Ayurvedic medicine has praised ginger’s ability to boost the immune system before recorded history. It believes that because ginger is so effective at warming the body, it can help break down the accumulation of toxins in your organs. It’s also known to cleanse the lymphatic system, our body’s sewage system.
Dr. Oz says, “By opening up these lymphatic channels and keeping things clean, ginger prevents the accumulation of the toxins that make you susceptible to infections, especially in the respiratory system.” Combining ginger oil and eucalyptus oil is an effective remedy to boost immunity and improve breathing.
In a 45-day double-blind, controlled clinical study of 85 individuals with high cholesterol, three grams of ginger powder in three divided doses caused significant reductions in most cholesterol markers. Another study, which analyzed hypothyroid rats, supports these findings. Researchers found that ginger extract lowered LDL cholesterol to a similar extent as atorvastatin, which doctors prescribe to lower cholesterol levels.
4. Indigestion and Nausea
Whether we’re talking about curing a simple tummy ache or morning sickness and severe nausea from pregnancy, ginger has been used for thousands of years as an effective digestive aid and natural remedy for nausea. Recently, Taiwanese researchers discovered that three capsules (1.2 grams total) of ginger can actually help the stomach release its contents into the small intestines in people with dyspepsia — a condition in which 40 percent of patients suffer from abnormally delayed gastric emptying.
This is one reason why ginger helps people who are bloated, constipated and have other gastrointestinal disorders. It relaxes the smooth muscle in your gut lining and helps food move along throughout the system.
One 2012 study even found that ginger may help relieve nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment, but ginger only seemed to help relieve nausea and vomiting in the first six to 24 hours after chemotherapy.
Key takeaway: Eating whole ginger, drinking fresh ginger juice and inhaling diffused ginger essential oil are all highly effective ways to curb stomach disorders.
5. Bacterial Infections
The Journal of Microbiology and Antimicrobials published a study in 2011 that tested just how effective ginger is in enhancing immune function. Comparing the ability of ginger to kill Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes with conventional antibiotics, Nigerian researchers discovered that the natural solution won every time!
The drugs — chloramphenicol, ampicillin and tetracycline — just couldn’t stand up to the antibacterial prowess of the ginger extract. This is important because these two bacteria are extremely common in hospitals and oftentimes cause complications to an already immune-compromised patient.
Key takeaway: If you ever need to go to the hospital for surgery or to visit a friend, make sure you bring some ginger essential oil with you and add a couple drops to your water. You’re less likely to get a dangerous staph infection, and it can help speed the healing process! Other healing remedies that are effective against infections include oregano oil, clove oil and melaleuca oil.
6. 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!
Working with mice without immune systems, University of Minnesota scientists discovered that three weekly feedings of -gingerol delayed the growth of colorectal cancer cells. University of Michigan researchers confirmed these results with ovarian cancer. In fact, they found that “Ginger treatment of cultured ovarian cancer cells induced profound growth inhibition in all cell lines tested.”
Key takeaway: The executive director of the Herbal Medicine Research and Education Centre, Basil Roufogalis, advised that, “The most likely way to administer ginger as a painkiller would be in the form of a tea taken several times a day, but more work needs to be done on the amount of ginger powder needed per dose to take effect, and the time required between doses.” For most people, taking 1,000 milligrams of powdered ginger root is effective — or two drops two times daily of ginger essential oil.
Proper food transport (and nutrient absorption) from the mouth out through your colon is the mainstay to health. If food gets stuck somewhere in between, it can ferment, rot or (even worse) cause obstruction, which is a life-threatening emergency.
Improper digestion can also cause improper assimilation of the nutrients in your food. Either way, both cause malabsorption, and your body suffers from nutrient deficiencies. This is why ginger is so important. Like we’ve seen above, it helps promote regular digestion and metabolism of your food and is largely responsible for promoting a strong immune system.
In a study on the effects of ginger on osteoarthritis, researchers found that the ginger extract group experienced higher rates of reduction in knee pain on standing (63 percent) as compared with the control group (50 percent). Further analysis showed a consistently superior response in the ginger extract group compared with the control group, when analyzing reduction in knee pain on standing, reduction in knee pain after walking and reduction in the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities osteoarthritis composite index.
Gingerols are widely known to naturally improve diabetes and enhance insulin sensitivity. Building off this knowledge, a 2006 study out of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry discovered that they could also suppress sorbitol accumulation in human blood cells and sugar-fed rats. Simply put, ginger not only helps prevent and reverse diabetes itself — it protects against and improves diabetic complications like diabetic retinopathy!
11. Fungal Infections
One of the trickier issues to control because they’re increasingly resistant to conventional medicine, fungal infections don’t stand a chance against ginger. Of the 29 plant species evaluated in a Carleton University study, ginger won the prize for having the extract most effective at killing fungus.
Key takeaway: For a powerful antifungal punch, mix several drops of pure ginger essential oil with tea tree oil with one teaspoon of coconut oil, and apply up to three times a day.
Ginger is known for its anti-pain property. Very similar to how capsaicinworks to relieve pain, gingerol acts on vanilloid receptors, which are located on sensory nerve endings. Similar to the initial intense burning feel you get when you consume spicy pepper, ginger’s burn only lasts but a second, and researchers discovered that it “affects the pain pathways directly but also relieves the inflammation, which in itself causes pain.”
Studies have found that ginger may even help ease dysmenorrhea, or pain associated with menstruation or menstrual cramps. One clinical trial divided female students experiencing primary dysmenorrhoea into two equal groups; researchers then gave them either a placebo or ginger in capsule form. In the ginger group, 83 percent reported an improvement in symptoms, compared with 47 percent in the placebo group.