Alan Frischer, MD, MPH
Ginger has long been one of my mother’s favorite foods. Birthday presents that contain it in one form or another are always a hit. In addition to its unique flavor, however, ginger has some amazing properties.
Ginger is native to warmer parts of Asia, including China, Japan, and India. Its use for health-related purposes comes up in ancient Sanskrit, Chinese, Greek, Roman, and Arabic texts. Dried ginger has been used for thousands of years to treat stomachaches, diarrhea, and nausea.
Scientific analysis shows that ginger contains hundreds of components and metabolites, some of which do appear to contribute to health and healing. Of these, the gingerols and shogaols have been most extensively researched. The most common current medical uses for ginger include:
Digestion - The phenolic compounds in ginger help relieve gastrointestinal (GI) irritation, stimulate the production of saliva and bile, and suppress gastric contractions as food and fluids move through the digestive tract. Ginger also stimulates the pancreatic enzymes.
Nausea - Chewing raw ginger, drinking ginger tea, or consuming it as lozenges or candies is a common remedy for nausea, especially during cancer treatment or after surgery. Taking ginger for motion sickness often reduces feelings of nausea (but does not appear to prevent vomiting). Ginger in low doses is safe to use for nausea during pregnancy.
Cold and flu relief - Drinking ginger tea with lemon and honey helps to treat a cough. It also acts as a diaphoretic (it promotes sweating), which helps the body to rid itself of fevers and toxins.
Pain relief – Some studies have shown that daily ginger supplementation reduces exercise-induced muscle pain. It’s also been found to alleviate menstrual pain.
Osteoarthritis inflammation - Ginger has been found to be modestly effective and reasonably safe when used for this type of inflammation.
There are, of course, many additional claims of ginger’s benefits, and studies are ongoing.
As with any herb or medication, use precaution and moderation. When ginger is used as a spice, it is considered safe. For some, however, ginger can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, and gas. It is recommended that those with gallbladder disease use caution because it may increase the flow of bile. There is some concern about taking ginger with anticoagulants (such as warfarin).
If you enjoy the taste of ginger, by all means consume it and enjoy. If you also get therapeutic benefits from it, please indulge. My mother would certainly approve.