Ginger: The “Universal Medicine” and the Science Behind It’s Therapeutic Properties

Have you ever heard that ginger can help with sluggish digestion?

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has been used as a spice and medicinal herb by many traditions across the world for thousands of years.

The rhizome (or underground stem) of the ginger is the usable portion of the herb.

Native traditions such as Ayurveda, Native Americans, and Traditional Chinese Medicine used ginger for a broad range of symptoms in the body such as stomachaches, diarrhea, and nausea.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, ginger is considered a warming herb and has been used for at least 4,000 years for treatment of nausea, common cold, flu, arthritis, migraines, and poor circulation.

In modern times, ginger is recommended for digestive health, fragrance in foods, soaps, and cosmetics. Today we will discuss some of the documented evidence of ginger in the role of digestive health.

Documented Evidence

Ginger has a powerful anti-nausea, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activity due to the presence of powerhouse compounds such as gingerol, shogaol, and zingiberene.

Let’s look at the three scientifically-backed benefits of ginger for digestive health

  1. Eases nausea-vomiting during pregnancy: Hyperemesis gravidarum or nausea and vomiting are the most common unpleasant symptoms during pregnancy. The strongest evidence for ginger is for easing morning sickness in pregnant women, followed by its use in motion sickness and seasickness.
  1. Fights infections: Ginger is effective against bacterial infection. A study found ginger to be more effective than three antibiotics – chloramphenicol, ampicillin, and tetracycline for treating Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes; bacteria that can cause skin infections and strep throat.
  1. Menstrual cramps: Many women struggle with dysmenorrhea or painful menstrual cramps, and ginger has long been used to ease them. A review study four randomized controlled clinical trials found that ginger can reduce menstrual pain when taken the first 3-4 days of the menstrual cycle.

Safety and Dosage

At high doses ginger has been shown to have potential side effects. It can mildly inhibit platelet aggregation, rising concerns about potential interactions with blood thinning medications like warfarin.

A review of clinical trials concluded that ginger could reduce nausea during pregnancy without posing risks for side effects or adverse effects for mom or baby.

As always, talk to your health care provider if you are using ginger in therapeutic doses. Drinking a cup of ginger tea or eating ginger cookies is not likely to pose any problems.

Ginger TeaImage taken from Unsplash.com

The Bottom Line

While ginger (as many other herbs) have a long way to go to be fully appreciated by western medicine, continued research will enhance our understanding to use the root beyond the kitchen counter.

As an integrative dietitian and practitioner of food as medicine, I come to appreciate the uses of ginger for myself, patients, and friends. A practical recommendation I suggest is to use Traditional Medicinal Organic Ginger Tea to sip throughout the day, or Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger cookies as dessert.

Truth is – it’s easy to increase your consumption of nature’s medicine when it tastes as delightful as ginger!

Written by Nazirber De La Cruz, RDN, CDN, CDE

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