Ginger is a flowering plant that originated from China.
It belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, and is closely related to turmeric, cardamom, and galangal.
Ginger has a very long history of use in various forms of traditional and alternative medicine. It has been used to help digestion, reduce nausea, and help fight the flu and common cold, to name a few.
Ginger can be used fresh, dried, powdered, or as an oil or juice, and is sometimes added to processed foods and cosmetics. It is a very common ingredient in recipes.
The unique fragrance and flavor of ginger come from its natural oils, the most important of which is gingerol.
Gingerol is the main bioactive compound in ginger, responsible for much of its medicinal properties. It has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Bottom Line: Ginger is a popular spice. It is high in gingerol, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
1. Ginger Can Treat Many Forms of Nausea, Especially Morning Sickness
Ginger appears to be highly effective against nausea.
For example, it has a long history of use as a sea sickness remedy, and there is some evidence that it may be as effective as prescription medication.
Ginger may also relieve nausea and vomiting after surgery, and in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
But it may be the most effective when it comes to pregnancy-related nausea, such as morning sickness.
According to a review of 12 studies that included a total of 1,278 pregnant women, 1.1–1.5 grams of ginger can significantly reduce symptoms of nausea.
However, ginger had no effect on vomiting episodes in this study.
Although ginger is considered safe, talk to your doctor before taking large amounts if you are pregnant. Some believe that large amounts can raise the risk of miscarriage, although there are currently no studies to support this.
Bottom Line: 1–1.5 grams of ginger can help prevent various types of nausea. This applies to sea sickness, chemotherapy-related nausea, nausea after surgery and morning sickness.
2. Ginger May Reduce Muscle Pain and Soreness
Ginger has been shown to be effective against exercise-induced muscle pain.
In one study, consuming 2 grams of ginger per day, for 11 days, significantly reduced muscle pain in people performing elbow exercises.
Ginger does not have an immediate impact, but may be effective at reducing the day-to-day progression of muscle pain.
These effects are believed to be mediated by its anti-inflammatory properties.
Bottom Line: Ginger appears to be effective at reducing the day-to-day progression of muscle pain, and may reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness.
3. The Anti-Inflammatory Effects Can Help With Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a common health problem that involves degeneration of the joints in the body, leading to symptoms like joint pain and stiffness.
In a controlled trial of 247 people with osteoarthritis of the knee, those who took ginger extract had less pain and required less pain medication.
Another study found that a combination of ginger, mastic, cinnamon, and sesame oil, reduced pain and stiffness in osteoarthritis patients when applied topically.
Bottom Line: There are some studies showing ginger to be effective at reducing symptoms of osteoarthritis, which is a very common health problem.
4. Ginger May Drastically Lower Blood Sugars and Improve Heart Disease Risk Factors
This area of research is relatively new, but ginger may have powerful anti-diabetic properties.
In a recent 2015 study of 41 participants with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of ginger powder per day lowered fasting blood sugar by 12 percent.
It also dramatically improved HbA1c (a marker for long-term blood sugar levels), leading to a 10 percent reduction over a period of 12 weeks.
There was also a 28 percent reduction in the ApoB/ApoA-I ratio, and a 23 percent reduction in markers for oxidized lipoproteins. These are both major risk factors for heart disease.
However, keep in mind that this was just one small study. The results are incredibly impressive, but they need to be confirmed in larger studies before any recommendations can be made.
Bottom Line: Ginger has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and improve various heart disease risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes.
5. Ginger Can Help Treat Chronic Indigestion
Chronic indigestion (dyspepsia) is characterized by recurrent pain and discomfort in the upper part of the stomach.
It is believed that delayed emptying of the stomach is a major driver of indigestion.
Interestingly, ginger has been shown to speed up emptying of the stomach in people with this condition.
After eating soup, ginger reduced the time it took for the stomach to empty from 16 to 12 minutes.
In a study of 24 healthy individuals, 1.2 grams of ginger powder before a meal accelerated emptying of the stomach by 50 percent.
Bottom Line: Ginger appears to speed up emptying of the stomach, which can be beneficial for people with indigestion and related stomach discomfort.
6. Ginger Powder May Significantly Reduce Menstrual Pain
Menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) refers to pain felt during a woman’s menstrual cycle.
One of the traditional uses of ginger is for pain relief, including menstrual pain.
In one study, 150 women were instructed to take 1 gram of ginger powder per day, for the first three days of their menstrual period.
Ginger managed to reduce pain as effectively as the drugs mefenamic acid and ibuprofen.
Bottom Line: Ginger appears to be very effective against menstrual pain when taken at the beginning of the menstrual period.
7. Ginger May Lower Cholesterol Levels
High levels of LDL lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol) are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
The foods you eat can have a strong influence on LDL levels.
In a 45-day study of 85 individuals with high cholesterol, 3 grams of ginger powder caused significant reductions in most cholesterol markers.
This is supported by a study in hypothyroid rats, where ginger extract lowered LDL cholesterol to a similar extent as the cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin.
Both studies also showed reductions in total cholesterol and blood triglycerides.
Bottom Line: There is some evidence, in both animals and humans, that ginger can lead to significant reductions in LDL cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels.
8. Ginger Contains a Substance That May Help Prevent Cancer
Cancer is a very serious disease that is characterized by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells.
Ginger extract has been studied as an alternative treatment for several forms of cancer.
The anti-cancer properties are attributed to 6-gingerol, a substance that is found in large amounts in raw ginger.
In a study of 30 individuals, 2 grams of ginger extract per day significantly reduced pro-inflammatory signalling molecules in the colon.
However, a follow-up study in individuals at a high risk of colon cancer did not confirm these findings.
There is some, albeit limited, evidence that ginger may be effective against pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. More research is needed.
Bottom Line: Ginger contains a substance called 6-gingerol, which may have protective effects against cancer. However, this needs to be studied a lot more.
9. Ginger May Improve Brain Function and Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation can accelerate the aging process.
They are believed to be among the key drivers of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline.
Some studies in animals suggest that the antioxidants and bioactive compounds in ginger can inhibit inflammatory responses that occur in the brain.
There is also some evidence that ginger can enhance brain function directly. In a study of 60 middle-aged women, ginger extract was shown to improve reaction time and working memory.
There are also numerous studies in animals showing that ginger can protect against age-related decline in brain function.
Bottom Line: Studies suggest that ginger can protect against age-related damage to the brain. It can also improve brain function in elderly women.
10. The Active Ingredient in Ginger Can Help Fight Infections
Gingerol, the bioactive substance in fresh ginger, can help lower the risk of infections.
In fact, ginger extract can inhibit the growth of many different types of bacteria.
It is very effective against the oral bacteria linked to inflammatory diseases in the gums, such as gingivitis and periodontitis.
Fresh ginger may also be effective against the RSV virus, a common cause of respiratory infections.
11. Anything Else?
Ginger is one of the very few “superfoods” that are actually worthy of that term.
*Image of “ginger tea” via Shutterstock