Not only is ginger a culinary marvel, its health benefits are stunning. It has been shown to be more effective against staph infections than antibiotics—and without the adverse effects.
Ginger's culinary qualities are a delight, but its health benefits are simply stunning. It has been shown to be more effective against bacterial staph infections than antibiotics. It can kill cancer cells. Its anti-inflammatory effects are already famous. It can resolve brain inflammations, and ease or cure a variety of gut problems, such as ulcerative colitis and acid reflux. And ginger can even alleviate the effects of gamma radiation. What's not to love about this incredible herb?
Standard in many kitchens and cuisines, ginger is the seasoning that gives life to a host of dishes. It's been used medicinally for more than 2,000 years. Though best known for its gastrointestinal soothing effects, that's just the beginning of its uses. The plant parts used for both culinary and medicinal purposes are the rhizomes, the root-like stems that grow underground. The primary plant used medicinally is Zingiber officinale.
Several compounds in ginger may be related to its health benefits, including shogaol, zingerone, and gingerols, which are similar to chili pepper's capsaicin, noted for its pain relieving ability. However, as we've seen with separating aspirin from willow bark, trying to find the active ingredient in a herb and using it alone tends to both diminish its effects and remove the balancing components that can both increase positive effects and decrease or eliminate adverse effects.
Some information in this article is derived from studies that have isolated single ingredients, generally with the goal of developing drugs. Though this may be accomplished, a history of pharmaceuticals demonstrates that it is both hubristic to believe that nature will be improved and naive to think that isolating a single chemical can possibly be done without removing the balancing elements that mitigate against harmful effects. Nonetheless, such studies do help demonstrate that there is strong medicine in ginger.
Ginger's Health Benefits
Let's take a look at some of the areas that ginger has been shown to benefit health:
- Cancer: Several studies have demonstrated ginger's ability to defeat several types of cancer cells, including some of the most aggressive and difficult to treat: lung, ovarian, colon, breast, skin carcinoma, prostate, and pancreatic.(1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
- Diabetes Prevention: Studies have shown that diabetes may be both prevented and treated, along with the related abilities to lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood fats.(9,10)
- Antiobiotic: Ginger's antibiotic effects may be exceptional. At least one study(10) that compares the effects of ginger and antibiotics on Staphylococcus aureus and S. pyreus infections shows that ginger extract may be superior. The effects on drug-resistant infections are, as yet, unknown. Ginger has been shown to have an antibacterial effect on respiratory and periodontal infections.(11,12,13)
- Antifungal: Fungal infections are among the most difficult to treat, and drug-resistant fungi have been developing. However, there's no need to despair, as ginger has been found to have antifungal capability, including to drug-resistant forms.(14)
- Ulcers: Intestinal ulcers can be prevented with ginger. There is a generally recognized acceptance now that the Helico pylori bacterium is associated with ulcers, and at least one study has shown that a derivative of ginger has been shown to inhibit H. pylori. One study has demonstrated that ginger can inhibit existing ulcers, too.(15,16)
- Diabetes Complications: Complications of diabetes may be limited by ginger. Studies have shown that it may reduce urine protein levels, decrease water intake and urine output, and reverse proteinuria. It's been shown to aldose reductase inhibitors, which reduce damage done by diabetes. Ginger can protect nerves in diabetes and lower blood fat levels. (17,18,19,20)
- Inflammation: Inflammation is a serious problem with many chronic conditions, both in terms of causing them and causing pain, and ginger can be highly effective in managing it. Neurodegenerative diseases may be aided by ginger's ability to inhibit nitrous oxide production and proinflammatory cytokines. Its antiinflammatory ability may be helpful in arthritis, cancer prevention, prostate disease, and general inflammatory processes.(21,22,23,24,25)
- Gastric Distress: Ginger's ability to ease gastric distress is superior, and it does more than simply ease pain. In a double-blind study, ginger capsules were taken orally in people suffering from dyspepsia with slow emptying of the stomach's contents. It stimulated the emptying of the stomach without any negative effects. It has been found to have an antispasmodic agent, which helps explain some of its beneficial effects on the intestinal tract. As previously stated, it inhibits H. pylori, which helps prevent ulcers. It also protects gastic mucosa.(26,27,28)
- Toxicity: Ginger helps prevent the toxic effects of a wide array of substances, including the pesticide lindane, a cancer drug, the chemical bromobenzene, and the excitotoxin monosodium glutamate (MSG). Lindane was shown to modulate oxidative stress in rats exposed to the pesticide lindane, a neurotoxin, simply by adding it to their diet. The cancer drug doxorubicin damages kidneys, but ginger has been shown to help alleviate the harm. Brombozene is highly toxic, used in chemical reactions, and can rapidly damage the liver and nervous system. Ginger has been shown to alleviate its liver damage. Ginger extract has been shown to protect against MSG nerve damage.29,30,31,32)
- Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (Fructose Damage): Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NFLD) has a variety of causes, but it's now on the increase because of the prevalence of fructose as a sweetener. Research on ginger's function with regard to NFLD is in the very early stages. However, NFLD is known to be associated with dyslipidemia and excess triglycerides in the liver. Ginger may help this condition by lowering serum cholesterol. Research showing this is very new, published just this year, so it's hardly definitive. However, ginger does appear to hold promise as a treatment for NFLD.(33)
- Heartworms in Dogs: Dirofilaria immitis, heartworms, are a common canine infection. The standard medical treatments are risky, frequently causing neurological disorders and circulatory collapse. Resistance to them is also developing. It's therefore quite fortunate that ginger has been shown to be effective against heartworms. The treatment that's been tried is injections of the extract, and it does take time. However, after 55 days, an average 83% reduction, up to a maximum of 98%, was found. About half the dogs exhibited lethargy early in the treatment, but it's believed to be a result of their bodies' need to dispose of the worms, as opposed to an adverse effect.(34,35)
- Menstrual Pain: A double blind study of young women suffering from menstrual pain compared with mefenamic acid (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory marketed as Ponstel), ibuprofen, ginger powder in capsules, and placebo was performed. Ginger was found to be as effective as both mefenamic acid and ibuprofen.(36)
- Radiation: With radiation in the news lately, it's wonderful to learn that ginger has been proven to provide significant benefit against it. One study has demonstrated that it can help prevent vomiting and taste distortion associated with radiation poisoning. Another study administered high doses of ginger extract to mice before their exposure to gamma radiation, and compared them to mice that had received only distilled water before exposure. It reduced the severity of symptoms and mortality. They were protected from gastrointestinal and bone-marrow-related deaths. It's interesting to note that treatment after exposure provided no benefit.(37,38)
- Gout, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Knee Osteoarthritis, and Indomethacin: Indomethacin is an anti-inflammatory drug commonly used to treat the pain from inflammation of gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis of the knee. Studies comparing the effect of ginger extract with indomethacin consistently show that ginger is, at a minimum, just as effective, and sometimes even more than indomethacin. Since indomethacin's adverse effects include renal insufficiency in 40% of the people who take it, jaundice in 10%, headaches in 12%, and elevations in liver function tests indicating harm to the liver, plus a host of other nasty problems, it's difficult to imagine any legitimate reason for doctors prescribing the drug when they could simply have their patients take ginger extract.(39,40,41)
- Nausea and Motion Sickness: Ginger has been well studied for its classic ability to ease nausea in all sorts of situations. It has long been used for motion and sea sickness. Studies have been done both to ascertain whether it's effective—which, of course, it is—and also to try to figure out how it works. Morning sickness, nausea, during pregnancy causes misery for a lot of women. Women suffering from morning sickness were given beverages with ginger during the first trimester of pregnancy and compared with women given placebo. Ginger alleviated the nausea in a highly significant percentage of the women. A trial of taking ginger and protein after chemotherapy demonstrated that patients were able to lessen their intake of anti-emetic medications.(42,43,44,45)
- Bacterial Diarrhea: The primary cause of death in young children in developing countries is bacterial-induced diarrhea. The bacteria don't cause it directly. The toxins they release do. Zingerone, a compound found in ginger, binds the toxin so that it cannot interact with the gut, thus preventing diarrhea and the resultant death. The standard treatment now is antibiotics coupled with electrolyte replacement, which would indicate that the antibiotics are not particularly effective. Since the long term effects of antibiotics are now known to be disastrous and antibiotics are expensive, it's hard to imagine a legitimate reason for not implementing large-scale trials of ginger on children suffering from bacterial diarrhea.(46)
- Other Benefits: The benefits of ginger are amazing, and they don't stop with the ones listed above. Here, briefly, are a few more that have been studied:
- Post-stroke neurological urinary incontinence can be helped with ginger-salt-partitioned moxibustion.(47)
- Patients with hospital ventilator0induced pneumonia benefit from ginger extract.(48)
- Trigeminal nerve pain is alleviated with a traditional Japanese herbal combination that includes ginger, Saiko-Keishi-To.(49)
- Blood urea nitrogen, the BUN of blood tests, is markedly decreased by ginger extract.(50)
- Cerebral ischemia, small stroke, causes brain damage, including memory loss. Ginger extract significantly reduces damage and alleviates the loss of memory.(51)
- One study demonstrates that ginger extract may help prevent heart attacks.(52)