Updated: Apr 4, 2019
We've all used ginger at some point in our lives. Whether it's with sushi, in tea or to add to curry. Some people strongly dislike ginger and others LOVE it. As a child I remember eating a chocolate-covered ginger sweet and it was so stringy and fibrous that I decided I never wanted to eat ginger again. As an adult I have a new-found appreciation for ginger…but I still avoid the fibrous parts!
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is not a root. It is a “rhizome”. Rhizomes are fleshy stems that grow underground. And this fleshy stem has been used for thousands of years. Records of its use have been found in early Sanskrit and Chinese text as well as Greek-Roman and Arabic medical literature.
In fact, it was exploited so extensively that it came to the point of extinction in the world and is probably among the first plants to be cultivated.
Traditionally, ginger was used as an antidote to all illness that related to “the cold” and this included chest congestion, cough, dropsy and diarrhoea. In North American tradition, ginger was called a “diffusive stimulant”. A diffusive stimulant has metabolic and circulatory stimulating properties that can enhance the therapeutic activity of other herbs. It does this by increasing sweating and opening peripheral circulation (circulation around your arms, hands, legs and feet).
It is still used for this purpose in Phytotherapy. Amidst the chosen herbs in any herbal formula, a Phytotherapist will add one herb that is slightly heating and stimulates circulation to help the other herbs to disseminate around the body as quickly as possible. Other examples are Cayenne pepper and Rosemary. Click here to learn more about Rosemary.
Ginger originates from China and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners (TCM) have a unique twist to their view on ginger and the different forms of preparation. These forms can be divided into fresh ginger, dry ginger and pan-fried ginger.
The fresh rhizome is the most "dispersing” and has the broadest spectrum of influence throughout the body,but its effects are short lived. TCM practitioners say that it disperses exterior cold that is brought on by external agents. In Western medicine these external agents would be viruses and bacteria that cause vomiting, cough, debilitating sweat, common cold with a slight fever, headache, general ache, nasal congestion and a runny nose.
The dried rhizome creates more heat in the body and the effects last longer. It is used for conditions such as pallor, poor appetite, cold limbs, vomiting, diarrhoea, pale tongue or thin/watery/white spit.
The pan-fried rhizome is used in the same way, however, it is thought to be even stronger than the dried version.
In Phytotherapy, ginger has the following effects on the body; carminative, antiemetic, peripheral circulatory stimulant, spasmolytic, anti-inflammatory, antiplatelet, diaphoretic and digestive stimulant. These actions assist with the conditions discussed below...
High Blood Pressure
There are many studies which prove the hypotensive effect of ginger when it was given at 0.3-3 mg/kg. It helps to reduce atrial blood pressure by blocking calcium channels (this allows the muscle around the arteries to relax and widen and allow more blood to flow through) or by acting on muscarinic receptor (Muscarinic receptors are involved in a large number of physiological functions including heart rate and force, contraction of smooth muscles and the release of neurotransmitters).
High Blood Cholesterol
Ginger extracts interfere with cholesterol biosynthesis. In a double blind controlled clinical trial the mean changes in triglyceride and cholesterol levels of the group exposed to ginger were significantly higher than placebo group (p<0.05) . In another experiment, rats, who had alloxan-induced diabetes and induced hypothyroidism, were given ginger extracts. Both groups experienced a reduction in the levels of total cholesterol (TC), and low density lipoprotein (LDL). The group with hypothyroidism did even better than the diabetic group. But it was also noted the blood glucose levels in the diabetic group had been reduced. Ginger also helps to increase serum HDL-cholesterol.
Ginger is very useful in the treatment of several gastrointestinal diseases including peptic and duodenal ulcer. Ulcers are generally caused by an imbalance between defensive and offensive factors like acid, pepsin and Helicobacter pylori; and in this case, ginger is useful because it is anti-inflammatory and protects the gastric mucosa.
Nausea and Vomiting
Ginger shows strong antiemetic properties. It stimulates peripheral anti-cholinergic* and anti-histaminic receptors and antagonises 5-hydroxytreptamine receptors* in the GUT.
*Anticholinergic receptors - an anticholinergic agent is a substance that blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the central and the peripheral nervous system. These agents inhibit parasympathetic nerve impulses by selectively blocking the binding of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine to its receptor in nerve cells. The parasympathetic nervous system is in control of digestion and by inhibiting it, cramping is reduced.
*5-hydroxytreptamine receptor antagonists - 5-HT3 usually binds to serotonin receptors in the GUT that transmit impulses to the vomiting center within the brain. Antagonists stop this process and reduce the impulse to vomit.
In laboratory tests, ethanol extracts of ginger have been comparable to antibiotics for the following bacteria: E.coli, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas, Salmonella typhi and Proteus mirabilis.
Ethanol extracts also assisted with oral hygiene and the 10-Gingerol and 12-Gingerol extracts were effective against periodontal bacteria (Porphyromonas gingivalis, Porphyromonas endodontalis and Prevotella intermedia).
Fresh ginger has also been found to be effective against the human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV), especially when administered on first sign that a chest infection is developing. It also stimulates mucosal cells to secrete IFN-β (Interferon-beta...a cytokine with antiviral capabilities) and that could possibly contribute to the antiviral effect.
Ginger can be used in a tea, decoction, tincture, capsule or in the essential oil form. If you are using the whole, fresh form then 0.5g–1g may be consumed 3 times a day.
There are no known safety concerns for ginger, however, consuming large amounts (much higher than what I have recommended) can lead to heart burn or have blood thinning effects. It is safe for children to use as well as pregnant or breastfeeding mums, but it is recommended not to exceed 2g daily. Lastly, ginger may increase the bioavailability of pharmaceutical drugs so you shouldn't consume them within an hour of each other.
This article is written for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, cure or treat any reader.
Princy Louis Palatty, Raghavendra Haniadka, Bhavishya Valder, Rajesh Arora & Manjeshwar Shrinath Baliga (2013) Ginger in the Prevention of Nausea and Vomiting: A Review, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 53:7, 659-669, DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2011.553751
Giti Ozgoli, Marjan Goli, and Masoumeh Simbar.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.Mar 2009.ahead of printhttp://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2008.0406
Chang, J., Wang, K., Yeh, C., Shieh, D. and Chiang, L. (2013). Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has anti-viral activity against human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 145(1), pp.146-151.
Park, M., Bae, J. and Lee, D. (2008). Antibacterial activity of -gingerol and -gingerol isolated from ginger rhizome against periodontal bacteria. Phytotherapy Research, 22(11), pp.1446-1449.
Gull, I., Saeed, M., Shaukat, H., Aslam, S., Samra, Z. and Athar, A. (2012). Inhibitory effect of Allium sativum and Zingiber officinale extracts on clinically important drug resistant pathogenic bacteria. Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials, 11(1), p.8.
Alizadeh-Navaei R, e. (2019). Investigation of the effect of ginger on the lipid levels. A double blind controlled clinical trial. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18813412 [Accessed 3 Apr. 2019].
Nafiseh Khandouzi, M. (2019). The Effects of Ginger on Fasting Blood Sugar, Hemoglobin A1c, Apolipoprotein B, Apolipoprotein A-I and Malondialdehyde in Type 2 Diabetic Patients. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4277626/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2019].
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