This aromatic root has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic, Chinese and Tibb-Unani (traditional Islamic) medicine to treat health problems including digestive ailments, arthritis, infectious diseases, fever, high blood pressure, pain and muscle aches. Today, researchers are zeroing in on the biochemical effects of ginger in the body, which may not only help explain its benefits but also begin to lay the groundwork for new and less toxic treatments for a host of illnesses.
Two key compounds in the spice are gingerols, which gives fresh ginger its pungency, and shogaols, which gives dried ginger its zip. Some of the most convincing findings on ginger’s health benefits in humans come from studies of morning sickness. A study of 70 women in the first trimester of pregnancy led by Teraporn Vutyavanich of Chiang Mai University in Thailand reported that women who received one gram of ginger per day had significantly less nausea and vomiting from morning sickness than a control group given a placebo.
Ali Badreldin of the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, along with colleagues in the UK and the United Arab Emirates, recently examined 91 studies on ginger conducted around the world over the last decade. In a 2008 review article in Food and Chemical Toxicology, the researchers highlight animal and test-tube studies that have found ginger can lower both blood sugar and cholesterol, contains pain-killing compounds that mimic nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with fewer side effects, eases inflammation from arthritis and protects against ulcers.
Badreldin and his colleagues also note the results of studies in rodents that found that ginger has powerful antioxidant properties that protect against the toxic effects of radiation treatment and skin diseases caused by ultraviolet B radiation.
These studies lay the groundwork for possible ginger-based treatments for diabetes, arthritis and other inflammatory illness, protection against radiation sickness from cancer treatment and even cancer itself.
Even if ginger proves effective, these treatments are likely years away. What is known is that ginger has been used medicinally for centuries, underscoring its safety. Ginger is considered to be a safe herbal medicine with only few and insignificant adverse side effects, Badreldin notes. But he and his colleagues are also quick to say that large, rigorous clinical studies are needed to pinpoint ginger’s efficacy in various illnesses and uncover any side effects from long-term use.
If you want to try ginger, how much should you take? The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that no specific studies of doses have been conducted, but clinical studies on nausea generally use between 250 milligrams and 1 gram of powdered ginger root in a capsule, taken one to four times a day.
Try incorporating ginger into your diet with any of the following recipes: