What Is It?
Revered around the world for its pungent taste, ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a natural spice that is also widely prized for its medicinal properties. Since ancient times, traditional healers in a diverse array of cultures have used this plant primarily to help settle upset stomachs. Chinese herbalists have relied on ginger as a medicine and flavoring for more than 2,500 years. The early Greeks mixed it into breads (hence the first gingerbread), and North American colonists sipped nausea-quelling ginger beer, the precursor of modern ginger ale. Today, many cultures continue to rely on ginger for controlling nausea and also for reducing inflammation.
A botanical relative of marjoram and turmeric, the ginger plant is indigenous to southeast Asia and is now also extensively cultivated in Jamaica and other tropical areas. It’s the plant’s aromatic rhizome (or underground stem) that’s used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Ginger’s effectiveness as a digestive aid is due largely to its active ingredients: gingerols and shogaols. These substances help to neutralize stomach acids, enhance the secretion of digestive juices (stimulating the appetite), and tone the muscles of the digestive tract. Research confirms the presence of anti-inflammatory properties in ginger as well.
Specifically, ginger may help to:
Relieve nausea. Standard anti-nausea medications often work through the central nervous system, causing drowsiness. Ginger isn’t likely to cause this reaction, however, because it acts directly on the digestive tract. In studies of women undergoing major gynecological or exploratory (laparoscopic) surgery, those who took 1 gram of ginger before the procedure experienced significantly less postoperative reaction to anesthesia and surgery–namely, nausea and vomiting–than did those who were given a placebo. Ginger also may be useful in easing the nausea that frequently follows chemotherapy treatments.
Combat motion sickness. In a widely cited study of Danish naval cadets, those given 1 gram of powdered ginger daily had much fewer incidents of cold sweats and vomiting (classic symptoms of seasickness) than did those given a placebo. A number of other studies have demonstrated similar findings concerning ginger’s calming effect on motion sickness.
Reduce dizziness. Ginger’s anti-nausea action also helps dispel dizziness, particularly when the dizziness is aggravated by motion sickness. Older people, who can be unsteady on their feet, may particularly benefit from ginger’s steadying influence.
Limit flatulence. Because ginger soothes the digestive tract, it can be useful in relieving flatulence. Supplements or freshly grated ginger root mixed with diluted lime juice work well for this purpose.
Control chronic pain. Ginger helps indirectly to relieve chronic pain by reducing inflammation and, particularly when taken in standardized extract form, by lowering the body’s level of natural pain-causing compounds called prostaglandins. Localized chronic pain may also respond well to ginger oil massages.
Ease the pain of muscle aches and rheumatoid arthritis. Ginger oil massaged into sore or aching muscles offers a measure of relief from muscle strain, in part because of the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties. When taken in standardized extract form, ginger may additionally lower the level of the body’s natural pain-causing compounds called prostaglandins. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may also respond to treatment with ginger, either in massage oil or standardized extract form. In a study of seven women with rheumatoid arthritis, reduced joint swelling and pain were reported following a daily regimen of up to 1 gram of powdered ginger or 5 to 50 grams of fresh ginger.
Minimize symptoms of the common cold, allergies, and other respiratory conditions. Ginger is a natural antihistamine and decongestant. It seems to provide a measure of relief from cold and allergy symptoms by dilating constricted bronchial tubes. It’s often included in herbal decongestant blends that are designed for sinusitis and other respiratory complaints.
Note: Ginger has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Ginger.
–Select ginger supplements standardized to contain the “pungent compounds,” namely, gingerols and shogaols. These are the plant’s critical active ingredients.
Ginger can be used in the following forms and dosages for the majority of conditions mentioned:
–Standardized extract in pill form: Take 100 to 200 mg every four hours or up to three times a day.
–Fresh powdered ginger: Take 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon every four hours or up to three times a day.
–Fresh ginger root: Take a 1/4- to 1/2-inch (peeled) slice every four hours or up to three times a day.
–Ginger tea: Drink several cups a day. Tea is available in prepackaged bags or can be prepared by steeping 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger root in 8 ounces of very hot water for five to ten minutes. A cup of tea, when steeped for this amount of time, can contain about 250 mg of ginger.
–Ginger ale: Drink several cups a day; an 8-ounce glass contains approximately 1 gram of ginger. Be sure to select products made with real ginger.
–Crystallized ginger: Enjoy two pieces of crystallized ginger a day; about 500 mg of ginger is present in a 1-inch-square, 1/4-inch-thick piece of ginger prepared this way.
For motion sickness: Take l00 mg two hours before departing and then every four hours afterward as needed.
For aching muscles: Add a few drops of ginger oil to 1 tablespoon of a neutral oil (such as almond oil), blend well, then rub the mixture into the painful area.
For rheumatoid arthritis: Take 100 mg three times a day or drink up to four cups of ginger tea daily.
For chronic pain: Either take 100 mg three times daily or blend a few drops of ginger, lavender, and birch oils with 1 tablespoon of a neutral oil (such as almond oil), and gently massage the mixture into the affected areas.
For cold and allergy relief: Drink up to four cups of ginger tea daily as needed. Folk practitioners also recommend chewing fresh ginger, drinking real ginger ale, or squeezing juice from a fresh ginger root and mixing it with a spoonful of honey.
Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart, which has therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.
Guidelines for Use
Take ginger capsules with a glass of water or other fluid.
To prevent postoperative nausea, start taking ginger the day after surgery. Only do so under a doctor’s guidance, however.
If you are undergoing chemotherapy, take ginger with food to reduce the chance of stomach irritation.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with ginger.
Possible Side Effects
Ginger, in all available forms, is very safe to take for a wide variety of ailments.
Some people report heartburn after taking ginger.
Don’t treat pregnancy-related nausea with ginger for longer than the first two months of pregnancy. Similarly, don’t take more than 250 mg four times a day during pregnancy without consulting your obstetrician.
Avoid medicinal amounts of ginger if you have gallstones unless your doctor advises you otherwise; the herb increases bile flow.
Because ginger can make blood platelets less sticky–and thus increase the risk for bleeding–it’s probably a good precautionary measure to stop taking ginger three to four days before any scheduled surgery. Start up again right after surgery.
Allergies Drink up to 4 cups a day of ginger tea.
Cancer 100-300 mg every 4 hours as needed for nausea
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome 100-300 mg 3 times a day (depending on standardization)
Chronic Pain 100-300 mg standardized extract or 300 mg freeze-dried herb or 500 mg of whole-root herb 3 times a day. Can also use ginger oil as part of a massage blend with essential oils of lavender and birch combined with 1 tbsp. neutral oil, such as almond oil; gently rub oil mixture into the affected area.
Muscle Aches and Pains Blend a few drops ginger oil into 1 tbsp. neutral oil, such as almond oil, and massage into the affected area.
David Edelberg, M.D.
Few healers of ancient times would have dared leave home without a piece of ginger tucked into their medicine pouch–to soothe a stomach ache, eliminate some gas, or reduce a bout of diarrhea. And somewhere along through the centuries a Chinese sailor discovered that gnawing on a piece of gingerroot could help him endure rough voyages. Modern studies have confirmed that indeed ginger can lessen motion sickness. We also now know that ginger contains chemicals with anti-inflammatory properties and has other healing qualities as well.
HOW IT HELPS CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME
It seems almost too sensible: Instead of chancing the nausea or stomach upset so common with conventional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for CTS pain, why not try ginger. This herb offers both anti-inflammatory and stomach-settling properties. And if the ginger alone isn’t strong enough to relieve your discomfort, just add an NSAID to it; the ginger may actually protect you from the NSAID’s side effects.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Fresh ginger candy is quite tasty and will even freshen your breath. Likewise, ginger tea is a pleasant afternoon pick-me-up and may help you get off all that coffee you’ve been drinking lately. Just don’t rely on these forms of ginger to heal specific ills; with candy and tea you just can’t measure how much true ginger–and active compounds–you’re getting.
Aside from the candies, teas, and bits of raw root at your local grocery store, ginger is available in myriad other forms as well. For healing purposes, though, there’s no match for the following: Capsules of powdered, dried ginger root are by far the most useful form to take. Tinctures, liquid extracts, and other supplement forms are available but aren’t as convenient as the capsule for taking throughout the day and for providing maximum anti-inflammatory benefit.
If the thought of opening one bottle after another throughout the day turns you off, why not try ginger in the form of a convenient herbal anti-inflammatory combination product. There might not be as much ginger in the product, but other inflammation-fighting compounds in the product, from turmeric to bromelain, should make up for any apparent shortfall.
Most clinical trials with ginger have used powdered dried gingerroot. While standardized products are available (0.8% essential oil or 4% volatile oils), it’s not clear what benefit they give you.
Some people are sensitive to ginger and may actually feel a little heartburn. Ironically, everyone else is taking it to relieve digestive symptoms.
Although German health officials discourage the use of ginger for the nausea of morning sickness, I can’t see how short-term use of this herbal remedy for CTS (which may flare-up during pregnancy) poses any true risk to either mother or fetus.
David Edelberg, MD