The root or rhizome of the Zingiber officinale plant is popularly known as ginger, a favorite kitchen spice with many other uses. This plant grows in places with warm climates such as South Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa. Aside from its use as a spice for various dishes, it is also popularly used to make tea, pickles, candy, and home remedies. Its fragrant aroma and its sweet, spicy flavor make it a favorite ingredient in many Asian dishes such as curry and Western food products like gingerbread. It is also believed to have many medicinal properties, which have been one of the interesting topics of research worldwide. It may be used fresh, boiled, stir-fried, pickled, or made into powder.
GINGER HEALTH BENEFITS
Ginger is an important ingredient for many foods and beverages because of its zesty flavor and aroma. However, more than these, many people believe that ginger has many health benefits.
Medicinal Use. Ginger has been used for over 2,000 years for the treatment of various symptoms and ailments, including:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Morning sickness
- Seasickness/motion sickness
- Intestinal gas
- Muscle pains
- Abdominal pain during menstrual periods (dysmenorrhea)
- Joint pains
A review of literature showed that ginger was as effective as vitamin B6 in relieving nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy. Aside from this, it has also been found to help relieve similar symptoms experienced by cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy.
Researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered that daily ginger supplementation reduces exercise-induced muscle pain by about 25 percent. Another study involving patients with rheumatism and other musculoskeletal disorders also showed that powdered ginger relieved the symptoms of patients who used it. These and other studies suggest that ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that suppress pro-inflammatory compounds called cytokines and chemokines.
A recent experimental study conducted by researchers at Columbia University suggested that ginger extracts could help relax the airways of people who are experiencing difficulty breathing due to asthma.
Other laboratory and animal studies also suggest that ginger may help lower blood sugar, reduce high cholesterol, prevent blood clotting, and protect against dementia.
Antioxidant Properties. Ginger root extracts contain polyphenol compounds, which have been found to have high antioxidant activity. It has also been shown that ginger increases pancreatic and intestinal lipases, which are enzymes that play a vital role in fat digestion.
An animal study showed that five days of treatment with ginger before exposure to radiation in mice prevented an increase in free radical damage to lipids found in cell membranes and significantly reduced the depletion of the glutathione stores, which are also important natural antioxidants.
Anti-Cancer Effects. Animal as well as human studies demonstrate the anti-cancer properties of ginger. The active components of ginger called gingerols are responsible to its ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. A recent study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research showed that ginger supplements reduce the markers of inflammation related to colon cancer, suggesting that ginger may help prevent the development of the disease. Previous animal studies have shown that ginger prevented the growth of cancer in mice injected with colon cancer cells.
Another report presented at the 97th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer (2006) suggested that ginger could help kill ovarian cancer cells by inducing cell death and autodigestion of the tumor cells.
HOW TO SELECT & STORE
To enjoy the benefits of gingerol and active proteases found in ginger, choose fresh rhizomes over dried ginger. Fresh ginger is sold in the young or mature forms, and depending on whichever one is available, choose ginger roots that are smooth, firm, and not moldy.
If you prefer to buy the dried form or ginger powder, it is advisable to buy organic ginger, which has not been irradiated. Other forms of ginger that are commercially available are candied, crystallized, and pickled ginger.
Fresh ginger must be stored in the freezer or refrigerator unpeeled, where it will keep for several weeks to months. Keep dried ginger powder in a glass container that is tightly sealed and placed in a cool, dry place. It can also be stored in the refrigerator for an extended shelf life of up to one year.
- WHFoods. Ginger. http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=72
- Borrelli F, Capasso R, Aviello G, Pittler MH, Izzo AA. Effectiveness and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Apr;105(4):849-56. 2005. PMID:15802416.
- University of Rochester Medical Center. Ginger Quells Cancer Patients’ Nausea From Chemotherapy. ScienceDaily.
- University of Georgia (2010, May 20). Daily ginger consumption eases muscle pain by 25 percent, study suggests. ScienceDaily.
- Srivastava KC, Mustafa T. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) in rheumatism and musculoskeletal disorders. Med Hypothesis 39(1992):342-8. 1992.
- American Thoracic Society. Ginger compounds may be effective in treating asthma symptoms, study suggests. ScienceDaily.
- Phan PV, Sohrabi A, Polotsky A, Hungerford DS, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. Ginger extract components suppress induction of chemokine expression in human synoviocytes. J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Feb;11(1):149-54. 2005. PMID:15750374.
- Jagetia GC, Baliga MS, Venkatesh P, Ulloor JN. Influence of ginger rhizome (Zingiber officinale Rosc) on survival, glutathione and lipid peroxidation in mice after whole-body exposure to gamma radiation. Radiat Res. 2003 Nov;160(5):584-92. 2003.
- American Association for Cancer Research (2011, October 11). Ginger root supplement reduced colon inflammation markers. ScienceDaily