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Ginger & its many health benefits

Ginger has many health-promoting benefits.  It is also easy to grow yourself – get a fresh ginger rhizome from your organic farmer’s market and break of the small knobs.  Plant these into a very large pot, or well draining garden bed, about 10cm below the surface.  Ginger likes full sun and warm-hot weather.  Water well but don’t drown it.  Be patient as it can take 8 – 10 weeks before shoots come through.  Over the next six months or so your ginger will grow quickly.  It’s ready to harvest when the leaves begin to droop or dry.  Scratch below the soil surface to check on rhizomes.  When ready, pull them out (retain a few for replanting), wash and dry well.  It keeps well frozen – either grated or pureed and frozen in ice-cube trays. 

Here’s a link for those who live in cooler climates with tips on how to grow your ginger indoors:

The following article is courtesy of Deanna Minich

Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) is a knobby root native to Southeast Asia, and it has a spicy, earthy taste. It’s well-known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities. Traditionally, it has been used for therapeutic applications, such as for the relief of cough, pain, and nausea, in Ayurvedic, Indian, and Chinese medicine.

The major phytochemicals in ginger are gingerols (e.g., 6-gingerol, 8-gingerol, 10-gingerol, and 12-gingerol). Upon heat treatment or after long-term storage, these gingerols can be converted into shogaols, which can be further converted into paradols after hydrogenation. Other phytochemicals in ginger include quercetin, gingerenone-A, and zingerone. Besides its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, ginger is also shown to possess antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-hyperlipidemic, analgesic, and anti-allergic effects.

Health Benefits of Ginger

Cardiometabolic Health. A 2019 meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials involving overweight and obese individuals showed that ginger had significant effects on several biomarkers related to cardiometabolic health. Ginger decreased body weight, waist-to-hip ratio, fasting glucose, and HOMA-IR, and it increased HDL cholesterol levels. However, ginger did not alter some measures including BMI, insulin, and triglycerides. A more recent umbrella review from 2022 reported that ginger may support healthy blood sugar levels by reducing insulin resistance.

Ginger may support liver health in both adults and children. One study found that, compared to placebo, adults with fatty liver taking 500 mg of ginger three times per day for 12 weeks significantly reduced serum levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, fasting blood glucose, HOMA-IR, hs-CRP, alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and fetuin-A – liver protein that may be associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). However, there were no differences in several other measures, including aspartate aminotransferase (AST), gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), and fatty liver index. The authors concluded that ginger could complement other therapies for NAFLD.

Additionally, a 2023 randomized clinical trial investigated the effects of ginger and an anti-inflammatory diet on NAFLD in children, an increasingly common problem associated with childhood obesity. In the trial, children between the ages of 8 and 11 years were separated into four groups: ginger only (1000 mg), anti-inflammatory diet only, ginger (1000 mg) plus an anti-inflammatory diet, and a control. Results showed that ginger significantly decreased liver steatosis, and it showed increased effectiveness when combined with an anti-inflammatory diet. Significant reductions in fasting blood sugar, liver, enzymes, inflammatory markers, and dyslipidemia were also observed in the ginger plus anti-inflammatory diet group.

A 2023 randomized controlled trial involving nondiabetic adults found that ginger was also effective under acute conditions. In this study, 100 mL of aqueous ginger extract consumed after an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) improved the glycemic response compared to control. Authors speculate that the effect may be due to the ability of bioactive compounds in ginger to increase GLUT4 expression and consequently improve glucose uptake.

Gastrointestinal Health. Ginger has protective effects against cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, including colon, oral, gastric, liver, and pancreatic cancers, in addition to others, such as breast and prostate cancers. Bioactive compounds in ginger have an array of targets, including antioxidant enzymes, detoxification enzymes, transcription factors, inflammatory mediators, and adhesion molecules. One 2023 in vitro study suggests that ginger and Ganoderma lucidum, a type of medicinal mushroom, may have synergistic effects against colorectal cancer. However, although ginger has shown promising effects using in vitro studies, further research is needed to understand its effects in humans. As mentioned below, ginger can reduce vomiting associated with chemotherapy.

Anti-inflammatory spices like ginger may support those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) by targeting pro-inflammatory cytokines and upregulating antioxidant enzymes. In alignment with principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, “hot” and “cold” herbs may have synergistic effects on alleviating inflammation and restoring gut barrier function, as evidenced by a study on colitis in mice, which included ginger in its treatment. Another recent animal study found that ginger polysaccharides may alleviate symptoms of ulcerative colitis by modulating the gut microbiome, in addition to addressing intestinal inflammation and the intestinal barrier. A 2019 randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial found that 2000 mg of ginger powder per day for 12 weeks significantly improved ulcerative colitis disease activity and quality of life in those with reporting mild to moderate symptoms, compared to placebo.

Finally, a 2023 study concluded that smaller doses of ginger – 540 mg/day for four weeks – may reduce symptoms of functional dyspepsia, including fullness after meals, early satiety, nausea, and heartburn, possibly due to the effects of ginger on gastric emptying.

Nausea. Ginger is believed to have antiemetic effects by inhibiting 5-Hydroxytryptamine type 3 (5-HT3) receptors, which are the main targets for controlling chemotherapy-induced vomiting and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These receptors are located in the peripheral and central nervous systems, and they are involved in the regulation of gut motility and peristalsis.

Additionally, ginger may reduce nausea and vomiting after surgery. A 2021 meta-analysis found that after surgery, ginger can reduce nausea severity and vomiting incidence compared to placebo. However, ginger may have a delayed effect as it was more effective 6 hours post-operation.

Though more research is needed, recent evidence from a 2020 study reports that treatment with 160 mg ginger (containing 8 mg gingerols) before travel could reduce motion sickness. Finally, ginger may relieve nausea during pregnancy compared to placebo, and it may be more effective in reducing nausea during pregnancy compared to the use of vitamin B6, though the difference was not significant according to a 2022 meta-analysis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis. Bioactive compounds in ginger may help reduce symptoms and decrease disease activity of rheumatoid arthritis. A 2019 randomized controlled trial found that 1500 mg ginger powder consumed for 12 weeks decreased disease activity in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis compared to placebo. Cedrol is a terpene found in ginger that may inhibit pain and chronic inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, a more recent study found that 8-shogaol in ginger powder inhibited inflammation caused by fibroblast-like synoviocytes, which are involved in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis and associated with disease progression.

How to Use Ginger

Ginger can be purchased as both a fresh root and ground spice. Most recipes measure the fresh root in terms of inches, and though the papery, brown skin can be consumed, it can be peeled for a better texture. One of the easiest ways to peel ginger is with a spoon, which removes only the outermost layer and may be safer than using a peeler on small roots. Dry, ground ginger can be swapped for fresh, though the dry form tends to be more potent and spicier.

Ginger pairs well with other pungent herbs and spices like garlic and black pepper, as well as herbs with a refreshing aroma like lemongrass and kefir lime. This spice is versatile and pairs well with sweet or savory dishes.

Here are some suggestions for incorporating ginger into your diet:

  • Make ginger tea to ease stomach aches, gas, nausea, and congestion
  • Incorporate ginger powder into turmeric milk
  • Add peeled, fresh ginger to smoothies or juice it with fruits and vegetables
  • Use fresh ginger in stir fries, curries, and marinades
  • Make a spicy salad dressing or carrot soup with fresh ginger
  • Include powdered ginger in baked goods like banana bread and blueberry muffins
  • Simmer fresh ginger in congee, a savory rice porridge
  • Add pickled ginger to fresh sushi
  • Make fermented ginger beer
  • Use fresh ginger in a facial steam for coughs and congestion

Ginger has a wide variety of uses, but its antioxidant activity can be affected by cooking method. While cooking sometimes decreases the antioxidant activity of ginger, methods like stir frying, blanching, and stewing may retain or even increase antioxidant activity. Dried ginger may have increased antioxidant activity.

Fresh ginger should be firm to the touch and can be stored at room temperature before peeling. After cutting or peeling, store ginger in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Discard fresh ginger that is wrinkled, feels soft, or has a blue-grey discoloration. Be sure to check the cut ends of fresh ginger for any discoloration, which could be mold. Fresh ginger becomes less pungent over time, and it may be best to use it within 3 weeks of purchase.

To maintain the highest quality ground ginger, it may be best to use it within 6 months. If ground ginger becomes clumped or caked, it should be replaced as moisture has likely been introduced to the product and can contribute to harmful mycotoxins. Always portion ground ginger to a separate container before using it with steaming dishes to minimize exposure to moisture. Preferably, choose glass jars rather than plastic as these are a non-toxic alternative and more airtight compared to plastic. Store the spice in a cool and dark place.

Safety Concerns and Final Words

Consuming more than 6 g of ginger can cause digestive issues like reflux, heartburn, and diarrhea, and high doses of ginger may interact with warfarin. Ginger may contain high levels of oxalates, with most of the total oxalates being in soluble form. However, there appears to be limited and even conflicting evidence regarding the oxalate content of ginger. Those who are susceptible to kidney stone formation may wish to avoid concentrated forms of ginger as found in supplements.

If you have questions about which herbs, spices, or foods can best support your health, talk to your doctor, nutritionist, dietician, or another healthcare team member for personal options based on your circumstances. Note that spices can affect the metabolism of medications, so consult your pharmacist if taking any prescription drugs.