It’s quite likely that you’ve experienced how soothing ginger-infused drinks can be when you’re feeling unwell. Ayurveda has actually described ginger as ‘an entire medicine chest in itself’!
When you look at all the amazing health benefits of ginger, you can see why.
Ginger and Immunity
This ‘wonder spice’ has been treating stuffy noses, itchy throats and general flu symptoms for, literally, generations.
Most of the health benefits of ginger – as well as its unique fragrance and flavour – come from its natural oils and, most importantly, a compound called gingerol.
Gingerol and a few other active compounds found in ginger – especially one called shogaol – relax the muscles of our airways, which is what relieves the symptoms of a cold. This can also help with asthma.1-3
Moreover, ginger has small quantities of some compounds that have been proven effective against the flu virus and the RSV virus, which is a common cause of respiratory infections.4, 5
Gingerol is also believed to be able to make us sweat, which releases a remarkable germ-fighting compound called dermicidin that protects us against invading bacteria like E.coli and Staphylococcus aureus (a knotty name for a type of bacteria that causes common skin infections), to name only a few.6
Ginger and Digestive Health
Ginger is also known for being able to treat many forms of nausea. Even if you’re experiencing nausea as a side effect of any medication, ginger makes for a great natural alternative to anti-vomiting medicines.7
History shows ginger being used through several ages as a means of alleviating the symptoms of gastrointestinal distress (tummy problems). This also includes chronic indigestion, which is a recurrent pain and discomfort you feel in the stomach, when it takes too long to empty food. Ginger speeds up this process, getting rid of the discomfort.8, 9
Ginger and Muscles
While it doesn’t have an immediate effect, ginger does seem to help with the muscle pain you experience after exercising in the long term.10, 11
Menstrual cramps are, in essence, a result of muscle contractions. In one study, ginger managed to reduce menstrual pain as effectively as two drugs called mefenamic acid and ibuprofen, when it was given to women on the first 3 days of their menstrual period.12
Ginger and Lifestyle Diseases
Inflammation (when our body’s immune system is always ‘on’, albeit at a low level), is an underlying cause of many of the lifestyle diseases we see today, ranging from allergies to even cancer. Gingerol is a powerful antioxidant which makes it equipped to fight the inflammation in our body that’s caused by free-radical damage. Here are a few examples of how this makes a difference:
– Arthritis: it’s the inflammation of the joins that causes its friction and the consequential pain, in who have arthritic joints. Regularly spicing up your meals with fresh ginger may help.13
– Alzheimer’s: a constant low-grade inflammation can speed up the ageing process, which can be responsible for changes that occur in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. Ginger can enhance brain function and protect against these unwanted changes, as well as age-related decline.
Ginger may also be effective against obesity, which is another cause of lifestyle diseases. This isn’t certain, because the evidence is currently limited. A study did, however, show just a single dose of ginger help burn fat.14
3] Heart Disease and Cancer:
Some animal and human studies show that regularly consuming ginger reduces bad cholesterol (LDL), as well as the free fatty acids in our bloodstream. Otherwise, both of these deposit into blood vessels and other organs, causing problems like heart disease.15
Speaking of heart disease, one 12-week long study showed that ginger helped reduce certain risk factors of heart disease in diabetic patients. 2 grams of ginger powder also lowered ‘fasting blood sugar’ (the level of our blood sugar before eating) by 12%, and also significantly improved ‘HbA1c’ (which is a long-term indicator of blood sugar levels).
What this basically means: ginger is categorically effective in managing the blood sugar of diabetic people.16
Although limited, there is some evidence that ginger may be effective against colon and pancreatic cancers. In any case, it’s becoming a popular study subject as an add-on when it comes to treating several types of cancer.17
Ginger and Our Diet
Here are a few tips for getting the most out of ginger on a regular basis!
– While legumes like lentils, peas, chickpeas, beans and soybeans are a great source of protein, they can sometimes cause digestive discomfort. Adding ginger to the dish doesn’t just enhance the flavour, but also helps with these tummy issues.
– If you’re experiencing muscle-pain related issues, try having dry ginger because that has higher quantities of shogaols, which is the most active compound in relaxing muscles. This also applies to conditions like asthma, since they’re affected by our airway’s muscles.3, 18
– When it comes to studying whether cooking hampers the antioxidant properties of ginger, the results are ambiguous. Until we know more, it’s best to include it in our diet in both forms, fresh and cooked.19 Tip: A great (palatable) way to have it fresh? Include it in vegetable juices!
– For osteoarthritis patients: one study showed that applying ginger to the skin with mastic, cinnamon and sesame oil reduces pain and stiffness.20
Seeing how it protects us from day-to-day issues and serious diseases alike, if you aren’t using the ginger in your kitchen to its fullest potential, it’s probably time to start!
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18. Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, Second Edition. CRC Press, 2011.
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20. Zahmatkash M, Vafaeenasab MR. Pak J Biol Sci 2011, 14(13): 715-719.