Ginger has enjoyed a reputation for being very healthy, and is said to help with motion sickness, stomach ulcers, hyperglycemia, lower cholesterol, act as an anti-inflammatory, prevent cancer and stimulate the immune system; but are these all true? This article will review the scientific evidence for the claims made for ginger and explain the health benefits of ginger.
Ginger is a herb, and its roots have long been consumed in Asian countries for its flavour and its potential healing properties. The active ingredient of ginger is a polyphenol called gingerol, which is unique to ginger but is chemically similar to piperine (gives pepper its flavour) and capsaicin (gives chillis their spicy flavour). Cooking gingerols converts them into a compound called zingerones, which are spicy sweet but less potent than gingerols. Drying or dehydrating ginger converts gingerols to shogaols, which are twice as potent as gingerols.
Evidence for claims
One of the most common claims for ginger is its ability to cure the feeling of sickness, from pregnancy associated nausea to motion sickness. This claim is well founded, and the gingerols have been shown to balance the stomachs pH and mildly sedate and relax the stomach muscles. This has been confirmed by a number of double blind placebo studies which have investigated gingers ability to prevent the feeling of sickness. Ginger has even been shown to be more effective than some motion sickness drugs such as dimenhydrinate, which is a popular over the counter drug.
There have been numerous studies on animals to show that ginger could reduce stomach ulcers by as much as 57%. The dosages used in these trials showed that 100mg/kg of body weight was most effective, meaning that a 70kg human would need to consume 7g of gingerols a day to see the same affect. In theory, you would only need to consume 3.5g of shogaols, but this is not confirmed. There have been no conclusive human studies to support these findings; there are only a large number of animal studies supporting this claim.
There have not been many studies on ginger’s effects on hyperglycemia, but preliminary studies on both humans and animals have demonstrated promising results. One such animal study found that 500mg/kg body weight was able to lower blood glucose levels by as much as 45% – a clear benefit to hyperglycemia. The mechanism by which this happens is by inhibiting the action of endogenous prostaglandins, but this has not been confirmed, and the extent of its gingers benefits are yet to be replicated in human studies.
There is no clinical evidence that ginger can lower circulating cholesterol levels. However, there are some small studies which show that ginger can protect the cardiovascular system, and this evidence may have been confused to mean that it can lower cholesterol. Likely effective dosages are thought to be 5g/day for the average human, and the mechanism is thought to involve reducing platelet aggregation which reduces blood clotting related diseases. This research is still in early stages though, and although is promising, it is not conclusive.
The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger have been well researched, and the shogaols found in dried ginger are found to be almost as effective as curcumin (active ingredient in turmeric) as an anti-inflammatory. Gingerols act in a similar way in the body to curcumin (which is found in turmeric) in reducing inflammation, and do so by inhibiting the pro-inflammatory enzyme CO-X 2. This is supported with human studies and lab tests.
Ginger has demonstrated in a vast number of studies potent cancer preventing and cancer treatment properties. As with many anti-cancer studies, often only animal or laboratory studies are used, and so human evidence is extremely limited. However, current studies have shown that ginger can protect against cancer cells developing, and induce apoptosis (cell death) in established cancer cells. To further support these claims, the mechanism by which gingerols act against cancer has been identified; gingerols interact with our genes, up regulating our anti-cancer genes in normal cells, and increasing the ‘cell destruct’ gene in cancer cells. This has been shown in animal studies and lab studies with human cells, and so the results are likely to translate to humans, but the extent of the effect, and dosage required is unknown.
How to increase ginger consumption
Unless you like the flavour, it is going to be very difficult to get ginger into your diet. Even if you do like the flavour, it is hard to find enough recipes to ensure you are getting significant amount of ginger in your diet. This means that if you want to increase ginger in your diet, the easiest way is to take a good quality ginger supplement. This makes getting ginger into your diet easy, and lets you enjoy a more diverse diet.
The active component of ginger, gingerols, have demonstrated remarkable health benefits in a number of studies. The most well supported health claim for ginger is its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which are almost as potent as curcumin. Other health claims for ginger (aside from lowering cholesterol) have been demonstrated in a number of studies, and are well founded, but studies with a larger human population base would solidify their findings.