Ginger: It Does More Than Calm a Sour Stomach

Ginger: It Does More Than Calm a Sour Stomach

Synonyms for ginger — verve, vim, and vigor among them — evoke the very essence of the healthful benefits of ingesting the root in its many forms, be it served raw, as a powder in your favorite recipe, or even infused in a tea. (It is easiest to buy fresh and use quickly, though it freezes well, too, and can be shaved in an instant from the root while frozen for a fast, fresh pick-me-up to almost any meal.)

Ginger, or more accurately the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale, has been known and used widely for medicinal purposes for centuries, especially in Asia. Ginger has been consistently effective at reducing the pain caused by headaches, easing chronic cold and flu-like symptoms, or even to quiet an incessant cough.

Ginger, Root of the Ancient World

For more than 4,000 years people have chewed bits of raw ginger to curb motion or seasickness, nausea from the early stages of pregnancy, or more recently, to counteract the nauseating affects of serious chemical therapies, such as chemo. But ginger has many other health benefits, too, like calming an upset stomach and relieving gas and bloating. That is because ginger is an antispasmodic — basically, it helps combat stomach cramps caused by everything from stress to overeating.

Ginger is even also considered valuable as a topical agent to help alleviate joint pain, such as the use of essential gingerol oil in a hot bath. 1 (An ancient Ayurvedic health remedy for headaches is to apply fresh crushed ginger on the forehead to alleviate headache pain.)

The woody looking knobby root, widely available in almost any supermarket or health food store, has a pungent taste that is warm and almost peppery on the tongue; still, those sensitive to spicy foods can often enjoy a hearty amount of ginger in a meal without any ill effects. It is for this reason that health care professionals are recommending ginger for a variety of health benefits, including the reduction of pain and inflammation, so it’s often considered as an alternative treatment for those suffering with osteoarthritis. (Ginger extract may take several weeks to begin to take effect or have any pain-reliving benefits.)

A Heart-Smart Pain Reliever

Recent scientific studies have also confirmed the use of the root’s compounds — chiefly gingerol (like capsaicin), zingerone and shogaol — in the improvement of heart function by strengthening the beating of the atrium, similar to the effect of using the prescription drug digitalis, which also contains natural ingredients, in that case from the perennial digitalis, or more commonly, foxglove. Past studies have also linked ginger to better blood circulation and the reduction of blood clots. 2

Other studies, many of them in fact, have shown that ginger can be a powerful pain reliever that actually lowers the body’s temperature and stimulates the immune system. 3

Take Note

Although ginger is safe to use daily, especially as derived immediately from the root in raw form, anyone interested in using ginger for medicinal purposes should consult first with his or her physician.

There are a number of reasons for this warning. First, ginger and its related extracts, especially in capsule form, can easily counteract the effectiveness of other medications you may be taking. This is especially true if you are currently taking any blood-thinning drugs, or anticoagulants (warfarin/Coumadin, clopidogrel/Plavex or even aspirin), heart medications to lower blood pressure, or diabetes medications to help regulate blood glucose.

Pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers should also first consult with a physician before incorporating ginger regularly into their diets. In very high doses, ginger has the opposite effect: It can cause heartburn, irritation of the stomach lining, upset stomach, or even intestinal bleeding.