If you cook, you’ve probably used ginger in one form or another. It’s a popular spice in Asian foods, as well as in things like ginger bread, ginger snaps, ginger ale and pumpkin pie; but did you know you can also use it for pain relief, hair care and more?
Ginger is one of the most versatile spices around and has many health benefits, in addition to its uses in cooking.
It is a good source of potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine;) as well as antioxidants and amino acids; and has been used as a medication in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries.
Motion sickness actually responds better to ginger than to prescription medications in some studies, and it is useful in “morning sickness” and post-surgical nausea and vomiting as well. It is also used to treat inflammation related to arthritis and ulcerative colitis, and in one study it was found to be as effective as ibuprofen in reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
There are also indications that it reduces blood clotting (it should not be taken with blood-thinning medications without the supervision of a doctor,) and appears to help reduce cholesterol levels, which may make it a helpful treatment in heart conditions of various types. Finally, laboratory studies have found that ginger may have anticancer activity.
Ginger has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral properties as well, and is a traditional treatment for malaria. It’s specifically active against many microorganisms that cause food poisoning, and before refrigeration it was used in meat dishes to disguise the flavor of meat that had “gone off” and prevent the digestive upsets it can cause. Pickled ginger and wasabi are traditional accompaniments to sushi in Japan. Although the common knowledge of the original purpose for this has been lost over the centuries, it was to prevent the food poisoning that can be caused by eating raw fish.
Ginger is also used in herbal hair rinses, and is claimed to be useful as a treatment for hair loss when applied to the scalp and taken internally. The theory is that the stimulating properties of ginger increase blood flow to the scalp, increasing available nutrients and stimulating the follicles.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and nothing I say in this post is intended as medical advice. If you find the idea of using herbs in your treatment plan intriguing, be sure to do the research and discuss any changes or additions with your healthcare provider to ensure your safety. (Please also see the section at the end containing the contraindications before trying ginger in any amount larger than would be found in a recipe.)
Forms that can be used:
Fresh ginger root: Fresh ginger root can be used to make candied or pickled ginger; added to recipes; used to make tea, ginger ale, or ginger beer; juiced, either alone or in blends; or used to make homemade tinctures or oils
Dried, powdered ginger: Dried, powdered ginger can be used to make capsules, added to recipes; and added to tea blends
Ginger essential oil: The essential oil is for external use only, and can be used in blended oils or homemade creams and lotions for pain relief, hair and skin care, or massage; added to homemade cleaning products; or used in an Aromatherapy Room Diffuser.
Ginger extracts and supplements: Ginger can also be purchased in pill or capsule form, as standardized extracts or the whole herb as in this example: Now Foods Ginger 5% Standard Extract, 250mg, Veg-capsules, 90-CountGinger Herbal Supplements)
Symptoms and illnesses that can be helped using ginger
Cancer: A study at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center showed that ovarian cancer cells were destroyed by the application of ginger powder; another study at the University of Minnesota showed that ginger may slow the growth of colorectal cancer cells, and a third study showed that ginger oil can prevent skin cancer in mice. (These studies are all in vitro or in vivo studies, and this section is included only for informational purposes. They are preliminary, and do not necessarily indicate that using the herb will prevent or cure cancer.)
Cardiac problems: several studies have shown that ginger can reduce clotting and help control cholesterol, as well as relaxing arterial walls and allowing the blood to flow more freely. All of these effects can be helpful in heart problems such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Coughs, colds, flu and fever: ginger has traditionally been used to treat coughs, colds, flu and fever. Its antitussive (anti-cough) action approaches that of codeine, and it has expectorant and antihistamine actions as well. It helps to thin bronchial mucus, which allow it to be moved up and out of the lungs, and is helpful in the treatment of upper respiratory infections. Ginger also encourages sweating and has an anti-inflammatory effect, which helps to reduce fevers.
Dry mouth: ginger increases saliva production, which can help reduce dry mouth caused by various prescription medications.
Fibromyalgia and ME: ginger is an accepted treatment for fibromyalgia in Ayurvedic Medicine, and is helpful for many of the symptoms and co-occurring conditions associated with it. Since there are many similarities between fibro and ME (also known as chronic fatigue syndrome,) it is likely to be helpful with that as well. In addition, ginger’s antiviral properties may be helpful in cases where infection with the retrovirus XMRV is associated with the ME.
Headache (including migraine): It has been used for treating headaches, both internally and as a paste of powdered ginger and water applied to the temples. Ginger tea can also reduce the pain and nausea associated with migraines (if taken early enough in the process, it can actually stop a migraine for some people.) I’ve used ginger tea to ease the nausea and vomiting associated with migraines, and my husband has taken it when he felt a migraine starting and it stopped it in its tracks.
Nausea, vomiting and other digestive troubles: As mentioned earlier, ginger has performed well in studies of motion sickness and morning sickness. It is a traditional treatment for both, and is being studied for use with post-surgical nausea and vomiting as well. Ginger has an affinity for the digestive system, and is useful for many other digestive issues as well, especially those with an inflammatory component such as Chron’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (and perhaps IBS, although I haven’t found any studies focusing on that specific illness.) I recommend either tea, candied ginger, or pickled ginger for nausea; as these forms appear to work the best, although ginger pills or capsules are also effective (they just take longer to have an effect.) With vomiting, the tea is easier to tolerate and hold down.
Pain and inflammation: Ginger is effective for the muscle pain associated with fibromyalgia and ME, sprains, strains, and simple overuse; as well as for the pain and inflammation associated with the various forms of arthritis. There are several studies available on its effectiveness at reducing inflammation and several that investigated its analgesic properties, and there are more in progress and planned. There is also a great deal of anecdotal evidence (personal experience) available on its effectiveness.
Reproductive system issues: Folklore recommends ginger for amenorhhea (irregular periods,) and in South America it’s sold in the marketplace as “hot ginger to warm up cold women.” It is also suggested for erectile problems and infertility. Recent studies in Egypt, Africa, and Iran indicate that ginger actually normalizes testosterone levels in rats (there haven’t been any human trials as yet,) and a Saudi Arabian study found that it increased sperm production and motility. I don’t know if it will help with any of these issues, but it certainly couldn’t hurt anything to try it.
Reynaud’s Syndrome and Intermittent Claudication: Reynaud’s Syndrome is a circulatory problem in which the peripheral arteries are narrowed, limiting blood flow to the feet and hands. Intermittent claudication is the main symptom of peripheral artery disease, and results in pain in the legs due to poor oxygenation of the leg muscles caused by reduced blood flow (it’s the same process that causes angina pain.) Ginger relaxes these arteries; allowing more blood, and thus more oxygen and nutrients, to reach the muscles.
Contraindications (reasons NOT to use it):
- As with any other food or medication, allergic reactions are possible and should be watched for (just because you’ve been using something for months or years does NOT mean that you can’t develop an allergy.) If a rash develops, check with your doctor.
- Ginger is known to interact with Warfarin and other blood-thinning medications, and should never be taken with them.
- Do not take ginger with Digitalis, since it can increase the effects of the drug.
- Taking ginger with diabetes medications increases the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar.)
- Anyone with gallstones should avoid ginger, since it increases bile production, and can cause more stones to form.
- Although it takes very large amounts (approximately 2 grams of ginger per kilogram of body weight, depending on tolerance) it IS possible to overdose on ginger, resulting in nervous-system over-stimulation (known as the “ginger jitters.”)
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