Ginger has been revered as a culinary and medicinal spice in many traditional cultures. It is also a very powerful remedy with numerous proven health benefits – from reducing nausea and PMS symptoms to fighting inflammation and boosting testosterone. Read on to learn more about all its health benefits, dosing, and side effects.
What Is Ginger?
Where does it come from?
Ginger is a spice originated from the rhizomes of the plant Zingiber officinale. It is commonly used in many Asian, Ayurvedic, and middle eastern dishes. Ginger use dates back to 3,000 years ago in India.
In fact, ginger is one of the most commonly consumed dietary condiments in the world .
What is it used for?
As a strong antioxidant, ginger also fights microbes and reduces inflammation.
Ginger is a relative of curcumin and cardamon, as they all belong to the same plant family.
Active Components of Ginger
Over 100 active compounds have been identified in ginger, fresh or dried!
Gingerols are the major compounds in fresh ginger and less so in dry ginger.
Shogaols are produced from gingerols during the drying process and are present in higher amounts in dried ginger .
Ginger also contains zingerone, zerumbone, pungent oleoresins, some terpenoids and flavonoids .
All of these compounds are antioxidants, while some of them have anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, antimicrobial, and liver-protecting activities .
But as far as ginger root supplements go, a recent analysis of 10 supplements randomly purchased in health stores showed that their active compounds greatly vary. One supplement was high in one active component and low in another, while for the next supplement it was the opposite. Plus, ginger supplements still aren’t standardized to a specified amount of one of the active ingredients .
Health Benefits of Ginger
1) Reduces Inflammation
It seems to be the pungent components in ginger, also known as oleoresins, that have the strongest anti-inflammatory effects based on animal and cellular studies.
Like NSAIDs (aspirin and Advil), ginger blocks the inflammation- and pain-causing COX enzymes. This way, ginger reduced the production of inflammatory chemicals (called leukotrienes and prostaglandins) in cells and test tubes [5, 6, 7].
Some other ginger benefits listed below – such as reducing pain, cramps, and arthritis – are also tightly linked to this key anti-inflammatory activity.
2) Natural Painkiller
Ginger is an effective and safe natural painkiller, according to a review of 7 studies that focused on athletes. A ginger dose of roughly 2 g/day may modestly reduce muscle pain from heavy exercise if taken for at least 5 days .
Ginger worked as well as the popular painkiller diclofenac (an NSAID also known as Voltaren) in a study of 43 people. The participants took a ginger extract (340 mg) for 4 weeks. Unlike diclofenac, ginger didn’t damage the stomach lining or cause digestive discomfort .
3) Helps with Menstrual Cramps
All studies used the powdered form of ginger at 750 mg – 2,000 mg/day. It was most commonly used during the first 3 days of menstruation.
4) May Help with Osteoarthritis
Ginger improved the osteoarthritis symptoms in some studies. In one large study of 261 people with osteoarthritis, a standardized ginger extract could reduce the symptoms over 6 weeks. The extract was safe and caused only mild stomach upset .
In another study of 75 people with osteoarthritis, ginger was effective only short-term, but the benefits were not sustained. The discrepancy could also be due to the different ginger extracts used. More research is needed to determine if ginger alone can help people suffering from osteoarthritis [14, 15].
5) May Help with Allergies and Asthma
Ginger is probably better for people with Th2 dominance.
Zerumbone, an active ingredient in ginger, enhanced the Th1 and reduced the Th2 response in mice with allergic asthma. It decreased the production of various Th2 immune substances, helping rebalance the immune system and reduce allergies. Ginger-treated mice had asthmatic symptoms, mucus, and lung inflammation .
Additional animal studies validate this traditional ginger use. Ginger helped improve asthma symptoms by suppressing the Th2 immune response and airway inflammation in mice. It could even affect the activity of genes that perpetuate Th2 dominance, possibly with long-term benefits [17, 18].
Ginger relaxed the airways under asthmatic attack in a tissue study .
6) Helps with Eczema
6-Shogaol, a ginger compound, reduced eczema in mice. TNF-alpha plays a role in eczema symptoms, such as redness and skin eruptions. Interestingly, eczema is a mixed Th2/Th1 condition, and ginger managed to keep all inflammatory immune substances and pathways under control .
For example, TNF-alpha, which is typically a Th1 substance, is high in people with eczema. Eczema is an example of a Th2 condition with some Th1 characteristics. Ginger can reduce TNF-alpha levels, along with other Th2 products. So eczema is still more Th2 dominant, which helps to explain these beneficial effects of ginger on eczema overall .
7) Protects the Stomach
Ginger increased protective prostaglandins in the stomach lining in 43 osteoarthritis patients who used NSAIDs long-term. NSAIDs cause stomach damage by reducing prostaglandins in the stomach, which otherwise help maintain healthy stomach mucus. Since this is a big issue with long-term NSAIDs use, ginger could be a safe and effective alternative .
Cellular studies confirm that ginger reduces stomach damage. Antioxidants in ginger blocked the growth of stomach-ulcer-causing H. Pylori, mainly by fighting free radicals .
8) Helps with Nausea and Vomiting
Ginger is a popular natural remedy for morning sickness during early pregnancy. And according to a review of 6 studies, about 1 g/day reduces morning sickness five-fold if used for at least 4 days in a row [23, 24].
The effects of ginger on nausea are linked to the vagus nerve, the activation of which is usually beneficial. However, over-activating some serotonin receptors (5-HT3) in vagus nerve pathway to the gut causes nausea and vomiting .
Ginger reduces nausea and vomiting probably by blocking excess serotonin and vagus nerve activation in the stomach and gut, based on tissue and cellular studies. Many chemotherapy drugs cause nausea by increasing gut serotonin, which ginger may help safely counteract [26, 27].
9) Reduces Stomach Discomfort
Ginger has a long history of use for digestive disorders. It can increase gut flow to boost digestion and alleviate painful stomach spasms .
It increased stomach emptying in a study of 24 healthy people. Each person took 1,200 mg of ginger in capsule form before a meal .
Most active components in ginger enhanced digestion in animal studies. Since ginger has over 100 active components, some of them could also relax the gut in animal studies, which could help with painful stomach spasms [34, 35, 36].
Ginger probably doesn’t help with gallbladder issues. It didn’t have any effect on the gallbladder in a small study of 19 people .
10) Protects the Liver
Protects from Drugs and Heavy Metals
Ginger (500 mg/day) helped protect the liver from toxic antituberculosis drugs in a study of 60 people with tuberculosis .
It may protect from the detrimental effects of heavy metals and drugs on the liver. It protected both the liver and kidneys against cadmium toxicity in poisoned rabbits and from aluminum toxicity in rats. It also prevented liver damage and scarring from painkillers such as piroxicam in mice [40, 41, 42].
Helps with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Ginger (2 g/day) greatly improved liver health, reduced liver enzymes, inflammatory cytokines, and improved insulin resistance in 44 patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease after 12 weeks .
Ginger essential oil prevented liver disease and maintained healthy lipid levels in obese mice fed a high-fat diet. It also improved fatty liver disease and high triglycerides in rats by “turning off” fat-producing liver genes [44, 45].
11) Is an Antioxidant
Many active components in ginger and its essential oil, such as gingerol and shogaol, are potent antioxidants. They can scavenge free radicals throughout the body and neutralize them — crucial for preventing numerous chronic diseases [2, 46].
This antioxidant activity underlies the immune-balancing and tumor-fighting benefits of ginger, demonstrated in animal and cell studies .
When added to anti-tuberculosis therapy in 69 people, 3 g of ginger daily boosted antioxidants and reduced inflammation. By combating inflammation, the biggest lung-damaging factor in tuberculosis, ginger can improve the tuberculosis outcomes .
12) May Fight Cancer
Active compounds in ginger could reverse some of the hallmarks of cancer in animal and cellular studies. Clinical studies have not confirmed these effects yet .
Triggering Cancer Cell Death
Compounds from a specific steam distilled ginger extract caused cancer uterine cells to die (via apoptosis). This extract reduced the activity of cancer-causing Bcl2 genes by 90% and increased the activity of cancer-fighting genes (p53) .
Zerumbone, another ingredient in ginger, triggered pancreatic cancer cell death by acting on the same cancer-fighting pathway (p53). It could also enhance the effects of radiation, making colorectal cancer cells more sensitive to it [51, 52].
Blocking Cancer Cell Growth
It also stopped skin, stomach, pancreatic, ovarian, and colon cancer cells from making new blood vessels, which slowed down their growth and spreading. Zerumbone from ginger was mostly responsible for these effects, as it could block an important cancer pathway (NF-κB) in these cell studies [56, 57, 58, 59, 60].
13) Protects DNA
Ginger protected sperm DNA against oxidative damage in a study of 100 infertile men. All men took 500 mg of ginger powder daily for 3 months, after which their sperm DNA quality greatly increased .
14) Protects the Heart
Ginger can reduce an important inflammation marker (CRP), increase HDL and reduce triglycerides according to a review of 9 clinical studies (SR). Taken together, this means that ginger may protect the heart and prevent heart disease .
15) Improves Blood Sugar Levels
16) May Prevent Weight Gain
17) Fights Microbes
Ginger could kill viruses, bacteria, and yeast in numerous cellular studies. Clinical studies would need to confirm the safety and effectiveness of ginger for various types of infections. Ginger did enhance the effects of anti-tuberculosis drugs in humans, but no clinical studies have explored it yet as a stand-alone remedy.
Fights the Flu
- Staphylococcus aureus, a common cause of skin infections
- Staphylococcus pneumoniae, which can cause serious lung infections
- Haemophilus influenzae, the common cold
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which causes hard-to-treat hospital infections
- Salmonella, a cause of food poisoning
- Escherichia coli, a common cause of UTIs
Kills Yeast and Fungus
In cells, ginger could kill 13 types of fungus that cause human diseases .
18) BoostsTestosterone in Men
More than 20 years ago, scientists discovered the link between ginger and testosterone for the first time. Ever since the studies have been scattered in the scientific literature. According to a recent review, ginger is able to boost testosterone levels in men, especially in those who are under oxidative stress .
In one open-label study of 75 infertile men, 3-month ginger supplementation increased testosterone by 17%. It also increased testosterone-boosting hormones, sperm count and sperm motility. Some parameters were up by 50% .
Ginger affects several pathways that in the end lead to increased testosterone, such as the following :
- Boosting testosterone production (by increasing LH in the brain and cholesterol in the testes)
- Combating oxidative stress in the testes
- Boosting antioxidant enzymes
- Increasing blood flow in the testes and their weight
- Preserving testosterone receptors
And although ginger generally considered safe, these testosterone-boosting effects have not yet been confirmed in large clinical studies.
19) May Boost Cognition
Ginger extract enhanced cognition and working memory in a study of 60 middle-aged women (DB-RCT). All women took 400-800 mg of the extract for 2 months. Ginger’s antioxidant action may be the key to its nootropic effects .
Things to Know About Using Ginger
Risks and Side Effects
Ginger seems to have little or no side-effects. However, have in mind the following:
- Some people are sensitive to ginger.
- Ginger may aggravate heartburn.
- Ginger may reduce blood clotting, so consult your doctor if you are taking blood thinning medications .
- The effects of long-term supplementation are unknown.
- Ginger may reduce the activity of liver enzymes that break down nutrients and drugs. Consult your doctor about any drugs you are taking .
Use and Dosage
Ginger dosage varies between 400 mg – 2 g day, depending on the intended use and formulation:
- Ginger dry extracts are stronger than ginger powder or fresh ginger. The typical dose rarely exceeds 1g/day. For boosting cognition, 400 – 800 mg/day was used in clinical studies
- Capsules with dried ginger usually contain about 1 g of ginger, a dose that worked well as a digestive aid in studies
- 1 g/day was used for reducing nausea in studies
- 750 mg – 2 g/day could reduce menstrual and PMS symptoms
- 2 g/day of dried or fresh ginger has been researched for reducing inflammation.
- Ginger tea or a water extract is used for fighting the common cold and for digestive symptoms.
- Fresh ginger could ward off cold viruses in cellular studies .
At a high dose, ginger may cause acid reflux and stomach upset. While ginger is generally safe up to 10 grams daily, some people may be more sensitive to it.