Ginger has been revered as a culinary and medicinal spice in many traditional cultures. It is also a very powerful remedy with numerous purported health benefits — from reducing nausea and PMS symptoms to fighting inflammation and boosting testosterone. Read on to learn more about all its health potential, dosing, and side effects.
What is Ginger?
What do we know?
As stated by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH), there is some information about the use of ginger for nausea and vomiting. Much less information is available about its other uses and purported health benefits .
The NCCIH points out that ginger may help relieve pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, according to some evidence. It may also help to control nausea related to cancer chemotherapy when used in addition to conventional anti-nausea medication .
On the other hand, it’s unclear whether ginger is helpful for postsurgery nausea, motion sickness, rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis .
Today, ginger is also available as a supplement. Ginger supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. In general, dietary supplements lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
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?
Ginger is also an antioxidant that might fight microbes and reduce inflammation.
This spice is a relative of curcumin and cardamon, which 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. However, these properties were only investigated in cell-based studies. It’s unknown if the active compounds in ginger will have these effects in humans. Further research is needed .
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 .
Purported Health Benefits of Ginger
Possibly Effective for:
1) Overcoming Morning Sickness
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH), the largest amount of information is available for this purported benefit. The NCCIH states that some evidence suggests ginger may help with :
- Pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting
- Nausea related to cancer chemotherapy when used in addition to conventional anti-nausea medication
Indeed, 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 [4, 5].
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 the 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 is hypothesized to help counteract [7, 8].
However, more evidence is needed to determine the effectiveness of ginger for chemotherapy-triggered nausea.
2) Reducing Nausea from HIV Medication
3) Improving Osteoarthritis Symptoms
Ginger improved osteoarthritis symptoms in some studies. In one large study of 261 people with osteoarthritis, a standardized ginger extract reduced 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 [12, 13].
4) Soothing Menstrual Cramps
Ginger reduced PMS and menstrual pain in 6 small, low-quality trials, according to which ginger was more effective than placebo and not different from a painkiller commonly used for menstrual cramps (mefenamic acid, an NSAID) [14, 15].
However, the included studies are few, and each one was conducted differently. All suffered from major flaws like poor study design or small sample size. Thus, we can’t draw any solid conclusions about the effects of ginger on menstrual cramps from them [14, 15].
These 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.
In one study of 8 healthy people, 1 gram of ginger by mouth appeared to reduce symptoms of vertigo (lightheadedness), including nausea. Larger trials are needed .
Possibly Ineffective for Muscle Soreness from Exercise
Despite some conflicting findings, most research reveals that ginger probably does not help prevent or lessen muscle soreness during or after exercise .
According to a few studies, ginger dose of roughly 2 g/day may modestly reduce muscle pain from heavy exercise if taken for at least 5 days .
However, most studies suggest that ginger is likely ineffective at improving exercise-triggered muscle soreness, particularly if taken only during and after exercise. More research is needed [17, 18].
Insufficient Evidence for:
The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of ginger for any of the below-listed uses.
Remember to speak with a doctor before taking ginger supplements. Ginger should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.
6) Stomach Discomfort
Ginger has a long history of use for digestive disorders. It is thought to increase gut flow to boost digestion and alleviate painful stomach spasms, but solid evidence to support this purported benefit is lacking .
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 [23, 24, 25].
Ginger probably doesn’t help with gallbladder issues. It didn’t have any effect on the gallbladder in a small study of 19 people .
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 [29, 30, 31].
Some other purported ginger benefits – such as reducing pain, cramps, and arthritis – are also thought to be tightly linked to this anti-inflammatory activity.
8) Pain Relief
Ginger shows some promise for relieving pain naturally, according to a review of 7 studies that focused on athletes. However, the evidence has been inconclusive .
Ginger worked as well as the popular painkiller diclofenac (an NSAID also known as Voltaren) in a study of 43 people .
In the study, participants took a ginger extract (340 mg) for 4 weeks. Unlike diclofenac, ginger didn’t damage the stomach lining or cause digestive discomfort. However, this study had a small sample size and tested the effects of ginger over a short period of time. Large-scale, long-term studies are needed .
9) Liver Protection
May Protect from Drugs and Heavy Metals
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 [36, 37, 38].
May Help with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
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 [40, 41].
10) Boosting Cognition
Ginger extract enhanced cognition and working memory in a small 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. However, we can’t draw any conclusion from a single clinical study. Additional large-scale studies are needed .
11) Sperm Quality and DNA Protection
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 .
Ginger’s potential DNA-protective effects are not important only for fertility. Ginger essential oils also reduced DNA damage from a mold toxin (aflatoxin B1) in cells .
12) Boosting Testosterone 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, theoretically, lead to increased testosterone. These include 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
A major limitation of the above study is its open-label design, which creates room for bias and other issues.
And although ginger is generally considered safe, its testosterone-boosting effects have not yet been confirmed in large clinical studies. Proper, double-blind clinical trials are needed to determine the effects of ginger on testosterone in men.
13) Heart Health & Sugar Control
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 from high cholesterol and inflammation. However, much more research is needed .
Lacking Evidence (Animal Research):
No clinical evidence supports the use of ginger for any of the conditions listed in this section.
Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
14) Allergies and Asthma
Animal studies hint that ginger may be better for 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 have attempted to support 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 [52, 53].
Ginger relaxed the airways under asthmatic attack in a tissue study .
Clinical studies are lacking to back up this purported benefit.
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 potentially beneficial effects of ginger on eczema overall .
However, clinical studies are lacking to back up this purported benefit. More research is needed to determine the effects of ginger on eczema.
16) Stomach Protection
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.
Stomach damage is a big issue with long-term NSAIDs use. Ginger might turn out to be useful in people who developed stomach issues from NSAIDs, but further clinical trials are needed .
In cellular studies, antioxidants in ginger blocked the growth of stomach-ulcer-causing H. Pylori, mainly by fighting free radicals. Animal and human studies have yet to explore the effects of ginger on H. Pylori .
17) Antioxidant Effects
Many active components in ginger and its essential oil, such as gingerol and shogaol, are potent antioxidants. Some scientists suspect that they can scavenge free radicals throughout the body and neutralize, which is hypothesized to be crucial for preventing numerous chronic diseases [3, 58].
Researchers say 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. Thus, this research team considers that ginger might help combat inflammation, the biggest lung-damaging factor in tuberculosis, which warrants further clinical trials .
In one study, ginger could keep mice on a high-fat diet from gaining excessive weight. It enhanced fat burning and improved their exercise endurance by activating the PPAR delta pathway. However, it’s completely unknown if ginger impacts weight and fitness in humans. Clinical studies are needed .
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.
Effects on the Flu
In one cell study, only fresh ginger prevented the common cold virus from entering human cells. In another study, the dried ginger worked just as well. It’s still unknown whether ginger can help fight the flu in humans [62, 63].
Potential Antibacterial Effects
- 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
Yeast and Fungus
In cells, ginger could kill 13 types of fungus that cause human diseases .
Ginger tincture blocked the growth of Candida in test tubes .
Active compounds in ginger could reverse some of the hallmarks of cancer in animal and cellular studies. We can’t draw any conclusions from them, however. Clinical studies have not confirmed these effects. Many compounds appear to have cancer-killing effects in cells only to turn out to be ineffective or dangerous in humans .
Cell-Based Cancer Research
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 [72, 73].
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 [77, 78, 79, 80, 81].
Things to Know About Using Ginger
Risks and Side Effects
According to the available evidence and NCCIH, ginger is believed to be safe when used as a spice. However, have in mind the following :
- Some people are sensitive to ginger.
- Ginger may cause stomach discomfort, heartburn, diarrhea, and gas in some people.
- Some experts recommend that people with gallstone disease use caution with ginger as it may increase bile flow.
- The effects of long-term supplementation are unknown.
- Solid research about the substances ginger may interact with is lacking. Limited evidence suggests ginger may reduce the activity of liver enzymes that break down nutrients and drugs. Ginger may interact with blood-thinning medications. Consult your doctor before taking ginger supplements [82, 83].
- Some studies have found no evidence of harm from taking ginger during pregnancy, but it’s uncertain whether ginger is always safe for pregnant women. If you’re pregnant and are considering taking ginger, talk with your healthcare provider.
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.
Remember to speak with your doctor before taking ginger supplements.
Used in many Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, ginger is a spice that has a long history of use. It’s likely safe when used in food, but the benefits and risks of supplementation are far less certain.
According to the existing evidence, ginger likely helps reduce pregnancy-related morning sickness. It also probably helps reduce nausea and vomiting from HIV medications.
Solid evidence shows that ginger may also soothe painful menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis symptoms, and vertigo.
On the other hand, ginger’s anti-inflammatory, digestive, and antioxidant effects have yet to be properly researched. Until more research comes out, many purported benefits of ginger remain unproven.