Ayurveda agrees with the scientific reasons why ginger is one of the healthiest (and most delicious) super foods on the planet. It is loaded with nutrients and bio active compounds that have powerful benefits for your whole body and even your brain. Ginger belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, and is closely related to turmeric, cardamom and galangal. The rhizome (which is the underground part of the stem) is the part commonly used as a spice. It is often called ginger root, or simply ginger.
It has been used to help digestion, reduce nausea and help fight the flu and common cold, to name a few. The unique smell and flavor of ginger come from its natural oils, the most important of which is gingerol. Gingerol is the main bio active compound in ginger, responsible for much of its medicinal properties. It has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. In Ayurveda, ginger can be used fresh, dried, powdered, or as an oil or juice. It is called vishwa bhesaj which translates to universal or global medicine. While Ayurveda has known these reasons all along, modern science is finally catching on to this Ayurvedic secret ingredient to health.
Here are 10 health benefits of ginger that are supported by science.
Ginger appears to be highly effective against nausea. I learned this first hand when I was pregnant! Ginger may also relieve nausea and vomiting after surgery, and in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, in sea sickness and most effective in pregnancy-related nausea, like morning sickness. According to a review of 12 studies that included a total of 1,278 pregnant women, 1.1-1.5 grams of ginger can significantly reduce symptoms of nausea. Although ginger is considered safe, talk to your doctor before taking large amounts if you are pregnant or taking other medications.
Ginger has been shown to be effective against exercise-induced muscle pain. In one study, consuming 2 grams of ginger per day, for 11 days, significantly reduced muscle pain in people performing elbow exercises. And while ginger does not have an immediate impact, but may be effective at reducing the day-to-day progression of muscle pain mediated by the anti inflammatory property it has.
Osteoarthritis involves degeneration of the joints in the body, leading to symptoms like joint pain and stiffness which is quite common. In this study of a controlled trial of 247 people with osteoarthritis of the knee, those who took ginger extract had less pain and required less pain medication.
In this new research, ginger may have powerful anti-diabetic properties. In a recent 2015 study of 41 participants with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of ginger powder per day lowered fasting blood sugar by 12% plus dramatically improved HbA1c (that is a marker for long-term blood sugar levels in diabetics), leading to a 10% reduction over a period of 12 weeks.
Chronic indigestion (dyspepsia) is characterized by recurrent pain and discomfort in the upper part of the stomach. It is believed that delayed emptying of the stomach is a major driver of indigestion. Interestingly, ginger has been shown to speed up emptying of the stomach in people with this condition. In a study of 24 healthy individuals, 1.2 grams of ginger powder before a meal accelerated emptying of the stomach by 50%.
Menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) refers to pain a woman can feel during her menstrual cycle. One of the traditional Ancient Chinese uses of ginger is for pain relief, including menstrual pain. In this study, 150 women were instructed to take 1 gram of ginger powder per day, for the first 3 days of the menstrual period. Ginger reduced their pain as effectively as drugs like ibuprofen.
Cardiologists say high levels of LDL lipoproteins (the bad cholesterol) are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. As Ayurveda says, and we know is proven, the foods you eat can have a strong influence on LDL levels. In a 45-day study of 85 individuals with high cholesterol, 3 grams of ginger powder caused significant reductions in cholesterol markers for total cholesterol and blood triglycerides.
We all know how serious cancer is. Ginger extract has been studied as an alternative treatment for several forms of cancer. There are now known anti-cancer properties which are attributed to 6-gingerol, a substance that is found in large amounts in raw ginger. In a study of 30 individuals, 2 grams of ginger extract per day significantly reduced pro-inflammatory signalling molecules in the colon. However, more research is still needed.
What accelerates the aging process? Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation for sure. They are believed to be among the key drivers of Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline. Some studies in animals suggest that the antioxidants and bio active compounds in ginger can inhibit inflammatory responses that occur in the brain. There is also some evidence that ginger can enhance brain function directly. In a study of 60 middle-aged women, ginger extract was shown to improve reaction time and working memory. There are also other studies in animals showing that ginger can protect against age-related decline in brain function.
Gingerol, the bioactive substance in fresh ginger, can help lower the risk of infections. In fact, ginger extract can inhibit the growth of many different types of bacteria. As a dentist also, I love that it is very effective against the oral bacteria linked to inflammatory diseases in the gums, such as gingivitis and periodontitis!
Overall, ginger is one Ayurvedic super food you definitely want to have handy in your kitchen!