WRITTEN BY TRANG TRAN AND DR. SWATHI
You may have used ginger as a spice in cooking or may have enjoyed this herb in the form of ginger beer or crystallized candied ginger. Remarkably, the use of ginger dates back to ancient medicine. Ginger, in both the fresh and dried preparations, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine for a wide range of ailments due to its copious medicinal properties. The Chinese used ginger for stomach aches, diarrhea, nausea, cholera, bleeding, asthma, heart conditions, and respiratory disorders, toothache, and rheumatic conditions; in Ayurvedic medicine, ginger is used for nausea, indigestion, as well as a remedy for cough. And due to its warming property, ginger serves as an anti-diarrheal agent. In addition, in Cambodia, ginger has been used externally to treat boils and internally as a tonic. In the present day, ginger is most often associated with its use to combat nausea and vomiting, motion sickness, and morning sickness in pregnancy.
Originating in Southeast Asia, this common spice comes from the rhizomes of the plant Zingiber officinale Roscoe and can be extracted resulting in a pale yellow to light-amber essential oil that contains both aromatic and pungent compounds. Zingiberene is the predominant sesquiterpene component in ginger volatile oil and contributes to the distinct aroma and taste of ginger, whereas gingerols and shogaols constitute the non-volatile pungent compounds that produce a “hot” sensation in the mouth. Whereas fresh ginger rhizome contains predominantly gingerol, the major active component, dried ginger contains predominantly shogaols, the dehydrated form of gingerol.
Because ginger has many health benefits, it is thought of as a panacea. In studies, ginger has been shown to have similar antiemetic efficacy as other antiemetic pharmacological agents including metoclopramide, dimenhydrinate, promethazine, and scopolamine. To mediate its anti-inflammatory effect, ginger inhibits the 5-lipoxygenase and prostaglandin synthetase, which decreases the production of leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1, IL-8, TNF-alpha, and NFκB). Since inflammation is associated with diabetes, ginger may also improve glycemic index, insulin sensitivity, lipid profile, and reduce c-reactive protein, and prostaglandin E2 in those with type 2 diabetes. Both the anti-inflammatory and antiemetic properties of ginger make it suitable to be used to relieve primary dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps). Ginger may also help relieve mild migraine, especially when administered early. Some studies suggested that 6-gingerol suppresses proliferation of human cancer cells through induction of apoptosis. A study found that the addition of ginger extracts to clarithromycin increased inhibition of H.pylori, a bacteria that can cause stomach infection. Beyond providing a plethora of health benefits, ginger has been proposed to be used as an alternative natural food preservative due to its antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and E.coli, both of which are foodborne pathogens.
The oral bioavailability of gingerol, meaning the amount of the plant that is active in the body after ingesting it, is low due to losses during its journey through the gastrointestinal tract. Additionally, gingerol undergoes glucuronide and sulfate conjugation in the intestinal mucosa and in the liver. As a result, the components of ginger in the bloodstream are often in the conjugated forms rather than the free forms, so far less is available for action in our bodies than we think.
In general, ginger is a safe herb as it is used to manage nausea and vomiting even in pregnancy. However, ginger may interact with pharmaceutical drugs by enhancing their bioavailability due to the presence of piperine-like compounds in ginger.
Consumption of ginger rarely causes side effects, but gastrointestinal complications have been reported in a clinical trial using two grams of ginger powder daily. At very high doses, ginger may cause anticoagulation (i.e., blood thinning); for this reason, ginger should be avoided in people with bleeding disorders, people who are at an increased risk of bleeding (e.g., before/after an operation), and people who take medications that increase the risk of bleeding (e.g., ibuprofen).
Ginger is available as dried powdered root, syrup, tincture, capsules, tablets, tea, powder, oral solution, and as a spice. The recommended daily doses of ginger capsule ranges from 500 mg to 1500 mg and these doses can be used for prevention of motion sickness and menstrual cramps. However, it is important to note that for ginger to produce multiple other benefits, higher doses could be required.
Please contact Chief Scientific Officer and resident botanical expert, Dr. Swathi, if you have any questions about ginger and if it is the right choice for you.
Santos Braga S. Ginger: Panacea or Consumer’s Hype? Applied Sciences. 2019;9(8):1570.
- Sharifi-Rad M, Varoni E, Salehi B, et al. Plants of the Genus Zingiber as a Source of Bioactive Phytochemicals: From Tradition to Pharmacy. Molecules. 2017;22(12):2145.
Shukla Y, Singh M. Cancer preventive properties of ginger: A brief review. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2007;45(5):683-690.
Tanveer M, Wagner C, ul Haq MI, Ribeiro NC, Rathinasabapathy T, Butt MS, Shehzad A, Komarnytsky S. Spicing up gastrointestinal health with dietary essential oils. Phytochemistry Reviews. 2020;19(2):243-263.
- Tracy TS, Kingston RL. Herbal Products. Springer Science & Business Media; 2007.
Wang X, Shen Y, Thakur K, et al. Antibacterial Activity and Mechanism of Ginger Essential Oil against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. Molecules. 2020;25(17):3955.
This article was edited by Dr. Swathi and was written by Element Apothec Scientific Communications Intern, Trang Tran. She is a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) student at Oregon State University and Oregon Health & Science University College of Pharmacy in Portland, Oregon.