You might know ginger as a delicious spice for use in cookies and desserts, or as a key ingredient in pumpkin spice everything. Maybe your mom made you take it for a sore stomach when you were a kid. But did you know that ginger is actually a pretty powerful superfood?
What is Ginger?
What we call ginger is actually the root of a flowering plant, Zingiber officinale. It’s closely related to turmeric, another medicinal root. This plant has been cultivated for thousands of years, and it is now found all over the world. Through the years, it has been used as a medicine, a spice, and even in spiritual rituals. The great Chinese philosopher Confucius apparently ate ginger for every meal to reap its many health benefits.
Ginger Health Benefits
In addition to its distinctive fragrance and strong, spicy flavor, ginger is a powerful adaptogen. It has long been prized in traditional Chinese medicine and used as a natural form of pain relief. In Ayurveda, ginger is revered for its rejuvenating effects. Modern Western medicine is starting to catch up, and a number of studies in recent years seem to back up what our ancestors have known for millennia. Let’s take a closer look at some science-based benefits of ginger for health.
Perhaps the best-known medicinal use for ginger is as a treatment for all sorts of stomach upsets. From indigestion to morning sickness, ginger is a safe, popular, and scientifically-proven way to counteract nausea.
What’s more, a number of studies have shown that, when taken before a meal, ginger can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes for the stomach to empty. This could help to alleviate the symptoms of chronic dyspepsia.
Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Oxidant Properties
Ginger contains a substance called gingerol, which has powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. For those in need of a refresher, antioxidants help to fight off free radicals, small molecules that can cause cell damage and even cancer. Inflammation, meanwhile, is a key component of the body’s immune response that can sometimes go wrong, leading to chronic pain and illness. Regulating these two key processes in the body is important to our overall health.
Ginger for Immunity
In addition to gingerol’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it could also help to protect our bodies from infections. New studies show that it also has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Pain and Discomfort
Ginger appears to have mild analgesic, or pain-relieving, properties. A number of studies looking into the use of ginger for joint pain, especially that relating to osteoarthritis, saw good results in terms of reduced discomfort and increased mobility.
Other research has investigated using ginger for menstrual pain, also known as dysmenorrhea. In fact, a number of studies have found that ginger could be as effective against menstrual cramps as NSAIDs like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
However, more research is needed before ginger can replace over-the-counter pain medication.
Ginger for Weight Loss
When it comes to weight loss, anything that offers huge results with no effort is unlikely to be very good for you. With that being said, ginger could be an effective natural weight loss aid, according to a number of studies. Scientists believe this could be thanks to ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to speed up digestion. However, it’s worth pointing out that there is no conclusive evidence that ginger lowers cholesterol levels, so any weight loss regime should also include a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise.
Sometimes we all need a little brain boost – and ginger could help. A 2012 study showed that ginger could help to improve working memory and reaction times. What’s more, the anti-inflammatory properties of gingerol could help to protect against age-related decline in brain function. Again, more research is needed before we have any definitive answers.
How to Take Ginger
Taking ginger is safe and very easy – as long as you like the taste. Try making a simple fresh ginger tea with a few slices of peeled ginger root, a squeeze of lemon or orange, and a drizzle of honey or agave syrup. Not only is this combination quick, cheap, and refreshing, it’s also caffeine-free, so you can enjoy it any time of day. Ginger is also delicious in lots of sweet and savory dishes, so experiment with adding it to your cooking.
If you’re not keen on the taste of ginger, opt for a supplement instead. Although there is no recommended daily allowance for ginger, most doctors recommend taking no more than 4 grams of ginger a day in any form.
People who are pregnant or who have gallstones, diabetes, or heart conditions should consult with a medical doctor before taking large doses of ginger.