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  • Monika Getty

Herbal Spotlight: Ginger

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a flowering plant that originated in southeast Asia and has been used as both food and medicine for thousands of years. It's spicy, pungent taste and aroma are what makes ginger ale, ginger tea and gingerbread cookies so yummy. It is part of the Zingiberaceae family, which includes turmeric, cardamom and galangal. Ginger root can be used fresh, dried or powdered.

Ginger has long been considered a superfood, and has many health properties including:

Improving Digestion: According to a recent review of several clinical studies, the enzymes present in ginger can help break up and expel the gasses that form in the intestinal tract during digestion. Ginger has also been shown to relieve indigestion/dyspepsia by increasing gastric emptying; it is believed that delayed emptying of the stomach is a major cause of indigestion. One study showed that healthy participants taking ginger capsules with a meal (as compared to those participants taking a placebo) had double the speed of gastric emptying. Another study using people with functional dyspepsia found the same results, thereby helping to alleviate their symptoms.

Alleviate Nausea: Ginger is highly effective against many types of nausea. A review of over 100 clinical trials showed that ginger was helpful in dealing with nausea and vomiting. It can also help chemotherapy-induced nausea, and seems particularly helpful with pregnancy related nausea. One study found that pregnant women who consumed fresh ginger daily for several days experienced a significant decrease in nausea and vomiting.

Regulates Blood Sugar: Ginger may have anti-diabetic properties. A study involving people with type 2 diabetes who took powdered ginger daily showed a reduction of fasting blood sugar of 12%. It also showed a dramatic reduction of hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a marker for long term blood sugar levels. If you can keep your hemoglobin A1c levels below 5.7 percent, then you are in the normal range.

Support Cardiovascular Health: A 2017 study found that consuming ginger on a daily basis may protect against coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, cerebrovascular disease and fatty liver disease. Ginger has also been found to reduce cholesterol, specifically LDL (low density lipoproteins), which is considered the "bad" cholesterol.

Relieving Pain: Ginger can help to relieve different kinds of pain. An analysis of studies involving osteoarthritis patients found that people who used ginger to treat their arthritis had significant reductions in pain and disability. Another study found that ginger was able to reduce pain in women experiencing menstrual pain as effectively as both ibuprofen and mefenamic acid. More recent studies have shown that ginger is equally as effective in relieving menstrual pain as some traditional pain relievers.

Antibacterial: Research has found that ginger is an effective antibacterial against many drug-resistant bacteria. One study showed that it is very effective against the oral bacteria linked to gingivitis and periodontitis. Fresh ginger may also be affective against the respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of respiratory infections.

Lower Cancer Risk: Ginger is an excellent source of antioxidants. Antioxidants help your body by reducing oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which are toxic substances produced by metabolism and other factors. Too many free radicals can cause cellular damage, leading to conditions such as cancer, heart disease and chronic inflammation. A review and other studies showed that ginger may be effective against certain types of cancers of the gastrointestinal system, such as colorectal cancer, gastric cancer, liver cancer and pancreatic cancer. It may be effective against other types of cancer; however more research is needed.

May Improve Brain Function: A study of health middle-aged women who took ginger daily showed that it improved their reaction time and working memory. Some animal studies suggest that the bioactive compounds and antioxidants present in ginger can inhibit inflammatory responses that occur in the brain. Other animal studies have shown that ginger can help protect against age-related decline in brain function.

Reduce Inflammation: Ginger contains antioxidants which can help prevent inflammation from starting by reducing cell-signalling activity, according to one study. A review of clinical trials found that the phytochemical properties in ginger may combat inflammation. Ginger has been shown to inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokines, thereby decreasing inflammation.

There are many ways you can incorporate ginger in your diet. You can cook with it, adding some to a stir fry, curry or even a smoothie. You can make ginger tea using dried or fresh ginger: use 1 teaspoon per cup of dried ginger, add boiling water, cover and steep for 10 minutes; using fresh ginger, chop up a one inch piece of ginger per cup of water in a pot, bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer gently for about 5 minutes. You can add some lemon or honey to adjust the taste to your liking.

Always talk to a qualified health professional before taking ginger to make sure it is safe for you to do so, especially if you are pregnant, breast feeding, taking any medications or if you have health conditions. Side effects of taking ginger, while rare, may include heartburn or irritation of the mouth; these can be reduced by consuming with food. Ginger can interact with some medications by potentiating (increasing) their effects. Ginger can affect blood clotting, so talk to your doctor first if you are about to have surgery, have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners such as warfarin or aspirin. As ginger can lower blood sugar, those taking diabetic drugs such as metformin or insulin need to monitor their blood sugar levels closely to avoid lowering them too much.

Ginger is a wonderful warming herb that has many health benefits for your body and your brain. Thankfully, it's tasty so that makes it easier to add your meals. I like getting a big ginger root, washing it and putting it whole in the freezer; then, when I need some in a recipe, I simply grate some up (peel and all) and add it to my recipe. It's super easy to grate when it's frozen, and I no longer have to worry about part of it going mushy before I use it all up. Given all it's benefits, it seems a no brainer to add ginger to your daily diet!

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