Guide to ginger

Most of us are familiar with ginger, the knobbly, pungent root with the pale, straw-coloured flesh used to spice up cooking.

Ginger is also used medicinally in home remedies – as a tea to soothe an upset stomach, or in a drink with honey and lemon to ease sore throats. Ginger is mentioned for its health-boosting properties in ancient Sanskrit, Chinese, Greek, Roman and Arabic texts.

It is often taken as a supplement and is best-known for supporting the digestive system, particularly preventing nausea and vomiting. It is also sometimes used for treating colds and pain conditions including arthritis, which causes painful joints.

Dr Sarah Brewer says: ‘Ginger has been used in medicine for centuries and has a number of health benefits, including supporting digestive health. Ginger contains gingerols, powerful antioxidants with an anti-inflammatory effect which may help to reduce pain and inflammation.’

What does ginger do?

Ginger works in the digestive tract by neutralising acid and boosting digestive fluids. One study showed that it speeds up gastric emptying.

Scientists believe the active components of the ginger root are compounds called gingerols, potent antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial actions. Gingerols are also said to act on receptors located on sensory nerve endings, so potentially have a pain-relieving effect.

Nausea relief

Ginger may relieve pregnancy nausea and sickness (also called morning sickness). Around half of all pregnant women vomit and 80 per cent of women suffer nausea during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and sometimes beyond that.

One study confirmed ginger was effective in relieving the severity of pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting episodes with no reported side effects. A later review confirmed at least three studies supported the use of ginger over a placebo, but said evidence was not consistent.

Research also shows ginger is effective in treating nausea associated with chemotherapy, when used with conventional anti-nausea medication.

Pain relief

Almost 10 million people in the UK cope with pain on an almost daily basis due to chronic conditions such as arthritis and back pain. Ginger may help with pain. A 2015 review of studies on people using ginger for osteoarthritis pain reported a statistically significant reduction in pain.

Women who took 1g of ginger powder daily for the first three days of their monthly period found it reduced their pain as effectively as the NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) mefenamic acid and ibuprofen.

Ginger has also been found to reduce the severity of migraine headaches as effectively as the drug sumatriptan, but with fewer side effects.

Getting ginger from your diet

Ginger is a delicious and healthy spice that can be included in your diet fresh or dried or drunk as a tea. There are fewer gingerols in dried ginger, although levels of other compounds such as shogaols are increased and these also seem to have impressive medicinal benefits.

You can mix things up and get the benefits of both by including fresh and dried ginger in your diet, but to get the most potent concentrated effects, ginger extract in supplement form might be a good choice.

Safety

You can have too much of a good thing, and high doses (more than 4g) of ginger can lead to diarrhoea and heartburn. Concerns have been raised that ginger may interact with anticoagulants or blood-thinning medications, so discuss with your doctor before taking ginger supplements.

If you suffer with gallstone problems, ginger can increase bile production and could make symptoms worse. Although several studies have concluded taking ginger during pregnancy is safe, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding always check with your doctor first before taking ginger supplements.

Correct dosage

There is currently no UK or EU recommended daily allowance. One to two capsules a day of 100mg standardised extract is a dose sometimes suggested. Do not take on an empty stomach as it can lead to indigestion, always take ginger supplements with food.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

Ginger contains gingerols, powerful antioxidants with an anti-inflammatory effect which may help to reduce pain and inflammation.

Dr Sarah Brewer
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