“Ginger Has Only Good Qualities” – An Indian Proverb
Although a seemingly small addition, the ginger herb carries a big reputation. Ginger root or Zingiberaceae has emerged as a front-runner in the health world, being a small but significant ingredient added to a variety of healthy dishes and supplements. Not only has ginger been around for centuries, it continues to be a standout in the scientific community as a complementary botanical supplement to treat a variety of ailments and support the skin and hair.
“Aged Ginger Herb Is More Pungent” – A Chinese Saying
While the saying is true for the actual processing of ginger, the history of ginger is aged as well. Native to Asia, ginger, interestingly enough, is also in the same botanical family as turmeric. Prior to adding ginger to organic juices, or even gingerbread cookies, the root was used for thousands of years by many different civilizations, including the Indian, Chinese, Greek, Roman, and Arabic empires. These ancient empires used the entire plant from stem to leaf for a variety of various ailments ranging from colds and fevers to arthritis, nausea, and indigestion. Ginger extracts and oils have been used in both skin and hair care. Traded and exported to Europe during the popular boom of the Spice Trade, ginger became known as much for its exotic spicy flavor as its medicinal properties.
“Eat Ginger After Awakening, Forget about Doctors” – Chinese Proverb
Due to its long-standing reputation as an herbal remedy, ginger has been extensively studied in the scientific community. It is recognized as an herbal supplement by the U.S National Library of Medicine, and its implementation in medical treatment continues to be an area of ongoing research. Here are a few of the properties of ginger that have thus far been examined by researchers.
1) Ginger: Antioxidant Herb
In a recent review that examined 59 different scientific studies regarding the use of ginger as a supplement, scientists highlighted a major compound found in ginger called shogaol. This bioactive compound has been demonstrated to scavenge free radicals that can cause DNA damage to cells. It’s also important to note that ginger contains another key compound very similar to shogaol named gingerol. The combination of these two biological compounds may contribute to the vast uses of medicinal ginger.
Think of antioxidant activity as cell protection. In several different studies, dietary ginger supplementation and various forms of ginger demonstrated an antioxidant effect. In particular, dietary ginger supplementation and ethanol extract of ginger helped treat rat liver cells damaged by alcohol and acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol®). Ethanol extract of ginger similarly benefitted mice kidney cells damaged by chemotherapy drugs. Although these studies used animal cells in their investigations, a recent publication by the Cancer Management and Research journal also illustrated the significance of ginger extract supplementation in human cancer patients. Patients who took a standardized extract of ginger (standardized to contain 5 mg of 6-gingerol) twice daily for three days prior to chemotherapy demonstrated significantly elevated antioxidant activity while receiving treatment. Always discuss ginger with your cancer doctor (oncologist) before using it, as the safety of antioxidant therapies during chemotherapy remains unclear.
2) Ginger: Anti-Inflammatory Herb
In addition to antioxidant properties, shogaols and gingerols appear to wield strong anti-inflammatory activity. This protective effect may have vast implications, as inflammation has been linked to a variety of diseases including, but not limited to, cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, asthma, and arthritis. As a specific example, researchers investigated the impact of an oral ginger supplementation (1 gram per day) in patients suffering from osteoarthritis. After three months of supplementation, inflammatory markers in those treated with ginger were significantly reduced compared to those who received a placebo.
3) Ginger: Anti-Cancer Herb
Lastly, ginger remains highly discussed for its anti-cancer properties. Not only has ginger supplementation appeared to assist with the side effects of cancer such as nausea and cell damage from chemotherapy treatment, but the bioactivity of ginger appears to have an anti-neoplastic or anti-tumor effect. In the past, ginger has been demonstrated to reduce oxidative stress markers within skin cancer cell lines in cells treated with ginger extract solution, as well as when ginger was applied topically to the skin of mice. More recent studies have examined this in cancer cell lines that are particularly dangerous. Lab cell studies on the impact of ginger extract on cancer cells demonstrated a cancer inhibitory effect in colon cancer cells and pancreatic cancer cells, as well as gastrointestinal cancer. Furthermore, molecular and chemotherapy drug developers, in particular, are interested in how to formulate ginger into anti-cancer therapies.
“Ginger Restores” – A Chinese Saying
In summary, these three unique properties of ginger all exert an underlying theme of chronic illness protection. Treatment with ginger has been linked to ulcerative colitis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and even age-related neurological disorders. While it is evident that ginger has powerful medicinal properties, modern medicine still has many questions regarding how to best use ginger. Ginger restores, but exactly how, in what form, and in what dose remains unclear. With more human and animal trials, scientists hope to unveil the most effective method of using this powerful herb.
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