Ten Clinically Proven Health Benefits of Ginger
You may know ginger as a warming herb that decreases nausea. But it's known for so much more than that in Asia, where it's been used for over 4,000 years as herbal medicine to treat everything from arthritis, colic, and diarrhea to heart conditions, immune support and menstrual pain. How many of these applications are backed by science? A surprisingly large number. Ginger contains several unique and powerful compounds like gingerols and 6-shogaol which are not only highly beneficial themselves, but once consumed they also give rise to metabolites (like gingerdiols) that are even more powerful. Scientists are still in the early stages of uncovering all the benefits these compounds have to offer, but there is already very good evidence behind many health benefits of this super-herb. Here is a quick survey of what's already been found on ginger (so far) in carefully run clinical trials which were carried out on people under controlled conditions and measured dosages.
Memory and Brain Function: Middle-aged women given 800 mg of ginger extract daily for two months showed significant improvements in working memory and cognitive function compared to those getting a placebo. More specifically, they were able to remember words faster and more accurately, they reacted faster on rapid tasks (number and letter recognition), and their spatial working memory improved (picture detail recognition). Of all the health benefits of this amazing herb, this could be the most useful for making us more productive at work!
Fat Burning: This trial was a bit of a puzzler for researchers, because giving a single dose of 1 gram of powdered ginger to adults did not result in any warming effect at all or increased sweating. However, when given in the morning it did result in an impressive 13.5% increase in fatty acid oxidation (fat burning) as measured two hours after consumption. This could help to explain past observations that gingerol seemed to protect mice from gaining weight when they were on an obesity-promoting diet. Note that this trial could not test for weight loss effects because it was quite short in duration, measuring the effects of a single dose of this herb.
Weight Loss in Overweight Women: Considering the fat-burning effects seen in the last trial, it's no surprise that ginger could help people lose weight over the long term. Women who took two grams daily of powdered ginger lost nearly two kilograms (four pounds), showed improved body mass index (BMI), smaller hip circumference and smaller waist circumference compared to placebo after just 12 weeks. Most impressively, all study participants were instructed to not make any other changes in their diet or exercise routine. For those who want to try ginger for losing weight, always consult with your doctor first, and take note that dosage may be key here, as another study in which obese men were given only one gram daily of the powdered herb (half the dose used in this study) did not show any weight loss effects.
Cholesterol and Triglycerides in Adults with High Cholesterol: Adults with high cholesterol that were given three grams daily of ginger powder for 45 days had significantly lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides compared to those taking a placebo pill, while at the same their HDL levels increased. This is exactly what is desired in the long term to reduce the risk for heart disease.
Type II Diabetes-Key Markers for Complications: Patients with type II diabetes were given 1600 mg of ginger daily for 12 weeks, after which they showed significant reductions in their levels of fasting blood sugar, insulin, triglycerides, and cholesterol compared to placebo. In the long term, this would be expected to reduce their risk of heart disease. In addition, levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) also went down. This is an important marker for inflammation (which has many complications of its own) as well as for heart disease risk. In fact, a recent study showed that those with high CRP levels had triple the risk of heart disease compared to those with low levels. A second trial was carried out with a higher dosage (three grams of powdered root daily for three months) and also had similar very positive results.
Menstrual Pain: Painful monthly cycles are experienced by up to 80% of women at some point in their lives, and can substantially decrease quality of life during those days. Young women who took a daily dose of 1500 mg dried ginger powder (for the first three days of menstruation only) experienced significant reductions in menstrual pain and general symptoms.
Heavy Menstrual Bleeding: Even more serious than menstrual pain is heavy menstrual bleeding, which can lead to iron deficiency anaemia and other complications. In this case, even less ginger powder (750 mg daily taken for the first four days of the cycle) resulted in a remarkable reduction in bleeding, by up to 54%. The women took the treatment for three cycles in a row, with slightly better results from each successive treatment.
Osteoarthritis of the Knee: The effects of ginger are mild with this, but showed definite improvement when given along with a commercial NSAID drug. For example, one gram of powdered ginger given daily was not enough to improve knee pain for osteoarthritis patients. But when 255 mg of a concentrated extract of both ginger and its related herb galangal were given to patients daily, they saw significant improvements in pain and overall symptoms. The best impact, however, seemed to come when ginger (daily dose: 750 mg powdered by pill) was used together with a commercially available NSAID, and the effect was over and above relief experienced with the NSAID alone.
Oxidative Stress Levels in Breast Cancer Patients: A high level of oxidative stress is the last thing any cancer patient wants in their body because it suppresses their immune system and helps cancer cells mutate and metastasize. That's why a diet high in antioxidants is often recommended to such patients. Enter ginger, which is a very potent antioxidant. Women with breast cancer were given 3000 mg of ginger powder daily (taken in four doses of 750 mg each throughout the day). After six weeks, they showed significantly higher levels of glutathione, which is perhaps the body's most important home-made antioxidant. But women taking the supplement and also engaging in water-based exercise showed far more impressive results: much higher levels of glutathione and also much lower levels of two very important markers for oxidative stress: nitric oxide and malondialdehyde (MDA). Take note that such synergies between diet and exercise are often seen, so never underestimate the importance of adding exercise to your health regimen.
Colon Cancer Prevention in Those at High Risk: High levels of PGE2 (Prostaglandin E2) have been linked to high risk for developing colon cancer. Since PGE2 is produced by COX (cyclooxygenase), researchers have reasoned that knocking down COX levels might decrease the risk for cancer. Ginger has already been shown to reduce COX in lab studies, so in this clinical trial researchers put this to the test by giving two grams of ginger root daily to patients who were specifically at high risk for colon cancer. COX levels indeed went down impressively, by 24%, while in the placebo group they actually increased by 19%! PGE2 levels were unchanged, strangely, but the researchers stated that further research is needed to fully understand the effects they observed, and whether cancer risk might be reduced.
Lung Cancer Prevention (and Other Cancers): This one has not yet been proven in clinical studies but it's so important it can't be skipped here, especially in light of the impressive results above for colon cancer. Where it has been "proven" by science is in India-the country that not only grows the most ginger in the world but also consumes the most. And in one study, adults there who ate ginger daily had 68% less risk of lung cancer (the exact dose of ginger was not given). In lab studies, ginger is an absolute superstar. It eradicates virtually every major type of cancer and even wipes out those very hard-to-kill cancer stem cells (the ones that are left behind by chemo drugs, and which may grow back into a "recurrence" of the cancer). While this is only the first step in using ginger as a natural medicine to prevent or treat cancer, the results are impressive so far.
Many other studies are currently testing ginger at the test tube stage or with mice, and those showing the most promise will move on to testing with humans. So be sure to check this article for updates on the latest findings and what this herb can do for people. In the meantime, there is already compelling evidence for the benefits of including ginger in our daily diets just as more than two billion people living in Asia have done already for centuries. Just remember, even clinical trials like those mentioned above are never perfect, and only the average benefits are shown for those who were treated. Not everyone will respond to ginger the same way. And as with any supplement, herb or new food, ask your doctor before trying—especially if you are taking any kind of medication. Ginger is known to interact with several drugs, including anti-coagulant medications and those containing aspirin.
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