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Ginger properties: instructions for use and myths to dispel

Digestion and intestines

Ginger properties: instructions for use and myths to dispel

Ginger "mini-guide": from Eastern spice to anti-nausea remedy

Used, since ancient times, as a spice, especially in Asian and Indian cuisine, ginger is also present in Western food tradition: it can be found in sweets, liquors, cosmetics and beverages (the popular ginger ale).

As often happens, a product commonly used for nutritional purposes can also offer many advantages for all-round wellness.

This easy mini-guide will try to help you discover the properties of ginger, explain how best to use it and dispel some false "myths" about it. In particular, we will deal with the following topics:

Ginger properties in Western herbal medicine

Ginger rhizome has numerous properties recognised and exploited by modern Western herbal medicine. Among its most important functions are:

  • combats nausea;
  • helps digestion;
  • helps eliminate flatulence and, consequently, deflate the belly;
  • regulates intestinal motility, which determines bowel regularity.

How does ginger work?

So, what are the active ingredients responsible for the benefits and properties of ginger?

The main chemical components are contained in «oleoresin, responsible for the pungent taste of the spice; indeed, it contains gingerols, shogaoli and zingerone, which are also responsible for its spicy taste. Other ginger components are carbohydrates, lipids and essential oil» (F. Capasso, G. Grandolini, A. A. Izzo, Fitoterapia. Impiego razionale delle droghe vegetali, Milano 2006).

As seen, among the several phytotherapic applications of ginger, its anti-nausea effect stands out, not coincidentally Chinese sailors used it against seasickness.

The responsibles for such antiemetic activity (i.e. which prevents vomit and nausea) are gingerols, which inhibit serotonergic and dopaminergic receptors and reduce the rhythmic dysfunction of the stomach, which, indeed, can cause nausea and vomiting.

In summary, ginger, in your digestive system, «stimulates the peristaltic movements of the stomach and intestines (prokinetic), also exerting an anti-nausea and anti-vomiting effect (probably due to its action on the central nervous system and to the dopamine and serotonin receptors).

Because of these properties, some ginger extracts have been successfully used as antihistamines in the prevention of vomiting caused by Motion Sickness also known as kinetosis and travel sickness» (F. Firenzuoli, Le 100 erbe della salute, Milano 2003). Therefore, ginger can also help in case of car or sea sickness.

Taking ginger in pregnancy raises opinion divergences (some even against), but in many countries is often supported. For example, in England the use of this spice is also suggested in the Guidelines drawn up by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to cope with nausea during pregnancy.

The benefits of ginger according to Ayurveda

Ginger has been used for thousands of years in China for herbal purposes: already in some sources of the fourth century B.C., this substance is indeed mentioned as a remedy for many illnesses, from stomach pain to nausea, from rheumatism to toothache.

The Ayurvedic tradition includes ginger among the most useful spices, like turmeric and basil, and credits it with "heating" qualities; according to this ancient Indian traditional medicine, indeed, «it contains properties that revive the digestive fire (deepana) and treat indigestion (pachana) » (E. Iannaccone, Ayurveda Maharishi. Una visione scientifica del più antico sistema di medicina naturale, Milano 1997).

This root in the ancient Eastern traditions is therefore considered a real panacea and is also used as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory remedy.

Is ginger also good for arthritis and joints in general?

As we have seen, ginger can boast different benefits: one of these is its ability to deal with localised pain and stiffness, which can facilitate a smooth functioning of joints and improve their health.

Its active ingredients, once absorbed by the body, can indeed «reduce inflammation and pain in rheumatic diseases and in headache» (Ibidem).

However, as with many other plants, the list of benefits cannot be completed in a few pages of an article; and in the case of ginger, the goal is even more difficult, since it is proving to be a consistently inexhaustible source of wellness and health remedies!


Ginger: fresh, powdered and titrated extract. What are the differences?

Ginger is now well known and even exploited for nutritional purposes and is frequently found on the market (often in supermarkets as well) in the form of fresh roots (rhizomes), dried or powdered roots.

You can also find bags of candied ginger, with a sweet and pungent flavour.

Both with fresh and dried ginger, you can make digestive infusions: if you use a fresh root, it should be left to steep in hot water, while powder can be added to teas or infusions to flavour them. Ginger powder can also be used in the kitchen, for the preparation, for example, of the classic, flavoured Christmas biscuits.

Including ginger in your daily diet can definitely offer benefits. However, to make the most of the properties of this spice, you should use specific supplements, in the form of extracts standardised to gingerols. Below we will try to explain simply why.

The first difference between consuming fresh or powdered ginger and taking a titrated extract is that only the latter can provide a sufficient amount of active ingredients to have any appreciable effect on digestion and against nausea.

As we said, the active ingredients of ginger, with their beneficial action, are gingerols. To take the same amount of gingerols made available by a few tablets of a titrated extract it would be necessary to consume every day a high amount of ginger: something impossible for most people!

Ginger in the kitchen and the story of Zenzy

It is not uncommon to find plants and derivatives as protagonists of fairy tales, myths and legends.

The same applies to ginger: there is, for example, the Anglo-Saxon story of Zenzy, the Gingerbread little man, which tells of this bread in the shape of a boy, who immediately took on life of its own, escaping from the oven and taking refuge in the forest, pursued by the forest inhabitants, who, in order to stop him, asked him questions to which he replied enigmatically.

It so happened that Gingerbread came across a fox on his way. The animal also asked him a few questions, very similar to those of other animals, but more cunning. The little man had no answer and was finally ... eaten up».

(G. La Rovere, Dall’aglio allo zenzero. Curiosità, proprietà e virtù delle più comuni erbe aromatiche, Roma 2002).

Secondly, often high temperatures degrade (i.e. neutralise and make ineffective) the active ingredient of the plant, so the use of fresh ginger to make infusions is, in general, pleasant but not particularly effective.

How and for how long should I take ginger supplements?

To take advantage of ginger properties one should take the supplement tablets short before meals (or during them), or whenever you have the first signs of nausea. The positive effect of this spice against nausea is almost immediate, and it can be noted in a matter of a few minutes.

A ginger supplement may also be taken without interruption for quite some time: this substance, indeed, when taken in recommended doses, does not have any side effects worth mentioning (except in cases where there are specific allergies to spices).

As with all natural products, in the presence of specific diseases or if you are taking a medication, you should always first hear the opinion of the doctor before taking the supplement.

5 false myths about ginger and properties yet to be verified

If you search online information about ginger, you may easily find lots of pages dedicated to this theme where spices are credited with many properties, not all real.

Some deal with "legendary" properties and have little scientific foundation, while others relate to virtues to further deepen to have solid scientific certainties. Let's go through some of them quickly.

1) It makes you lose weight

Ayurveda, as we have seen, considers ginger a "hot" (Yang) food and suggests its consumption to help the "digestive fire" (called agni); for these reasons, it recommends kapha people, with a tendency to gain weight (whose attributes are cold, wet, heavy) to consume it.

Perhaps for this reason too there is a widespread tendency to consider ginger a good "fat burner" and recommend its consumption to promote weight loss.

However, there are currently no authoritative scientific studies to confirm the slimming properties of ginger. What is certain is that the intake of this spice can aid digestion and the elimination of intestinal gas and, in this sense, can help reduce abdominal bloating and make you have a flatter tummy.

2) It helps keep diabetes under control

A research carried out by the University of Sydney highlighted the ability of the concentrated extract of ginger, put in contact with muscle tissue samples, to limit the absorption of glucose (or sugar). This ability would have positive implications for managing diabetes.

However, this ginger property is still yet to be confirmed by subsequent research, since the study carried out is now not sufficient to ensure certainty about the positive effects on humans.

3) It lightens hair

On different natural beauty forums ginger compresses are recommended to lighten hair.

On the same forums, however, the results obtained by users are conflicting: as a matter of fact, ginger would be more of a "natural colouring" able to leave golden hues on the hair. Nothing to do, in short, with the "lighting power" of chamomile.

4) Effective against colds

In China, ginger-based drinks have long been used as polar remedy against colds, while the decoction made from the root in Burma is used to combat influenza. However, there is not yet solid scientific evidence to confirm these benefits in humans.

According to preliminary studies conducted in China and India, ginger would be able to reduce the symptoms of colds. Studies carried out in this regard, however, have almost exclusively been conducted in vitro and need further confirmation and supporting evidence.

5) It has an aphrodisiac effect

Ginger root has been also credited by folk tradition with aphrodisiac properties. This reputation is rooted in Eastern culture: the "hot" nature of ginger would have the power to awaken the energies of the male fire and the female desire, helping to cope with a momentary "sexual exhaustion."

This legend also reached the West, where aphrodisiac properties were already being attributed to different spices; in the sixteenth century, even Nostradamus «developed a special  aphrodisiac liquid composed of ginger, pepper, cinnamon, cloves» (G. La Rovere, Ibidem, Roma 2002).

Mainstream science does not envisage, in any natural substance, the real capacity to awaken the passion of love, understanding that the general well-being promoted by many herbs can also indirectly help in this situation (if you feel well you are obviously more active in every aspect of life!).

Pickled ginger in Japanese cuisine

Ginger is traditionally used in Japanese cuisine, especially to accompany sushi dishes, along with the super spicy wasabi. Very famous and popular is the so-called "gari" or also called sushi ginger or pickled ginger, whose function is to "clean" the mouth and aid digestion.

To prepare it, one generally uses the root of fresh ginger, cut into thin slices and let marinate in vinegar or sugar water. Ginger, so prepared, is not part of the actual preparation of sushi but always accompanies the dish when served at the table.

To Conclude ...

As we have seen, ginger is a spice variously used in cooking and herbal medicine.

The root of ginger is credited with many properties but the only ones, officially recognised by the Western herbal medicine, are the digestive, anti-emetic, anti-flatulence and bowel movement regulating.

Other properties (such as the ability to fight colds and flu or to adjust sugar levels in the blood) have been corroborated by preliminary studies but have not yet been officially confirmed.

Finally, popular wisdom and Oriental medicine attribute ginger additional properties, not validated by science, such as slimming and aphrodisiac ones.

Ginger has multiple uses in the kitchen, however, to fully exploit it as a phytotherapeutic ingredient, it is good to use the titrated extract of ginger, in order to ensure sufficient quantities of active principle.



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