Our modern world is a difficult place to maintain a healthful balance. Ginger is, hands down, one of the most broadly therapeutic and familiar plant allies available to us to prevent and even reverse a wide range of ailments, with the science supporting its safety and efficacy one of the most robust.
Ginger root (Zingiber officinale) is a powerful medicinal herb that has been used for centuries to keep mankind in balance. Rich in bioactive terpenes, ginger belongs to the same powerhouse plant family, Zingiberaceae, as turmeric and cardamom. Ginger became prized by herbalists around the world during the days of the early spice trade, when it was first exported from India and Southern Asia into Europe. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda consider ginger to be warming to the system, thus stimulating to the “digestive fire.” Traditional uses reflect this understanding of ginger’s powerful healing properties: it’s known for relieving nausea, aiding digestion, soothing cramps, and improving circulation. Ginger also possesses potent detoxifying properties, stimulating elimination via bowel release and perspiration.
If the benefits of ginger stopped there, it would be a miracle plant food worthy of daily consumption. But modern science has not only validated ginger’s traditional uses, it has put ginger into an elite “superfood” category where the lines between food and medicine become blurred. Sure, ginger can keep your tummy happily humming along. But did you know it may also help prevent you from falling prey to some of the worst health conditions plaguing people today?
A Remedy for What Ails You
With nearly 3,000 years of documented use and almost as many scientific abstracts on ginger’s effectiveness, it can be difficult to narrow down ginger’s five most powerful health benefits. One approach is to cross-reference ginger’s healing properties with the worst disease threats in our world today. The World Health Organization, whose stated mission is to combat diseases around the world, publishes annual statistics on the top ten causes of death, worldwide. In 2017, there are five diseases on the list for which ginger has been shown to provide significant benefit:
- Heart disease
- Lung cancer
- Diarrheal diseases
Let’s examine the most impactful scientific research that has been conducted on ginger in recent years, to see how ginger can be applied therapeutically and proactively to ward-off and treat disease.
Ginger helps the heart in a myriad of ways. Studies have verified ginger’s potent ability to lower blood pressure, also referred to as cardiodepressant activity. Researchers have identified ginger’s “significant intrinsic activity on smooth muscle” of the heart, which was observed by researchers exploring ginger’s traditional uses for cardiopathy, high blood pressure, palpitations. and as a vasodilator to improve circulation. An eye-opening 2016 animal study demonstrated the powerful cardioprotective properties of ginger as it relates to damage already done to the heart, in this case by diabetes. Researchers unequivocally concluded that “ginger extract significantly reduces heart structural abnormalities in diabetic rats.” 
A 2017 cross-sectional study titled, Evaluation of daily ginger consumption for the prevention of chronic diseases in adults, examined whether daily ginger consumption – as well as how much ginger – impacted the symptoms of chronic diseases like hypertension and coronary heart disease, or CHD. Results showed that daily ginger consumption was associated with decreased risk for hypertension and CHD, with the probability for both illnesses decreasing when the amount of daily ginger intake increased. A September 2017 scientific review examined ginger and several other therapeutic herbs and spices for evidence of antioxidant activity, and Impact on human health. Ginger and garlic were determined to have “extensively therapeutic effects…especially for cardiovascular diseases.” Ginger’s anti-carcinogenic properties were also noted in this study. 
Described as a “brain attack,” cerebral apoplexy, otherwise known as stroke, occurs when one or more areas of the brain are damaged due to oxygen deprivation. The fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, ginger’s usefulness for stroke lies in its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In 2006, a human study was conducted on eighty-two adults suffering stroke-induced brain damage which brought on urination disorders due to flaccid or spastic bladder. Moxibustion treatment, a type of heat therapy where materials are warmed and placed on or near the skin, using ginger and salt was applied to the treatment group five times each week. After three weeks, numerous factors improved for the treatment group which were not observed in the control group, including less frequent urination, less urgency to urinate, and decreased incontinence. Researchers concluded that “ginger-salt-partitioned moxibustion is a safe and effective therapy for urination disorders post-stroke.”
A study released in October 2016 examined one of the active constituents of ginger known as 6-Shogaol, an isolate known to have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Oxidative stress and inflammation are closely associated with restricted blood supply, a primary factor of stroke, and can eventually result in brain cell death. Conversely, substances that are antioxidant and reduce inflammation are potentially therapeutic for disorders of the brain and central nervous system. This study’s aim was to evaluate if daily, oral doses of 6-shogaol exerts neuroprotective activity in mice. After seven days, researchers observed that mice fed 6-shogaol demonstrated “significantly reduced neurological deficit scores” as well as a reduced “mean infarct area,” indicating a return of healthy blood flow to the brain. Improved behavioral deficits were also observed, and inflammatory markers in the brain were reduced. Researchers concluded that 6-shogaol can improve outcomes of stroke-induced brain damage, and has demonstrated benefit as a potential preventative of stroke.
With over 420 PubMed abstracts on ginger’s usefulness for cancer, science has clearly corroborated the chemoprotective properties of this amazing herbal medicine. Some of the most promising studies include an October 2015 study exploring the potential to synthesize effective anticancer drugs from ginger’s active constituents. Once again, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions of 6-shogaol were highlighted as presenting “a promising opportunity to identify novel anticancer compounds originating from ginger.”Another landmark study on ginger’s potential benefits for cancer sufferers found that ginger is 10,000 times stronger than the chemotherapy drug Taxol. This study determined that 6-shogaol was more effective than chemo at targeting the root cause of breast cancer malignancy, namely, the stem cells or “mother cells” that are responsible for spawning “daughter cells” that make-up the tumor colony. The contrast in ginger’s effectiveness as compared to Taxol was staggering. Per the researchers: “Taxol…did not show activity against the [cancer cells] even at 10,000-fold higher concentration compared to 6-shogaol.”
6-shogaol isn’t the only bioactive constituent in ginger that cancer researchers are excited about. 6-Gingerol has also been reported to exert antitumor activities. A 2014 study of 6-gingerol and its effect on cancer cells, found that it was extensively metabolized by both human and animal cancer cells, where it had a cytotoxic effect, inhibiting cancer cell growth, and contributing to the death of cells. Further studies confirm that while these active elements in ginger are toxic to cancer cells, they have no negative effect on healthy cells, a far superior effect than toxic chemotherapy drugs. Multiple studies on ginger’s antiemetic properties have found that ginger provides further therapeutic benefit to cancer patients by helping to ease the nausea often associated with traditional cancer treatments.,,
A great amount of focus has been paid to ginger’s ability to normalize digestive processes, such as soothing nausea and stimulating digestive fluids. With half-a-billion people at risk for Type-2 diabetes, a less well-known but vitally important superpower is ginger’s ability to regulate cholesterol and blood sugar. A 2014 study on glycemic status, lipids, and inflammatory markers examined seventy, Type-2 diabetes patients, with half the group consuming 1600 mg ginger versus placebo group. Results showed that ginger significantly reduced fasting plasma glucose, insulin, triglycerides, and total cholesterol, as compared with placebo group, and can be considered as an effective treatment for prevention of complications from diabetes. Another 2014 study sought to identify the effect of ginger supplementation on insulin resistance and glycemic indices in diabetes mellitus. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in which 88 diabetic participants were randomly assigned into ginger and placebo groups, powdered ginger was given three times per day in 1-gram capsules for eight weeks. The dramatic results showed that fasting blood sugar mean average of the ginger group decreased 10.5%, whereas the mean blood sugar of placebo group had an increase of 21%.
Numerous studies support ginger’s anti-diabetic and lipid-lowering properties, including the seven studies on our database providing proof of its efficacy. Ginger delivers added benefits in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Studies like this one in 2012 show that regular consumption of dietary ginger helps protect against and improve systemic diabetic complications. Ginger imparts a beneficial effect on the kidneys, an organ that is frequently damaged as a side-effect of uncontrolled diabetes. Researchers noted that a function of diabetes is to “disturb homeostasis of metabolic enzymes” regulated by the kidneys. This study demonstrated that extract of ginger could lower blood glucose levels, as well as improve activities of mitochondrial enzymes in diabetic rats, thus providing nephro-protective (kidney-protective) properties that have the potential to reverse diabetic-induced complications.
Diarrhea is typically an infection in the intestinal tract that causes three or more loose stools per day. Diarrheal diseases can be caused by a variety of bacterial, viral, and parasitic organisms, and are the second-leading cause of death in children under five. If a positive aspect of this disease can be found, it’s that it is entirely preventable, and also highly treatable. Ginger is an exceptional herbal medicinal for the prevention and treatment of all types of diarrheal diseases.
Food poisoning is one of the most common causes of diarrhea, and bacterial contamination from fish and shellfish is one of the easiest ways to get food poisoning. An October 2016 study isolated several bacterial strains common to fish and shellfish, and tested the efficacy of treatment with essential oil extracted from Zingiber officinale rhizomes. Researchers found that only a small amount of essential oil was needed to inhibit the growth of the selected bacteria, and that ginger oil “can be used as a good natural preservative in fish food due to antioxidant and antibacterial activities.”
In diarrheal diseases, the bacteria itself is not what poses the threat to human life, but rather the toxins that are released by the bacteria’s metabolic processes. Zingerone, another potent compound in ginger, binds to these toxins so that they cannot interact with the gut, effectively preventing diarrhea and its associated risks. Ginger can also come to the rescue when other drugs are introduced to the system. In 2016, researchers wanted a way to ameliorate the nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting that accompanied treatment with an anti-tuberculosis drug. Results showed that ginger had a soothing effect on these symptoms, and could be an effective adjutant when pharmaceutical drugs are not well-tolerated.
Diarrheal diseases are extremely common in areas of the world plagued by contaminated drinking water. Bangladesh is one such area, and local researchers wanted to find out if certain traditional spices possessed antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Samples of drug-resistant Escherichia coli were isolated from the drinking water, and tested against isolates of lime juice, garlic, ginger, onion, coriander, and black pepper. While none of these isolates alone had a significant inhibitory effect, a combination of lime, garlic, and ginger suppressed all bacteria samples. Researchers concluded that these isolates might form an effective barrier against enteric pathogens and could be used for prevention of diarrheal diseases.
While ginger is very safe, there are a few contraindications to be aware of. Rare cases of allergic reaction have been noted, and it can interact with many drugs, including heart medications, blood thinners, and diabetes medications. Ask your doctor or consult a naturopath if you would like to add ginger to your health regimen and are taking any of these medications.
The ameliorative potential of ginger is explored in depth in GreenMedInfo’s 145-pg research paper. There are over 2100 published studies on the medicinal properties of ginger in the scientific literature, and the Greenmedinfo.com database contains evidence of ginger’s value in over 170 different health conditions, with more than 50 beneficial physiological effects.