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  • Dan Kenner, Ph.D., L.Ac.

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Health Benefits of Ginger

Ginger is a familiar food item to most people. In the U.S. it is a popular ingredient in gingerbread and ginger snaps (cookies). In Japan it is a fairly common, if not everyday part of the diet. Pickled ginger is also familiar to customers in sushi bars around the world. Ginger is also a part of other Japanese traditions. The ginger compress (生姜湿布) is a traditional folk remedy for treating pain and a variety of circulatory problems. Ginger moxibustion (生姜灸) has also played a role in traditional medicine. One recent study showedthat ginger-salt moxibustion is therapeutic for post-stroke urinary disorders. Ginger root, both fresh and dried, are also found in many traditional Kampo (Japanese traditional botanical medicine) formulas.

Ginger is also used in botanical medicine in Europe. In French phytoaromatherapy it is used as a digestive anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcerative medication. It is considered to increase digestive enzyme production and improve insulin activity. It is used as an adrenal cortex stimulant (glucocorticoids), a stimulant of testicular androgens and stimulates secretion of the thyroid hormone T-4. It can augment the effect of anticoagulants. It is used clinically for post-partum fatigue, hypothyroidism, peri-menopausal fatigue, Grave’s thyroiditis, thyroid nodules, andropause and various types of digestive insufficiency.

What most people may not realize is that ginger has been the subject of medical research for a wide range of afflictions and has demonstrated a high level of effectiveness rivaling even turmeric for its therapeutic value. Ginger, like turmeric, is anti-inflammatory but ginger is also effective for pain. In a comparison study ginger was found to be as effective as pharmaceutical pain relievers ibuprofen (Advil) and mefenamic acid (Ponstel) for menstrual pain. Another placebo-controlled study also showed significant pain relief at onset of menses and three days prior.Massage therapy with ginger and orange oil have been used successfully as a method for short-term knee pain relief. Ginger has reduced symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee.

The effectiveness of ginger powder in the treatment of common migraine attacks is statistically comparable to the drug sumatriptan and ginger also has fewer side effects. In a double-blind randomized clinical trial, 100 patients who had acute migraine headache were randomly given either ginger powder or sumatriptan. Two hours after using either substance, headache severity decreased significantly. Patient satisfaction from treatment efficacy and their willingness to continue it was also evaluated after 1 month. Efficacy of ginger powder and sumatriptan was similar and patients’ satisfaction and willingness to continue was as high for the ginger group as for the drug.Ginger root has also been found to reduce vertigo in human subjects.

Ginger has the ability to shrink tumors. It is even more effective than some cancer drugs, many of which have been shown to be completely ineffective and actually accelerate the death of cancer patients by promoting metastasis and impairing immune function. Some cancer drugs have been observed to actually increase the size of tumors. In one study based at Georgia State University, whole ginger extract was revealed to shrink prostate tumor size by 56% in mice. The anticancer properties were observed in addition to ginger’s role in reducing inflammation as well as being a rich source of life-enhancing antioxidants.Over 17 other studies have also reached similar conclusions on ginger’s anti-cancer benefits, with the spice being shown by peer-reviewed research to positively impact over 101 diseases. Ginger is radioprotective. Ginger reduced chromosomal aberration and protected against cellular DNA damage in bone marrow cells.

Ginger has several notable beneficial effects on the digestive tract. It has been found to be effective not only as an anti-cancer agent but for nausea, even for the nausea of cancer chemotherapy. Ginger is effective in treating nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Ginger increases breast milk volume in the immediate postpartum period without any notable side effect. Ginger has a therapeutic effect on motion sickness as well. Ginger extract has been found to reduce delayed gastric emptying and nosocomial pneumonia in adult respiratory distress syndrome patients hospitalized in an intensive care unit. It was discovered in another study that ginger has anti-ulcerative effects and kills Helicobacter pylori, the stomach bacteria associated with ulcer development.

Ginger can possibly play a role in preventing diabetes and even in treating existing cases. One study showed how ginger supplementation improved insulin sensitivity and some blood lipids in Type II diabetes patients. It may be considered as a useful remedy to reduce the secondary complications of diabetes. It reduced CRP* and PGE2*, both blood test markers of inflammation, in type 2 diabetic patients. Studies have also shown that ginger is neuroprotective and kidney protective in diabetes, prevent life-threatening complications. Ginger has a significant lipid lowering effect compared to placebo. One study indicated that daily administration of 1 gram of ginger reduced serum triglyceride concentration, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Ginger is antimicrobial. It has inhibited viral and bacterial activity in the respiratory tract in various human and animal studies. Antiviral HIV-1 protease was strongly inhibited by an extract of Alpinia galangal, a type of ginger. This extract also inhibited Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and Human Cytomegalovirus proteases. HCV protease was most efficiently inhibited by the extracts from another type of ginger, Zingiber officinale.

There are actually many more studies and indications of ginger for various health problems that are not mentioned here. Suffice it to say that there is hardly any better example than ginger to illustrate the axiom “Food is our best medicine.”

*CRP = C-reactive protein

*PGE2 = Prostaglandin E2


Dan Kenner, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Dan Kenner, Ph.D., L.Ac.
Acupuncture and Integrative Medical College (AIMC Berkeley)

DAN KENNER, Ph.D., L.Ac graduated in 1979 from the Meiji College of Oriental Medicine in Japan, passed the Japanese National Licensing Examination and then trained in Internships at Osaka Medical University Pain Clinic and Kinki University Medical Teaching Hospital. He is licensed to practice Oriental Medicine both in the U.S. and in Japan. He also has a Ph.D. in Naturopathic Medical Science from the First National University of Naturopathic Medical Sciences. Dr. Kenner is on the Board of Directors of the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley, California and the National Health Federation. He is author of The Whole-Body Workbook for Cancer and other titles. Since 1983, he has endeavored to integrate the Naturopathic Medical Traditions of North America and Europe with the Traditional Medicine of East Asia.

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