Ginger´s Potential Anti-Inflammatory Effects

  • Dr. Priyanka Thakur Bachelor in Medicine, Bachelor in Surgery (MBBS), DRPGMC, India
  • Regina Lopes Senior Nursing Assistant, Health and Social Care, The Open University

Ginger is well known for its zest fragrance and the spicy “kick” flavour that it imparts to beverages and sweet and savoury dishes. Interestingly, the compounds responsible for its flavour also provide a range of health benefits. The official name of the plant, Zingiber officinale, refers to its “horn shape” and is cultivated commercially in China, Southeast Asia, India, Mexico and other parts of the world. Ginger is a root called a rhizome that grows underground and extends horizontally by shooting new roots from its nodes. 

It has been used as a spice in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for centuries. However, nowadays it has drawn attention for its benefits against chronic inflammatory diseases like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel syndrome. In this article, we will explore how inflammation occurs, the compounds from ginger responsible for the anti-inflammatory effect and the potential health benefits in chronic inflammatory diseases. 

Inflammation: causes and consequences

Inflammation comes from the Latin word inflamare, which means “to set on fire”. Is the body's natural response against harmful germs, injuries or infections and sets in motion a series of processes to eliminate this harm and restore balance. Cells from the immune system can recognise the presence of an external germ on a cut on your finger and are attracted to specific locations to start the healing process. For instance, macrophages can digest and eliminate damaged cells from tissues, neutrophils can recognise strange germs, and platelets clump together to restore tissues. Other compounds like cytokines are also released to mediate inflammation and initiate the healing process. They are called inflammatory markers because they are raised when inflammation takes place, such as interleukin 1, interleukin 6 or tumour necrosis factor.

Inflammation can occur in two different forms: acute and chronic. The acute response is the one you are usually familiar with, is rapid and persists only for a few hours or days. For example, when you get a bruise, there is swallowing, pain, and redness, but after a few days, the symptoms are gone. However, if the inflammation continues for a long term, like months or years, it becomes chronic. In this form, the inflammation process is uncontrolled, meaning that your immune system keeps sending inflammatory cells even though there is no harm or injury present. 

Chronic inflammation affects tissues, organs and systems you can´t see and is related to a range of health problems which could lead to other major disorders, for instance:

Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds in ginger

Ginger has a plethora of compounds, including fibre, vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and terpenes, which have positive effects in minimising inflammation in the body. 

Polyphenols are beneficial nutrients that protect the body, fight against free radicals, and prevent oxidative stress.1 Free radicals are small unstable molecules that are produced naturally by the body. Poor diets, stress, cigarette smoke, and ultraviolet radiation (direct sunlight and tanning beds) can overproduce free radicals, and when built up in the body, they lead to oxidative stress and inflammation. Because they are chemically so unstable, they feel the need to bind to other compounds to gain stability but damage cells in the process. 

Polyphenols feel very attracted to free radicals and can bind with them to provide stability. Their pairing prevents free radicals from producing further damage in cells. We get polyphenols from the diet, especially from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and spices. Interestingly, ginger provides various polyphenols that could help prevent oxidative stress and inflammation:

  • Gingerol: is the main compound in fresh ginger and is responsible for the pungent flavour of the root. Different types of gingerol coexist with different antioxidant capacities: 10-gingerol, 8-gingerol and 6-gingerol.2 
  • Shogaols: are mainly present in dry ginger, and they are obtained when water is removed from fresh ginger by dehydration. Shogaols present a higher anti-antioxidant capacity than gingerol.2
  • Parasols: are a minor component in fresh ginger, but microbes can transform schools into parasols.3 In animal studies, parasols may have an effect in reducing blood sugar, but further studies are required in humans.4 
  • Zingerone: it´s a promising polyphenol that has the ability to reduce inflammatory markers.5 It may help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, especially in rheumatoid arthritis.5

Potential health benefits of ginger

In this context, the compounds from ginger have been shown to be beneficial in managing different types of diseases and conditions. 

Joint health support

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease affecting joints like hands, feet, wrists, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. In other words, your own inflammatory cells attack joints and surrounding tissue, causing inflammation. The main symptoms are pain, swelling, and stiffness with decreased mobility and joint function. The cause of RA is unknown, so it may depend on individual genetic predisposition and environmental factors. In a recent study, individuals diagnosed with RA who were given dried ginger capsules were able to reduce their symptoms and inflammatory markers more than those who did not take the ginger capsules.6 Even though further studies are needed, dried ginger may be promising to reduce the disease manifestation. 

Ginger and digestive health

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for chronic digestive disorders of unknown cause. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are among these diseases. The origin could be a combination of environmental factors that triggers a chronic inflammatory response in genetically predisposed individuals. In other words, an infection caused by a certain pathogen, coupled with a defective function of the intestinal barrier, could trigger a chronic inflammatory response of the immune system. The main symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and bloody stools. 

Ginger has a long history of medicinal use to treat gastrointestinal ailments. The root has been used since ancient times to treat abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, indigestion and bloating. This traditional use has encouraged research to evaluate its effectiveness in people with IBD. Results to treat these diseases still remain controversial, and further research is needed.7 However, ginger compounds can reduce inflammatory markers in IBD,8 may improve the diversity of gut microbiota and could strengthen cell adhesion in the intestine to prevent germs from passing through.10  

Ginger´s polyphenols and cancer

Diets rich in plant-based foods have shown to prevent different types of cancers.11 Among other reasons, the amount and type of phytochemicals provided in these diets may exert this beneficial effect.11 Phytochemicals are a group of compounds present in many foods which provide beneficial health effects. Polyphenols, like the ones we mention in ginger, are among these compounds. 

Chronic inflammation could contribute to cancer development and the generation of tumours.12 For instance, gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach) could lead to stomach cancer.13  Gingerols and shogaols from ginger have been shown to reduce cancer cell proliferation by interfering in its process.13 Therefore, including ginger in your diet could help prevent a vast array of inflammatory lead diseases. 

Brain health effect

Neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, are a group of diseases in which different areas of the nervous system are gradually damaged and destroyed. Certain habits that can generate inflammation and oxidative stress could also lead to the development of these diseases, among other risk factors.14 The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger could play a role in preventing conditions related to brain function.14

Evidence also suggests that ginger could reduce migraine pain.15 Various clinical studies demonstrated that individuals who consume ginger experience a reduction in pain after 2 hours compared to those who did not incorporate ginger into their regimen.15 Ginger also reduced their nausea and vomiting symptoms. Hence, if you experience severe headaches, consider incorporating ginger into your routine for relief from pain.

Form of consumption

Fresh foods are rich sources of essential nutrients for our well-being, and the methods used to process them can amplify their nutritional benefits. Hence, consuming foods in different forms can maximise their nutritional value. Ginger exemplifies this principle. Whether enjoyed fresh, fermented, roasted, or dried, ginger yields diverse compounds, each offering unique health effects.  

Raw ginger

Incorporating fresh ginger into your culinary repertoire is simple and versatile. Once peeled, it can be effortlessly sliced or grated, ready to enhance an array of recipes. In savoury dishes, its unique flavour profile serves to harmonise and uplift, offering a delicate sweetness and refreshing zest that beautifully complements the savoury notes. From enriching soups and stir-fries to infusing curries with depth, the culinary possibilities are boundless. 

Moreover, fresh ginger lends its distinctive essence to sweet treats like cookies, cakes, and pastries, imparting a delightful warmth and complexity. Not limited to savoury or sweet realms alone, both cold and hot beverages benefit from the addition of fresh ginger. Consider incorporating slices into smoothies or juices for a revitalising twist, or steeping them in hot water to craft a comforting cup of ginger tea.

Powdered ginger

Ginger in powdered form offers another convenient option for incorporating this versatile spice into your diet. With a longer shelf life compared to fresh ginger, powdered ginger provides a practical solution without sacrificing flavour. Although the taste and aroma may differ slightly, it remains a potent addition to various culinary creations. As a rule of thumb, one teaspoon of fresh ginger can be substituted with one-fourth teaspoon of powdered ginger. While commonly used in baking for its ease of use and consistent flavour infusion, powdered ginger lends itself well to a multitude of applications. Consider sprinkling it into hot water for a soothing cup of ginger tea, blending it into honey for a delectable spread on toast or a flavorful addition to smoothies, or incorporating it into cold beverages for a refreshing twist.

Ginger supplements

Before incorporating ginger supplements into your regimen, it's advisable to seek guidance from your healthcare provider. While several studies have indicated the potential of ginger supplements in reducing inflammatory markers and oxidative stress,16,17 research in this area remains somewhat limited. Further investigations are necessary to explore the efficacy of various ginger types, optimal dosages, treatment durations, and their suitability across diverse populations. Additionally, it's crucial to exercise caution as supplements are not extensively regulated, raising concerns about the consistency and purity of their ingredients. Stay vigilant and prioritise high-quality products to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Summary

Inflammation serves a purpose and is not inherently negative. It's a normal mechanism to fight against harmful bacteria or heal damaged tissue to restore balance. On some occasions, your genetic predisposition, unhealthy habits or environmental factors can cause your own immune cells to become uncontrolled and attack your own tissues when there is no danger present. The body can rely on certain compounds from spices like ginger to prevent further damage. The polyphenols from ginger, like gingerol, shogaols and zingerones, can help you with that. In fact, there is evidence of their benefit in many chronic inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, inflammatory bowel syndrome and neurodegenerative diseases. Maximise the benefits of ginger's potent anti-inflammatory effects by incorporating it in various forms. Embracing its versatility allows you to fully harness its therapeutic potential, enhancing your overall well-being. 

References

  1. Zhang H, Tsao R. Dietary polyphenols, oxidative stress and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Current Opinion in Food Science [Internet]. 2016 Apr [cited 2024 Feb 12];8:33–42. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S2214799316300133
  2. Dugasani S, Pichika MR, Nadarajah VD, Balijepalli MK, Tandra S, Korlakunta JN. Comparative antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of [6]-gingerol, [8]-gingerol, [10]-gingerol and [6]-shogaol. Journal of Ethnopharmacology [Internet]. 2010 Feb [cited 2024 Jan 29];127(2):515–20. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0378874109006448
  3. Kiyama R. Nutritional implications of ginger: chemistry, biological activities and signalling pathways. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry [Internet]. 2020 Dec [cited 2024 Feb 12];86:108486. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0955286320305180
  4. Verma R, Bisen PS. Ginger- a potential source of therapeutic and pharmaceutical compounds. JFB [Internet]. 2022 Jun 30 [cited 2024 Jan 29];18. Available from: http://www.isnff-jfb.com/index.php/JFB/article/view/284
  5. Bashir N, Ahmad SB, Rehman MU, Muzamil S, Bhat RR, Mir MUR, et al. Zingerone (4-(four-hydroxy-3-methylphenyl) butane-two-1) modulates adjuvant-induced rheumatoid arthritis by regulating inflammatory cytokines and antioxidants. Redox Report [Internet]. 2021 Jan 1 [cited 2024 Jan 30];26(1):62–70. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13510002.2021.1907518
  6. Aryaeian N, Shahram F, Mahmoudi M, Tavakoli H, Yousefi B, Arablou T, et al. The effect of ginger supplementation on some immunity and inflammation intermediate genes expression in patients with active Rheumatoid Arthritis. Gene [Internet]. 2019 May [cited 2024 Jan 30];698:179–85. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0378111919301313
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  9. Guo S, Geng W, Chen S, Wang L, Rong X, Wang S, et al. Ginger alleviates dss-induced ulcerative colitis severity by improving the diversity and function of gut microbiota. Front Pharmacol [Internet]. 2021 Feb 22 [cited 2024 Jan 31];12:632569. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2021.632569/full
  10. Kim MS, Kim JY. Ginger attenuates inflammation in a mouse model of dextran sulfate sodium-induced colitis. Food Sci Biotechnol [Internet]. 2018 Oct [cited 2024 Jan 31];27(5):1493–501. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s10068-018-0438-6
  11. DeClercq V, Nearing JT, Sweeney E. Plant-based diets and cancer risk: what is the evidence? Curr Nutr Rep [Internet]. 2022 Jun [cited 2024 Feb 6];11(2):354–69. Available from: https://link.springer.com/10.1007/s13668-022-00409-0
  12. Greten FR, Grivennikov SI. Inflammation and cancer: triggers, mechanisms, and consequences. Immunity [Internet]. 2019 Jul [cited 2024 Feb 6];51(1):27–41. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S107476131930295X
  13. Askari G, Aghajani M, Salehi M, Najafgholizadeh A, Keshavarzpour Z, Fadel A, et al. The effects of ginger supplementation on biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Journal of Herbal Medicine [Internet]. 2020 Aug [cited 2024 Feb 11];22:100364. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S2210803320300361
  14. Arcusa R, Villaño D, Marhuenda J, Cano M, Cerdà B, Zafrilla P. Potential role of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases. Front Nutr [Internet]. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2024 Feb 12];9:809621. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2022.809621/full
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  16. Askari G, Aghajani M, Salehi M, Najafgholizadeh A, Keshavarzpour Z, Fadel A, et al. The effects of ginger supplementation on biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Journal of Herbal Medicine [Internet]. 2020 Aug [cited 2024 Feb 11];22:100364. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S2210803320300361
  17. Jalali M, Mahmoodi M, Moosavian SP, Jalali R, Ferns G, Mosallanezhad A, et al. The effects of ginger supplementation on markers of inflammatory and oxidative stress: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of clinical trials. Phytotherapy Research [Internet]. 2020 Aug [cited 2024 Feb 11];34(8):1723–33. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.6638
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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