Aside from adding a distinctive zing to your meals, ginger boasts impressive health-boosting properties. Several studies from food science journals attest to the health benefits of ginger.
Ginger is the go-to home remedy for many people experiencing nausea and constipation - several clinical studies support the science behind these therapeutic effects. However, with its wealth of bioactive compounds, the health benefits of ginger extend far beyond this use.
In this article, we explore the particularities of the ginger root, and how you can incorporate it into your diet to reap the health benefits.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) originates from Southeast Asia. It is a flowering plant that grows to a height of around one metre. What many of us know as ‘ginger’ the irregularly-shaped, light brown bulbs often found in the supermarket vegetable aisle are actually the root of the ginger plant.
Aside from being a versatile spice that flavours dishes in a wide array of cuisines, from sweet gingerbread cookies to spicy Thai noodle soup, ginger has also been used in herbal folk medicine for centuries. It has been noted for its medicinal properties by Sushruta, an ancient Indian physician, in his writings from around 600 BC. Can modern science support these old claims? In many cases, yes - several recent studies have supported the health benefits that have long been attributed to the ginger root.1 Various compounds and nutrients have been extracted from ginger and extensively studied - several have shown promising medicinal properties.1 Both the modern and the ancient knowledge of the properties of ginger affirm its place in a healthy diet.
Nutrients we can get from ginger
Ginger root contains a wealth of nutrients and natural compounds. Many of these compounds have been shown to have activity in your body that can benefit your health.
Ginger is rich in a class of nutrients known as phenolic compounds. The characteristic phenolic compounds found in abundance in ginger, gingerols, shogaols, and paradols, contribute to its pungent, aromatic scent.2 These compounds have also been found to have antioxidant and anticancer effects; they may also kill bacteria and reduce inflammation.2
Ginger also contains vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.
Polysaccharides, lipids, organic acids and raw fibres are also found in ginger.3
Ginger health benefits
Ginger is a proven remedy for many ailments and chronic diseases. As many of its nutrients are still under study, more information about its health benefits may be found in the future.
- Reducing vomiting and nausea
Ginger is a popular home remedy for an upset stomach - several scientific studies support that ginger is effective in reducing vomiting and nausea (a feeling of sickness, or feeling like you might throw up).
Ginger has been shown to soothe the symptoms of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (NVP), also known as morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidium.4 Pregnant people may benefit from eating ginger to reduce their morning sickness - however, it is best to consult your doctor on the amount of ginger you should eat if you are pregnant.
Patients with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy sometimes experience vomiting or feelings of nausea. Ginger has been found to reduce the severity and frequency of vomiting in cancer patients in some studies.5,6
- Supporting gut health (gastrointestinal health)
Consuming ginger can help to support a healthy gut in different ways, partly due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been found that ginger can promote bowel movements and emptying, meaning that it can be used to treat mild constipation and bloating at home.7 If you have an upset stomach after a heavy meal, or if you are experiencing some trouble with going to the toilet, ginger may be a helpful remedy for your symptoms.
- Pain relief
Several of the bioactive compounds found in ginger have been shown to disrupt the processes involved in developing inflammation. This means that consuming ginger can help to soothe or relieve aches and pains in the body.
Some studies have shown that ginger can effectively reduce pain in different areas of the body.8 In some patients, ginger helps to alleviate migraines (a type of headache). Ginger has also shown some promise as a remedy for muscle soreness, knee pain from osteoarthritis, and other joint pain.8
- Easing menstrual cramps
Ginger has been extensively studied for its soothing effects on menstrual cramps. Some studies suggest that ginger successfully reduces menstrual pain - not only by lowering the severity of the pain but also by reducing the duration of the bouts of menstrual cramps.9
- Control of blood sugar
Although there is little support for the ability of ginger to directly lower blood sugar levels, some studies have demonstrated that consuming ginger can cause long-term improvements in the control of blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.10 Ginger has been found to benefit type 2 diabetes patients by increasing sensitivity to insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar levels).
Even if eating ginger does not immediately offset a sugary treat, consistently eating healthy amounts of ginger can help with controlling blood glucose levels over time.
- Protection of nerve cells
The activities of the compounds found in ginger are very diverse. Some ginger compounds have even been found to prevent dementia at various stages of its development, for example, by reducing inflammation in specific nerve cells (neurons), and by preventing some types of neuron damage and degeneration.11 However, at this early stage of clinical research, the evidence is not conclusive.11
Side effects of ginger in the body
Ginger is safe to consume for the majority of people. However, as with many potent medicinal compounds, the nutrients found in ginger should be used in a balanced way to avoid the adverse side effects that can appear if your ginger intake is too high.
Positive side effects
Aside from bringing a lively, distinctive taste to many foods and drinks, ginger may also bring some positive side effects to our bodies.
Ginger is rich in antioxidant compounds - antioxidant compounds can help to combat oxidative stress, which, in turn, can prevent cellular damage.2,12 Its high antioxidant content confers an anti-inflammatory property to ginger, which can prevent many diseases that are linked to chronic inflammation.
Another health benefit of ginger consumption is its capacity to increase our body’s responsiveness to the hormone that controls blood sugar levels - insulin.10 As a result, ginger can be particularly beneficial for those of us who would like to improve our blood glucose control long-term. Speak to your doctor about how you could incorporate ginger into your diet, and any concerns you may have, particularly if you have diabetes.
Negative side effects
Ginger is safe to eat for most. However, for healthy eating, it is important to ensure balance - some negative side effects may emerge if your ginger intake is too high, especially if other underlying conditions are present. If you are not sure if you should eat ginger or ginger supplements, or if you are not sure what a healthy dose means for you, consult your doctor for guidance.
Ginger supplements (for example, capsules of ginger powder or concentrated ginger extracts) can appear as an effective and easy way to boost your ginger intake. However, stay aware that certain supplements may contain doses that are too high for some people, and can result in adverse side effects. If you are taking anticoagulant medication, such as aspirin or warfarin, it may be safest to avoid high-concentration ginger supplements. People with diabetes can include average amounts of ginger as part of a balanced diet, but concentrated ginger supplements may do more harm than good. If in doubt, speak to your doctor about how you can include ginger in your diet in a healthy way.
How to use ginger in your diet
Ginger has been used as a spice in cuisines all around the globe for millennia - there are several tried and tested ways to use it to make food and drinks more delicious and healthy. Here are some ways to incorporate ginger into your diet:
- Ginger beverages
Ginger can be enjoyed as a herbal tea - ginger tea is easy to prepare, whether by boiling shavings of fresh ginger root or just by using pre-made tea bags. If you would prefer a cold drink, it is also possible to infuse water (with pieces of fresh ginger, or a small amount of ginger powder) to create tasty ginger water. Try an apple and ginger juice for refreshment in warm weather, as well as the health benefits.
- Seasoning and flavouring foods
Ginger can be used as a spice to enhance the flavour of various dishes, including soups, curries, stir-fries, or even cookies. Ginger comes in several forms, so you can choose whichever one suits the nature of your dish best. Commonly available forms of ginger include grated fresh ginger root, ginger paste, pickled ginger, ginger oil, and powdered or ground ginger.
- Ginger supplements
For some people, it may be appropriate to take ginger capsules (for example, dried ginger extract) as supplements to their diet. Although ginger is safe to eat, the dosage of its bioactive components may be much higher in ginger capsules than it is in fresh ginger root. This high dosage may be harmful to people with certain underlying conditions. Before taking ginger supplements, discuss with your doctor if this is the right choice for you.
How much is enough?
Ginger is abundant in nutrients with proven health benefits. However, it is essential to consider how much ginger you should eat to enjoy all the health benefits without risking unpleasant side effects.
How much ginger should we consume?
Ginger is safe to eat daily. However, if you would like to consume ginger every day or very regularly, it may be best to limit your intake to no more than 3-4 grams per day. This amount is roughly one teaspoon of raw ginger (grated), or half a teaspoon of ginger powder.
If you are pregnant, it may be best to limit your intake to 1 gram daily - consult your doctor for guidance to find the best amount for you.
Ginger root can confer a remarkable number of health benefits. Several studies have shown that consuming ginger can help reduce vomiting and nausea, as well as alleviate pain (such as menstrual cramps and migraines). Ginger is also anti-inflammatory due to its high content of phenolic compounds and antioxidants. Most people can benefit from including ginger in their diet - however, those with certain underlying health conditions may need to avoid the high dosages found in some ginger supplements.
- Anh NH, Kim SJ, Long NP, Min JE, Yoon YC, Lee EG, Kim M, et al. Ginger on Human Health: A Comprehensive Systematic Review of 109 Randomized Controlled Trials. 2020 Jan;12: 157
- Bode AM, Dong Z. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd ed. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press; 2011. Chapter 7, The Amazing and Mighty Ginger.
- Mao Q, Xu X, Cao S, Gan R, Corke H, Beta T, et al. Bioactive compounds and bioactivities of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). Foods. 2019 Jun;8(6): 185.
- Lindblad AJ, Koppula S. Ginger for nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Can Fam Physician. 2016 Feb;62(2):145
- Sanaati F, Najafi S, Kashaninia Z, Sadeghi M. Effect of Ginger and chamomile on nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy in Iranian women with breast cancer. Asian Pac. J. Cancer Prev. 2016;17(8): 4125-4129
- Marx W, McCarthy AL, Ried K, McKavanagh D, Vitetta L, Sali A, et al. The effect of a standardised ginger extract on chemotherapy-induced nausea-related quality of life in patients undergoing moderately or highly emetogenic chemotherapy: a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrients 2017 Aug;9(8): 867
- Fifi AC, Axelrod CH, Chakraborty P, Saps M. Herbs and spices in the treatment of functional gastrointestinal disorders: a review of clinical trials. Nutrients. 2018 Nov; 10(11): 1715.
- Rondanelli M, Fossari F, Vecchio V, Gasparri C, Peroni G, Spadaccini D, et al. Clinical trials on pain lowering effect of ginger: a narrative review. Phytother Res. 2020 Nov;34(11): 2843-2856
- Chen C, Barrett B, Kwekkeboom KL. Efficacy of oral ginger (Zingiber officinale) for dysmenorrhea: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2016 May;6295737
- Huang F, Deng T, Meng L, Ma X. Dietary ginger as traditional therapy for blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes. 2019 Mar;98(13): e15054
- Schepici G, Contestabile V, Valeri A, Mazzon E. Ginger, a possible candidate for the treatment of dementias? Molecules. 2021 Sep 21;26(18):5700
- Hussain T, Yin Y, Blachier F, Tossou MC, Rahu N. Oxidative stress and inflammation: What polyphenols can do for us? Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016 Sep;2016:7432797. DOI: 10.1155/2016/743279