Incorporating Ginger For Respiratory Wellness

  • Helen McLachlanMSc Molecular Biology & Pathology of Viruses, Imperial College London

Ginger

Ginger is a flowering plant which is native to southeast Asia growing mostly in tropical regions around the world. Zingiber officinale is the scientific name of the ginger plant.

The stem of a ginger plant grows underground. This underground stem of the ginger plant has been widely used in recipes as well as in various medicinal preparations since centuries.

This stem is not a traditional stem but a rhizome. Rhizomes are plant stems that grow underground, and roots and shoots of the plant come from the nodes on the rhizome.

Use of ginger as a spice

Ginger is a spice that is widely used for its unique flavour and medicinal properties. Ginger tastes pungent, warm, spicy, and slightly sweet. It has a refreshing and distinctive warm zing which brings a pleasant kick to the flavour. Fresh ginger has quite a sharp and intense flavour compared to dry ginger. Ginger is used in various culinary dishes like curries, soups, stir fries, bakery items and drinks like ginger tea, ginger ale and ginger sodas.

Use of ginger in medicine

Ginger is a rich source of bioactive compounds like gingerol, shogaol, and zingerone. These compounds have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and immune boosting properties.

In traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, ginger has been used for centuries for treating respiratory infections, coughs, colds, arthritis, and digestive disorders.

What are the active compounds in ginger?  

To date, over 400 bioactive compounds have been derived from ginger.1 The bioactive compounds are responsible for the medicinal effects of ginger, some of which are: 

Gingerol

The characteristic ginger flavour and medicinal properties of ginger are due to a primary bioactive compound found in ginger known as gingerol. Gingerol is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial in action so it is used to relieve symptoms of respiratory conditions like sinusitis, asthma and bronchitis.

Shogaol

When ginger is dried or cooked it gets converted into another compound called shogaol. Shogaol has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Zingerone

Zingerone is another compound in ginger with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Zingerone gives ginger its spicy flavour.

Gingerdiol

Gingerdiol may have anti-inflammatory properties helpful to reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract.

Volatile components

Ginger essential oil has various volatile components like sesquiterpenes and monoterpenes which add to its medicinal properties.

What is respiratory wellness?

Respiratory wellness is a state in which lungs, airways and other associated respiratory system organs are in optimum health and functioning normally.

The following are some measures you can take for respiratory wellness:

  • Exercise, adequate hydration and enough sleep
  • Maintain indoor air quality by maintaining proper ventilation and sanitisation
  • Breathing exercises like pranayama
  • Maintaining proper posture for optimum lung function
  • Avoid exposure to respiratory system irritants like smoke, allergens, air pollution and harmful chemicals
  • Balanced diet incorporating ingredients which helps to maintain respiratory wellness

How ginger can help to maintain respiratory wellness?

Anti-inflammatory properties

Respiratory conditions often cause inflammation in the airways. Ginger reduces inflammation so symptoms like coughing and difficulty breathing are relieved. It relieves throat discomfort and irritation. Ginger preparations are often used to soothe a sore throat. 

Antioxidant activity

Oxidative stress reduces immunity and makes the body prone to various kinds of infections. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress by neutralising harmful free radicals and protecting cells from damage. Ginger is a rich source of antioxidants.2 It aids in preventing respiratory infections by improving overall immunity.

Mucolytic properties

Excess mucus in the respiratory tract can create a favourable environment for the growth of bacteria and viruses. Ginger helps to break down the mucus, so it becomes easier to expel it from the respiratory tract. This prevents build-up of mucus and consequently prevents the growth of bacteria and viruses.

Immune system support

Ginger is helpful for the production of immune cells. This improves the immunity of the body3 and reduces the duration and severity of the symptoms if an infection occurs.

Antimicrobial properties

Ginger has antimicrobial properties owing to the gingerol, shogaol and zingerone it contains. These compounds inhibit the growth of various bacteria and viruses responsible for respiratory infections.

How to use ginger for respiratory wellness?

Ginger capsules or supplements

Various supplements and herbal formulations containing ginger are available over the counter in the form of capsules, tablets, syrups and extracts. These products mostly contain ginger in concentrated form so always follow the dosage instructions and indications for which it is intended to be used.

Ginger essential oil inhalation

You can also put a few drops of ginger essential oil on a tissue and inhale it, or add it to a diffuser and experience the ginger aroma. The vapours of volatile oil in ginger relieve congestion by dilating the airways. Being antimicrobial, it also fights against respiratory infections.

Ginger massage oil

Mix a few drops of ginger essential oil into a carrier oil like coconut or almond oil, and use this mixture to massage the chest, back, or throat in circular motions. It helps to reduce  wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing.

Ginger chews or sweets

Ginger chews or sweets are another great option which is convenient and readily available to consume. In one research study, Ginger proved to be better at relieving nausea experienced by pregnant women than acupressure.4

Ginger tea

Add ½ an inch of fresh ginger which is grated or sliced into hot water, and let it steep or boil for about 5 to 10 minutes to prepare ginger tea. Strain the tea and drink it slowly. Ginger tea helps to settle an upset stomach and reduces nausea and vomiting.5

It also helps to reduce congestion and coughing, and helps to fight off respiratory system infections. Drinking ginger tea with honey can provide relief from throat irritation and discomfort.

Ginger turmeric golden milk

Ginger turmeric golden milk is a great way to get relief from respiratory symptoms. Add a few strands of grated ginger and turmeric along with cinnamon and black pepper into milk. Simmer this mixture on heat and your homemade ginger drink is ready to enjoy.

Ginger honey syrup

You can make ginger honey syrup by adding grated ginger and honey into a jar. Let the ginger infuse into the honey for a few hours and you can take 1–2 teaspoons of this syrup to soothe coughs and reduce throat irritation and congestion.

Ginger in cooking

The easiest way to use ginger is in cooking. Adding a few strands of ginger to stir fries, smoothies, cookies and cakes greatly enhances the flavour of the recipe and provides medicinal benefits as well.

Amount and duration of use of ginger

Amount

About ½ to 1 inch of fresh ginger root can be used safely in any recipe preparation or as a dietary supplement.

For the use of ginger for medicinal purposes, typically the dosage is 250 mg to 1 gram (or more) per day, divided into two or three doses. Follow the dosage guidelines on the formulation that you are using.

Duration of use

Ginger can be used safely for several days to a few weeks until the symptoms for which it is being used starts to improve. If you are using ginger as a dietary supplement or for longer periods of time, then it is essential to discontinue the use for some time and then restart it again. This is to avoid any potential dependence and to maintain its effectiveness over the time.

Precautions and considerations

Ginger is relatively safe to consume for most people in moderate amounts, however in some cases it can cause side effects and interactions with other medications.

Side Effects

Gastrointestinal Upset

Eating large amounts of ginger on an empty stomach can cause digestive issues like heartburn, gas or diarrhoea.

Risk of bleeding

Ginger may have blood thinning properties, so If you have bleeding disorders or are taking any blood thinning medications do not consume ginger without consulting your healthcare provider6

Allergic reactions

Ginger can cause allergic reactions like rash, swelling, itching and breathing difficulty. If you experience any of these symptoms, discontinue use and consult a healthcare professional.

Interactions with other medicines

If you are taking any of the following medications you need to consult your health care provider before consuming ginger supplements:

Diabetes medications

Ginger may lower blood sugar, so if you are taking medications for diabetes you need to inform your healthcare provider who may suggest you monitor your blood sugar levels closely if you intend to consume ginger.7

Blood pressure medications

Ginger may lower blood pressure, so If you are taking medications for high blood pressure, then you need to be cautious before consuming ginger.8

Heart medications

Ginger can alter the effects of certain medications used for treatment of heart conditions.

Antidepressants

Ginger can interact with medications used for treating depression.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult with their healthcare provider before using ginger.

Children

Ginger needs to be used cautiously in children based on their age, weight, and specific health conditions.

Summary

Ginger has been widely used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries in traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda. Ginger is native to southwest Asia, where it grows mostly in the tropical regions. Ginger is widely used for culinary purposes because of its characteristic pungent, sweet and sharp flavour. Ginger is used in curries, soups, stir fries, bakery items and drinks like ginger tea, ginger ale and ginger sodas, all of which are easily available and widely consumed.

Ginger has over 400 bioactive compounds which contribute to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Ginger preparations help to break down mucus and expel it. This property of ginger is helpful in relieving congestion in various respiratory conditions. Ginger

preparations like ginger tea, ginger honey syrups or ginger sweets are useful in reducing inflammation, throat irritation and discomfort. Ginger is immune boosting and antimicrobial in action, thus it helps to protect from respiratory system infections. Ginger is also helpful in reducing nausea, vomiting, upset stomach and indigestion. To avoid possible interactions, patients on medications for blood disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure or depression need

to consult health care professionals before using ginger supplements. Overall, ginger is a medicinally valuable spice which has held a special place in the kitchen and medicine cabinets of many households for centuries.

References

  1. Unuofin JO, Masuku NP, Paimo OK, Lebelo SL. Ginger from Farmyard to Town: Nutritional and Pharmacological Applications. Front Pharmacol [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 12:779352. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8661456/.
  2. Bode AM, Dong Z. The Amazing and Mighty Ginger. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects [Internet]. 2nd ed. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011 [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/.
  3. Syed W, Samarkandi OA, Sadoun AA, Bashatah AS, Al-Rawi MBA, Alharbi MK. Prevalence, Beliefs, and the Practice of the Use of Herbal and Dietary Supplements Among Adults in Saudi Arabia: An Observational Study. INQUIRY [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 59:004695802211022. Available from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/00469580221102202.
  4. Saberi F, Sadat Z, Abedzadeh-Kalahroudi M, Taebi M. Acupressure and Ginger to Relieve Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy: a Randomized Study. Iran Red Crescent Med J [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 15(9):854–61. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3929824/.
  5. Singletary K. Ginger: An Overview of Health Benefits. Nutrition Today [Internet]. 2010 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 45(4):171. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/nutritiontodayonline/abstract/2010/07000/ginger__an_overview_of_health_benefits.8.aspx.
  6. Marx W, McKavanagh D, McCarthy AL, Bird R, Ried K, Chan A, et al. The Effect of Ginger (Zingiber officinale) on Platelet Aggregation: A Systematic Literature Review. PLOS ONE [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 10(10):e0141119. Available from: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0141119.
  7. Jafarnejad S, Keshavarz SA, Mahbubi S, Saremi S, Arab A, Abbasi S, et al. Effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale) on blood glucose and lipid concentrations in diabetic and hyperlipidemic subjects: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Functional Foods [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 29:127–34. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464616303966.
  8. Supriani A, Andinata NA, Yanti WM, Sutomo S, Purwanto NH, Siswantoro E. THE EFFECT OF BOILED GINGER DRINK JAHECANG ON BLOOD PRESSURE REDUCTION IN HYPERTENSION PATIENTS IN THE HAMLET OF BABAN AROSBAYA VILLAGE AROSBAYA DISTRICT BANGKALAN REGENCY. International Conference of Kerta Cendekia Nursing Academy [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 1(1). Available from: https://ejournal-kertacendekia.id/index.php/ICKCNA/article/view/97.
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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Vaishali S Gunjal

M.Sc. Pharmaceutical Medicine, Maharashtra University of Health Sciences

Vaishali is a Pharmaceutical Medicine Professional currently working as a medical writer based in Leeds, UK. She has been working in the medical field for over a decade advising healthcare professionals and consumers on the proper use, benefits, and potential risks associated with pharmaceutical products used for treatment or prevention of various health conditions.

She developed a strong interest in the safe and effective use of medicines while playing a pivotal role in providing accurate and timely medical information in Pharmacovigilance- Medical Information and Regulatory roles for several years in various pharmaceutical organisations.

Through her medical writing, she aims to empower individuals with accurate health information, promote awareness, and foster informed decision-making regarding health-related issues.

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