Ginger is one of the ancient, revered medicines of India and Asia. The list of conditions for which it is used is so long that it might prompt skepticism. How can one herb affect so many seemingly different diseases? Here’s how this alternative medicine works.
Ginger’s ability to combat a variety of diseases and conditions is due in part to its impact on excessive inflammation, which is a significant underlying cause of many illnesses. Inflammation is the body’s natural healing response to illness or injury, and its pain, redness, heat, and swelling are attempts to keep you from moving a damaged area while it is being repaired. Inflammation subsides as the body heals. However, in some conditions, including arthritis, diverticulosis, gallbladder inflammation, and heart disease, the inflammation does not go away. It becomes chronic and leads to many other problems.Ginger is particularly useful in treating chronic inflammation because it partially inhibits two important enzymes that play a role in inflammation gone awry — cyclooxygenase (COX) and 5-lipoxygenase (LOX).
While anti-inflammatory drugs block COX more strongly, they don’t affect LOX at all and therefore only address part of the problem. Even worse, anti-inflammatory drugs can cause side effects, such as ulcers, because they also block the beneficial effects that COX has on the digestive tract, including protecting the stomach.
Ginger does not cause stomach irritation; instead it helps protect and heal the gut. Ginger also treats a broader range of the inflammatory problem because it affects both the COX and the LOX enzymes. And because it doesn’t shut down the inflammatory process entirely, ginger may actually allow it to work properly and then turn itself off, the way it does with an injury.
Besides reducing inflammation, ginger has many other benefits. It helps relieve nausea, destroys a host of viruses, and in some laboratory studies has shown promise as an anticancer agent.
Preparation and Dosage
The part of ginger we use is not a root, as one might guess from the way it looks. It’s actually the rhizome, or underground stem. The spicy, aromatic compounds in the rhizome that impart the medicinal activity to ginger are relatively susceptible to heat and oxygen, so tread gingerly when making medicine from this herb.
To make a tea, cut a two-inch cube of rhizome into slices and simmer them in one cup of water on low heat for 10 minutes. Cover the pot while cooking to retain as many volatile constituents as possible. Remove the slices, and sip the remaining liquid before a meal. Eat the slices after drinking the tea. Drink three cups of tea per day, one before each meal.
Ginger capsules or powder are also widely available. Take at least 2,000 milligrams three times or more per day with or without food. Just be sure to use powder that has not been sitting around too long, as it can lose its potency.
People often make the mistake of taking too little ginger and thus don’t gain the full benefits.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine.
It’s rare to have side effects from ginger. In high doses it may cause mild heartburn, diarrhea, and irritation of the mouth. You may be able to avoid some of the mild stomach side effects, such as belching, heartburn, or stomach upset, by taking ginger supplements in capsules or taking ginger with meals.
People with gallstones should ask their doctor before taking ginger. Make sure to tell your doctor if you are taking ginger before having surgery or being placed under anesthesia for any reason.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women, people with heart conditions and people with diabetes should not take ginger without asking their doctors.
Do not take ginger if you have a bleeding disorder or if you are taking blood-thinning medications, including aspirin.Possible Interactions
Ginger may interact with prescription and nonprescription medications. If you take any of the following medications, you should not use ginger without first talking to your health care provider.
Blood-thinning medications –– Ginger may increase the risk of bleeding. Talk to your doctor before taking ginger if you take blood-thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin.
Diabetes medications — Ginger may lower blood sugar. That can raise the risk of developing hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
High blood pressure medications — Ginger may lower blood pressure, raising the risk of low blood pressure or irregular heartbeat.