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Ginger Can Save Your Life

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Ginger

Photo: Fresh, dried and powdered ginger

Between the weekly Cambodian doses of food and the different episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservation” and Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Food” shows, I get a lot of exposure to garlic. Something I found recently while doing some research took me by surprise. Planting garlic around other plants in your garden will help repeal ants that otherwise would eat the root of your young plants.

I should have figured that one out since I remember eating tons of garlic the night before heading out to the field for military training. The smell that would come out of my pores repealed mosquitos and anyone who would dare get near me. Anyway, below is some of the information I’ve found.

Origins and Historical use
Folk Medicine
Culinary uses
Health benefits
Research
Negative effects / allergies
References

Origins and Historical use

From its origin to the present, Ginger is the world’s most widely cultivated herb. Testimonials of both the medicinal and economic importance of ginger have been recorded as far back as five thousand-year-old Greek literature. Ginger has been cultivated in China and India for thousands of years and was traded by ancient Phoenicians. As early as 2400 B.C., the Greeks were using ginger imported from Asia to make gingerbread.

The historical reverence for and usage of ginger is simply staggering. Ginger had great historic, medicinal value as a spiritual beverage, aphrodisiac, digestive aid, etc. Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Indian systems viewed ginger as a healing gift from God. Chinese pharmacopeias claim long term use of fresh ginger as putting a person in contact with the spiritual advantages.  Writings of the Koran describe ginger as a beverage of the holiest heavenly spirits. Its healing heritage is unmatched in the history of medicine. Throughout history, ginger is reported for its value as an aphrodisiac. Ginger’s value as an aphrodisiac is undoubtedly connected to its widespread use as a systemic tonic, hormone balancer, energy enhancer, and agent for improving the appetite and circulation. People would add ginger to everything, including teas and beers that led to modern drinks like ginger ale and ginger beers. It continues to be a staple in Asian cuisine and many cultural dishes.

Folk Medicine

In China, the science of ginger was so exacting that ginger from different parts of the country was used for different purposes. Fresh ginger was used to cure coughs, nausea, gas, and dysentery, as well as treatment of fever and mushroom poisoning. Dried ginger was used for all things that the fresh ginger was used for, as well as for hemorrhages, constipation, and urinary difficulties. A natural diuretic, ginger stimulates the kidneys to flush out toxins faster. The fresh root was used mainly to promote sweating and to reduce fevers while warming and soothing the body during coughs, cold, flu, and other respiratory problems. It was also used as an expectorant for colds and chills.

In India, ginger was used to treat chronic rheumatism in this manner. The patient would drink an infusion of ginger before going to bed, and would be covered heavily with blankets to encourage copious perspiration. Ginger is an excellent remedy for all manner of digestive complaints, especially nausea, gas, and colic. In Mexico and United States, ginger was used in combating motion sickness. In Venezuela, ginger was pounded into a paste and applied to the abdomen for difficult menstruation. In Costa Rica, it was used in a decoction to relieve throat inflammations and asthma. With honey, it was a valued remedy for coughs and bronchitis. Chinese and Ayurvedic practitioners have relied on ginger for at least 3,000 years for its anti-inflammatory properties, and have used it as a “carrier” herb, one that enables other herbs to be more effective in the body. Ginger ale and ginger beer have been recommended as stomach settlers for generations in countries where the beverages are made, and ginger water was commonly used to avoid heat cramps in the United States.

Culinary uses

Ginger may be used fresh, preserved, minced, or as a powder or paste. Fresh ginger is essential to Asian and oriental cookery. It is used in pickles, chutneys and curry pastes and the ground dried root is a constituent of many curry powders.

Young ginger roots are juicy and fleshy with a very mild taste. Tender young ginger can be sliced and eaten as a salad. Sometimes the roots will produce green sprouts which can be finely chopped and added to a green salad to add a much subtler flavor of ginger than the chopped root. Mature ginger roots are fibrous and nearly dry. The juice from old ginger roots is extremely potent and is often used as a spice in Chinese cuisine to flavor dishes such as in seafood and mutton.

In the West, dried ginger is mainly used in cakes and biscuits especially ginger snaps and gingerbread. Ginger is also candied, is used as a flavoring for candy, cookies, crackers and cake, and is the main flavor in ginger ale, a sweet, carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage, as well as the similar, but somewhat spicier beverage ginger beer. Ginger is also used in puddings, jams, preserves and in some drinks like ginger wine and tea. Preserved ginger is eaten as a confection, chopped up for cakes and puddings, and is sometimes used as an ice cream ingredient.

Pickled ginger is a delicious accompaniment to satays and a colorful garnish to many Chinese dishes. In Japan, ginger is pickled to make beni shoga and gari or grated and used raw on tofu or noodles. In traditional Korean Kimchi, ginger is minced finely and added into the ingredients of the spicy paste just before the fermenting process. Ginger also acts as a useful food preservative.

Health benefits

Known as a universal medicine, ginger is used in half the prescriptions of Chinese medicine. Ginger can be used to ease the symptoms of a wide variety of health disorders. It is known to act as a mild stimulant, promotes circulation, reduces inflammation, relieves sinus congestion and has anti-oxidant and antiseptic qualities. The health benefits of ginger are numerous.

Ginger is a natural anti-spasmodic and is considered a full-spectrum digestive aid. It provides relief for an upset stomach, easing bloating and gas. Ginger is full of enzymes which break down the proteins in foods, reducing cramps, gas and other symptoms of indigestion. Because ginger stimulates the production of mucous, it helps to protect the stomach lining against the formation of ulcers. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it can be taken internally or used topically as a rub to relieve inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and other disorders. Some patients report greater relief when using ginger than with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and unlike NSAIDs, ginger does not damage the internal organs.

Ginger has natural anti-viral, anti-toxic, and anti-fungal properties. It may be of benefit in reducing the spread of the germs that cause cold and flu. Ginger eases cough and sore throat symptoms naturally by stimulating the production of mucous. Ginger is a natural antihistamine and is useful for fighting allergy symptoms. Ginger eases nausea symptoms in cases of seasickness, motion sickness and morning sickness. Ginger supports heart health. Recent studies have shown that ginger is beneficial in many aspects of cardiovascular health, acting both to reduce hypertension and to lower cholesterol levels. A clinical trial demonstrated ginger’s anti-platelet activity. It is known to act as an anti-clotting agent and helps in relaxing peripheral blood vessels. Research has also shown that ginger has important benefits for cancer patients. Chemotherapy patients who were given ginger reported significant relief from chemotherapy-induced nausea. Ginger has also been found effective for treatment of infertility, erectile difficulties, kidney stones, sciatica, tendinitis, migraine etc.

Research

Most of the research on ginger is around its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-spasmodic, antiseptic and anti-oxidant properties. The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger have been known and valued for centuries. During the past 25 years, many laboratories have provided scientific support for the long-held belief that ginger contains constituents with anti-inflammatory properties. The original discovery of ginger’s inhibitory effects on prostaglandin biosynthesis in the early 1970s has been repeatedly confirmed. This discovery identified ginger as an herbal medicinal product that shares pharmacological properties with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Anti-inflammatory mechanisms:1,2 The characterization of the pharmacological properties of ginger entered a new phase with the discovery that a ginger extract (EV.EXT.77) derived from Zingiber officinale (family Zingiberaceae) and Alpina galanga (family Zingiberaceae) inhibits the induction of several genes involved in the inflammatory response. These include genes encoding cytokines, chemokines, and the inducible enzyme cyclooxygenase-2. This discovery provided the first evidence that ginger modulates biochemical pathways activated in chronic inflammation. Identification of the molecular targets of individual ginger constituents provides an opportunity to optimize and standardize ginger products with respect to their effects on specific biomarkers of inflammation.

Gouty arthritis:3 Gout is a rheumatic disease that is manifested by an intense inflammation secondary to monosodium urate crystal deposition in joints. In the present study, we assessed the effect of 6-shogaol (isolated active principle from ginger) on monosodium urate crystal-induced inflammation in mice; an experimental model for gouty arthritis and compared it with that of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, indomethacin. In vitro, 6-shogaol reduced the level of beta-glucuronidase and lactate dehydrogenase in monosodium urate crystal-incubated polymorphonuclear leucocytes in concentration dependent manner when compared to control cells. The present results clearly indicated that 6-shogaol exerted a strong anti-inflammatory effect and can be regarded as useful tool for the treatment of acute gouty arthritis.

Research is currently being conducted to find out if there is a reason why ginger has shown such a positive effect on osteoarthritis as well as rheumatoid arthritis patients. Ginger has show some very positive effects in assisting them with both pain as well as joint swelling.

Gastric Ulcers:5 Contemporary medications used in the treatment of gastric ulcers involve the use of novel mucosal protective drugs. The present study aimed to investigate the gastro-protective effect of ginger extract and polaprezinc in a rat model of acetic acid-induced gastric ulcer. Both ginger extract and polaprezinc significantly reduce the gastric ulcer area in a dose-dependent manner, with concomitant attenuation of the elevated activities of xanthine oxidase and myeloperoxidase, as well as malondialdehyde level in the ulcerated mucosa. Nevertheless, only polaprezinc could restore the mucosal glutathione level. Polaprezinc also causes the over expression of basic fibroblast growth factor, vascular endothelial growth factor and ornithine decarboxylase, whereas ginger extract only increases the expression of the two growth factors in the gastric mucosa. It was concluded that Ginger extract and polaprezinc both show anti-oxidation that consequently alleviates gastric mucosal damage and promotes ulcer healing, which together serve as effective mucosal protective agents.

Hyperlipidemia:7,9 A double blind controlled clinical trial was conducted to study the effect of fine powder of ginger on lipid level in volunteer patients. Forty-five patients in the treatment group and 40 patients in placebo group participated in this study. There was a significant reduce in triglyceride, cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL), very low density lipoprotein (VLDL), levels of before and after study separately in each group (p<0.05). Mean changes in triglyceride and cholesterol levels of ginger group were significantly higher than placebo group (p<0.05). Mean reduction in LDL level and increase in high density lipoprotein level of ginger group were higher than the placebo group, but in VLDL level of placebo was higher than ginger (p>0.05). The results show that ginger has a significant lipid lowering effect compared to placebo

Diabetes:4 Ginger continues to be used as an important cooking spice and herbal medicine around the world. Gingerols, the major pungent components of ginger, are known to improve diabetes, including the effect of enhancement against insulin sensitivity. In the current study, ginger sequentially extracted with different solvents-namely, hexane, ethyl acetate, methanol, 70% methanol-water and water-were screened to determine the variations in phenolic-linked active constituents. The potential of these extracts to inhibit key enzymes relevant to type 2 diabetes and inflammation was studied. Phenolic compounds-namely, gingerols and shoagols-were quantified using high-performance liquid chromatography. Ethyl acetate extract showed higher activity compared with other extracts. These studies indicate that ginger has very good potential for ?-glucosidase and ?-amylase inhibition relevant for type 2 diabetes management and cyclooxygenase inhibition for inflammation.

Chemopreventive mechanisms:8 Some pungent constituents present in ginger and other zingiberaceous plants have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, and some of them exhibit cancer preventive activity in experimental carcinogenesis. The anticancer properties of ginger are attributed to the presence of certain pungent vallinoids, viz. [6]-gingerol and [6]-paradol, as well as some other constituents like shogaols, zingerone etc. A number of mechanisms that may be involved in the chemopreventive effects of ginger and its components have been reported from the laboratory studies in a wide range of experimental models.

[6]-Gingerol, a pungent ingredient of ginger has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor-promoting activities. In vitro, [6]-gingerol inhibited both the VEGF- and bFGF-induced proliferation of human endothelial cells and caused cell cycle arrest in the G1 phase. It also blocked capillary-like tube formation by endothelial cells in response to VEGF, and strongly inhibited sprouting of endothelial cells in the rat aorta and formation of new blood vessel in the mouse cornea in response to VEGF. Moreover, i.p. administration, without reaching tumor cytotoxic blood levels, to mice receiving i.v. injection of B16F10 melanoma cells, reduced the number of lung metastasis, with preservation of apparently healthy behavior. Taken together, these results demonstrate that [6]-gingerol inhibits angiogenesis and may be useful in the treatment of tumors and other angiogenesis-dependent diseases.

Negative effects / allergies

Ginger is safe for most people. Some people can have mild side effects including heartburn, diarrhea, and general stomach discomfort. When ginger is applied to the skin, it may cause irritation. Using ginger along with herbs that might slow blood clotting could increase the risk of bleeding in some people. These herbs include angelica, clove, danshen, garlic, ginkgo, Panax ginseng, red clover, turmeric, and others. In some people, excess use of ginger could produce burning urine sensation.

Ginger is usually not a common allergenic food and therefore it is not known to have any adverse side effects if it is taken in moderate dosage. However, precautions must be taken if you are taking any medication for blood clotting, diabetes, gallstones, or any other disease of the gallbladder, since the nutritional properties of ginger may interfere with the medicine.

Special precautions and warnings: If currently being treated for the following medications; anti-coagulants, heart conditions, diabetic drugs; high doses of ginger might worsen the condition. Using ginger during pregnancy is slightly controversial. As with any medication given during pregnancy, it’s important to weigh the benefit against the risk.


References

  1. Ginger–an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions.Grzanna R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG.RMG Biosciences, Inc. J Med Food. 2005 Summer; 8(2):125-32
  2. 6-Shogaol inhibits monosodium urate crystal-induced inflammation–an in vivo and in vitro study. Sabina EP, Rasool M, Mathew L, Ezilrani P, Indu H. 2010 Jan; 48(1):229-35
  3. Repeated oral administration of a squeezed ginger (Zingiber officinale) extract augmented the serum corticosterone level and had anti-inflammatory properties Ueda H, Ippoushi K, Takeuchi A Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2010 Nov 23;74(11):2248-52
  4. Inhibitory potential of ginger extracts against enzymes linked to type 2 diabetes, inflammation and induced oxidative stress Rani MP, Padmakumari KP, Sankarikutty B, Cherian OL, Nisha VM, Raghu KG Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Mar;62(2):106-10
  5. Ginger extract and polaprezinc exert gastroprotective actions by anti-oxidant and growth factor modulating effects in rats Ko JK, Leung CC J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010 Dec;25(12):1861-8
  6. Anti-inflammatory properties of red ginger (Zingiber officinale var. Rubra) extract and suppression of nitric oxide production by its constituents Shimoda H, Shan SJ, Tanaka J, Seki A, Seo JW, Kasajima N, Tamura S, Ke Y, Murakami N. J Med Food. 2010 Feb;13(1):156-62
  7. Investigation of the effect of ginger on the lipid levels. A double blind controlled clinical trial Alizadeh-Navaei R, Roozbeh F, Saravi M, Pouramir M, Jalali F, Moghadamnia AA Saudi Med J. 2008 Sep; 29(9):1280-4
  8. Gingerol, a pungent ingredient of ginger, inhibits angiogenesis in vitro and in vivo Kim EC, Min JK, Kim TY, Lee SJ, Yang HO, Han S, Kim YM, Kwon YG Department of Biochemistry, College of Natural Sciences, Yonsei University,Seoul, Republic of Korea. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2005 Sep 23;335(2):300-8
  9. Nicoll R, Henein MY. Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe): a hot remedy for cardiovascular disease? Int J Cardiol. 2009 Jan 24;131(3):408-9. Epub 2007 Nov 26