Ginger has been used in Asian, Indian and Arabic cooking and as a medicine for at least 4000 years! In herbal medicine it has been used to treat stomach upset, colic, diarrhea, nausea, motion sickness arthritis, respiratory illness, headaches, and painful menstrual periods. In the 21st century, ginger is being studied at various universities for these and other health conditions. Here are some recent findings.
*Asthma has become more prevalent in recent years; the reasons for this increase are being debated and are obviously complex. Air pollution may be a factor. Asthma is characterized by a tightening of the bronchial tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. Medicines called bronchodilators are common types of asthma medicines; they work by relaxing the smooth muscles that line the airways. Researchers at Columbia University have found that components of ginger can work with bronchodilators to relax the airways. Compounds in ginger affect an enzyme in the lungs that prevents smooth muscle relaxation. Researchers plan to determine whether aerosol delivery of ginger compounds may have a therapeutic potential in relieving asthma. People with asthma should not abandon their inhalers at this point, but drinking ginger tea might be helpful. (Also – vitamin D deficiency is common in people with asthma. Talk to your doctor or NP about supplemental D if your level is below 30-40 ng/ml.)
*Muscle pain – researchers at the University of Georgia studied oral ginger in a randomized group of volunteers given arm exercises with heavy weights designed to cause muscle pain the following days. Subjects pretreated with ginger capsules had a 25 % decrease in muscle pain on subsequent days. This should be of interest to many people who exercise in gyms, on the soccer fields or engage in any sport that causes muscle soreness.
*Nausea from chemotherapy – Ginger has long been used for nausea in pregnancy and is considered safe and somewhat effective. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that giving ginger supplements 3 days before chemotherapy treatment and 3 days after – along with prescription medicines for nausea – reduced nausea levels by 40% compared to patients just receiving prescription medicines for nausea.
*Colon inflammation: researchers at the University of Michigan looked at the ability of ginger supplements to reduce colon inflammation and thereby possibly act as a colon cancer prevention agent. After 28 days of ginger use, subjects had statistically significant reductions in most markers for colonic inflammation, compared to subjects taking a placebo. This is important, as colon cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women in the US.
*How to use more ginger- Buy ginger root, cut a thumbnail size piece and dice it into small pieces, then add it to stir-fries and vegetable dishes. Grate ginger into many dishes, including rice and quinoa, and in baked goods. Buy ginger tea bags, or make your own ginger tea. If you feel a little nauseated from eating too much, ginger tea will really help. Researchers at Chang Gung University in Taiwan have shown that ginger accelerates the emptying of the stomach.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues on this blog Check out my novel, Changing the Rules, at local bookstores or Amazon.