If you’ve ever taken ginger ale for an upset tummy, you understand the health benefits of ginger. Going back more than 2,000 years in China, the herb has been used to treat nausea, upset stomach and help with digestion and diarrhea.
Used in stir-fries and Asian cooking, the spicy, pungent underground rhizome of the ginger plant is firm with a striated texture. It may be yellow, white or red, depending on the variety, and is covered with a thin or thick brownish skin, depending on whether the plant was harvested mature or young.
What’s ginger good for?
As it turns out, plenty. A 2009 study found ginger supplements when taken alongside anti-vomiting medicine reduced chemotherapy-induced nausea in patients by 40%.
“Therapeutically, it’s also used for poor circulation and lower back pain. On an emotional level, it can act as a catalyst if you are procrastinating and lack the drive to take action,” says Laurie Steelsmith, a licensed naturopathic doctor and author of “Natural Choices for Women’s Health.”
Studies have shown it can also ease muscle pain, eliminate inflammation, help with painful menstruation and may even slow or kill ovarian and colon cancer cells. Here are some other health benefits of ginger:
Nausea and motion sickness: Ginger is well known for its ability to ease nausea, and it can be helpful for motion and sea sickness. In one study, women suffering from morning sickness were given beverages with ginger during the first trimester of pregnancy, and when compared with women given a placebo, ginger alleviated the nausea in a large majority of the cases.
Diabetes complications: Studies show ginger may reduce urine protein levels, decrease water intake and urine output, and reverse proteinuria, which is kidney damage caused by too much protein in the urine. Ginger may also protect nerves in diabetics and lower blood fat levels. “Ginger can help increase circulation, thin blood, and lower both blood pressure and cholesterol,” says author Steelsmith.
Arthritis: A placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study published in the journal Osteoarthritis Cartilage found patients with painful arthritis in the knee who were given ginger versus a placebo experienced significantly less pain and loss of movement compared to those taking the placebo.
Cold and flu: Chinese medicine practitioners commonly prescribe ginger to treat symptoms of colds and flu. The root acts as an antihistamine and decongestant, two cold-easing effects that can help with symptoms.
Migraines: A double-blind clinical trial treated 100 patients with acute migraine with aura either with sumatriptan (a common migraine medication) or ginger powder. Both groups reported similar pain relief, but those who used ginger had fewer side effects.
A dose of ginger
Ginger is susceptible to heat and oxygen, so handle carefully when using this herb and store in a cool, dry place or the crisper bin of the refrigerator for two to three weeks.
To make a tea, shave the skin from a piece of fresh ginger, cut off a 2-inch chunk and slice it into 2 cups of water to simmer covered for 20 minutes. Remove the slices and pour into a mug and add honey and a squeeze of lemon. Eat the slices after drinking the tea. Drink up to three cups of tea per day, before meals.
Ginger capsules or powder are also available. Take at least 2,000 milligrams three times or more per day with or without food.
Do not take ginger with blood thinners without first consulting your health care provider. Ginger may also lower blood sugar and interact with blood pressure altering medications, so speak with your physician prior to using ginger if you take any medications.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in December 2013 and has been updated with new information.