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Most people think of ginger as a culinary spice from the Middle East and Asia. But ginger has a long history of medicinal use in Chinese remedies as far back as 400 BC! As a physician and herbalist, ginger has made its way into many of my own herbal formulations for any number of conditions. And ginger is, overall, very safe—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies ginger as “Generally Recognized as Safe” and the German Commission Monographs reported that ginger has no known side effects and no known drug/herb interactions.
Traditionally, ginger has been used to treat cold, fever, sore throats, infections, arthritis, sprains and muscle aches, pain, menstrual cramps, dementia, migraines, asthma, stroke, diabetes, and many more. Scientific evidence increasingly supports these traditional uses of ginger. But ginger is often best known for treating gastrointestinal ailments from constipation, diarrhea, belching, bloating, and other symptoms of indigestion, to nausea, vomiting, dysphagia, gastritis, gastric ulcers, and even as prevention of gastrointestinal cancers.
Ginger can have a strong effect on gastric discomfort following a meal (bloating and gas to intestinal cramping and reflux) and has been shown to improve a diverse array of these symptoms. One study investigated the benefits of Prodigest®, a standardized combination of ginger extracts and artichoke extract. Artichoke completes the effects of ginger because ginger is active in the stomach, and artichoke works at the level of the small bowel. A randomized, 4‐week trial on patients with functional dyspepsia showed that daily consumption of Prodigest® before lunch and dinner resulted in a significant improvement of symptoms including nausea, epigastric fullness, epigastric pain, and bloating as compared with placebo. Another randomized crossover study investigated the effects of Prodigest® on gastric emptying in 11 healthy volunteers. In this study, researchers used ultrasound to determine the baseline gastric volume 10 min before the main meal. Then, the subjects were given one Prodigest® or placebo capsule and consumed a standardized meal. One hour after the meal, the gastric volume was measured again and compared to baseline. In those who used the extract, the after‐meal gastric area was 24% smaller as compared with placebo.
When appropriately dosed, ginger has been shown in numerous studies to quell nausea and vomiting. The impact of ginger consumption as an antiemetic in nausea and vomiting during pregnancy has been extensively investigated in clinical studies for at least 30 years. Studies have shown that ginger in dose of up to 1 g/day is effective in pregnancy nausea and vomiting with no significant side effects. Similarly, for post-surgical nausea and vomiting, 500 mg of ginger per day has been shown to reliably reduce symptoms.
Ginger may even have impact on obesity. A 2020 study found that in animals on high-fat diets, those who received ginger supplementation demonstrated marked decreases in body weight, fatty liver, and low-grade inflammation. Their symptoms of insulin resistance improved with ginger. Ginger supplementation modulated the composition of gut microbiota and increased species belonging to the Bifidobacterium genus and SCFA-producing bacteria, with resulting increases in fecal SCFA concentrations. When other mice underwent fecal microbial transplant from ginger-supplemented mice, the benefits transferred to the recipient mice—they demonstrated the same anti-obesity and microbiota-modulating effects as those given ginger directly!
In those with high risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer, ginger supplementation had selective anti‐inflammatory and chemo-preventive activity against colorectal cancer. In a study comparing 20 participants at increased risk for colorectal cancer and 30 who were not, ginger significantly lowered COX‐1 protein expression in participants at increased risk for colorectal cancer, but not in the participants at normal risk.
Ginger has been shown to modulate the composition of gut microbiota. Studies investigating treatments for antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) have shown that ginger significantly improved the diversity of gut microbiota, which accelerated overall microbiome recovery. When ginger was ingested, Escherichia Shigella decreased and Bacteroides levels increased. In turn, intestinal barrier function was restored, especially at the tight junction protein ZO-1. Simply put, ginger promoted gut microbiota restoration and healthy intestinal barrier function.
Other studies support ginger's role in recovering the microbiome. One study showed that 85% of ginger's active polyphenols were detectable in digestive fluids after ingestion, particularly 6-, 8-, and 10-gingerols and 6-shogaol. Digested ginger extract significantly modulated the fecal microbiota structure and promoted growth of beneficial bacterial populations. 6-gingerol (6G) in particular increased the abundance of Bifidobacterium significantly, and ginger extract elevated the levels of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and decreased in the pH value.
Ultimately, ginger acts as prebiotic that promotes the growth of a diverse, beneficial microbiome. It supports a healthy gut lining, promoting the growth of healthy cells as well as processes that clean out potentially unhealthy cells in people at risk of cancer. And it mitigates difficult-to-treat digestive (and other) symptoms that cause significant suffering and decreased quality of life. A delicious culinary herb that's low risk and both prevents and treats so many conditions means little to no downside for incorporating it into your diet! Just enjoy it and reap the rewards!
Neurologist, Herbalist, Urban Farmer, and Author of The Dirt Cure
A neurologist, herbalist, urban farmer, and author, Dr. Shetreat has been featured in the New York Times, The Dr. Oz Show, NPR, The Telegraph, Sky News, and more. Dr. Maya teaches Terrain Medicine™, earth-based programs for transformational healing at the Terrain Institute, which she co-founded. A lifelong student of ethnobotany, plant healing, and the sacred, Dr. Maya works and studies with indigenous communities and healers from around the world.
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