What is ginger?
Botanists consider ginger to be a tuber, a root vegetable much like the potato in some ways. Cooks think of ginger as a delicacy that can spice up dishes form stir fries to desserts. And scientists increasingly regard ginger, a plant native to Asia and cultivated for thousands of years, as a “wonder herb” that shows promise in the treatment in the treatment of maladies as varied as morning sickness, high cholesterol, and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as possibly playing a role in the prevention of blood clots.
What are the historical uses of ginger?
The ginger rhizome—that is, the underground stem--contains volatile oils and pungent phenol compounds believed for centuries to block pain and inflammation. But only since the 1970s have we begun to understand how this remarkable herb works on a molecular level. Ginger appears to inhibit a troublesome, inflammation-causing enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2, and so seems to offer hope of a natural alternative to potentially toxic drugs such as aspirin and prednisone to sufferers of inflammatory conditions such as tendonitis, arthritis, and ulcerative colitis.
Two recent studies conducted at the University of Georgia involved giving college students ginger prior to intense exercise. The researchers found that two grams a day of this herb not only lessened post-workout pain and soreness, but also reduced biomarkers associated with inflammation. Back in 2001, work carried out at the University of Miami found that 260 patients suffering from knee arthritis who took 225 milligrams of ginger twice a day felt better than those who got a placebo. Other studies conducted in America and elsewhere show similar results.
Cancer researchers at the University of Minnesota have also demonstrated that -gingerol, the substance that lends ginger its distinctive flavor, appears to inhibit abnormal cell changes that lead to colorectal cancer in mice otherwise predisposed to this disease. Other studies carried out at the University of Uttar Pradesh in India and elsewhere tend to bear this out, and scientists speculate that ginger’s effect may be due to the way in which it blocks a potentially cancer-promoting enzyme called 5-lipoxygenase. This raises the interesting question of whether someday we will be encouraged to consume ginger along with our five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables every day as part of a nutritional program to reduce cancer risk.
Ginger also shows signs of being able to lower cholesterol, probably because of its known ability to increase bile production. Studies carried out in Kuwait and Israel indicate that ginger can not only significantly reduce blood serum cholesterol but act to lower the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (thereby making it less “sticky”), and even act as a safe blood thinning agent.
The best-known “folk use” of ginger is as a remedy for various forms of nausea, such as morning sickness and sea sickness. It may also help with the discomfort caused by chemotherapy as well, as was strongly suggested by a National Cancer Institute-funded study at the University of Rochester that involved the administration of ginger to 644 cancer patients. By the end of the study, virtually all the subjects who received ginger rather than a placebo reported significantly lessened nausea, but not those who got the placebo. Indeed, many responded on the first day. This is particularly good news, since those chemotherapy patients who manage to avoid nausea early in their treatment are much less likely to experience it at all during subsequent treatment.
How much ginger is usually taken?
Ginger can be taken as a tea, as an herbal tincture, as a capsule, or even as a candy (although this last, while pleasant, also involves the consumption of a great deal of sugar). For many people ginger capsules will usually be the most practical means of benefiting from this herb’s remarkable properties. Amounts used can vary from a few hundred milligrams to one or two grams consumed one or more times per day, preferably with meals.
Are there any side effects of ginger?
For most people ginger appears to be quite safe, although if too much is ingested it can result in mild and transient heartburn, so always follow label directions. Those who take the powerful blood thinner Coumadin should most definitely consult with a doctor before using ginger, as combining the two substances can cause a risk of excessive bleeding.
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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.