Ancient Arabic, Chinese and Indian cultures understood the medicinal value of ginger root, the thick and knotted rhizome of the Zingiber officinale plant. Thousands of years later, modern society still uses ginger as an aid for ailments ranging from digestive problems to cold and flu symptoms. Though ginger is relatively safe, you should consult a health care professional before using it in place of or in conjunction with traditional treatments.
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Ginger root comes in a variety of forms, including fresh, dried and ground. You can also use ginger extract, tinctures or oils. Some people enjoy ginger brewed into tea.
The prevention of nausea and vomiting is the most well-documented use for ginger root. It is particularly helpful in cases of chemotherapy, motion sickness and morning sickness. A study published in "Obstetrics & Gynecology" found that ginger root significantly decreased nausea and the number of vomiting episodes in pregnant participants.
Ginger root may also fight inflammation. It is useful in treating conditions such as arthritis or ulcerative colitis. A study by R.D. Altman and K.C. Marcussen of the Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that purified and standardized ginger reduced symptoms related to osteoarthritis of the knee and had only mild gastrointestinal side effects.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, ginger root may lower cholesterol and fight cancer.
Traditional uses for ginger root suggest that it's useful in treating headaches, colds, flu, mild digestive issues and painful menses.
The chemical constituents that give ginger root its medicinal value are volatile oils and phenol compounds. Its pungent components, gingerols and shogaols, are responsible for the effects on nausea, vomiting and digestion. These components stimulate digestion and tone the muscles of the intestines, which leads to less irritation of the intestinal walls and easier transport of substances through the digestive system.
The University of Maryland Medical Center website suggests taking 4 grams or less of ginger a day. This includes ginger in food and drinks.
For nausea and other digestive issues, the UMMC recommends between 2 and 4 grams of fresh ginger root, .25 to 1 grams of root in powdered form or 1.5 to 3 mililiters of liquid extract per day.
To prevent vomiting, the recommended dose is 1 grams of powdered ginger root every four hours, but no more than four doses daily. You may also take two ginger capsules of 1 grams each, three times per day, or chew a quarter of an ounce of fresh ginger.
UMMC recommends four doses of 250 milligrams daily for preventing morning sickness.
Arthritis sufferers can use 2 to 4 grams of ginger root extract, tea or fresh ginger juice, or make a poultice from fresh ginger root to apply to affected areas.
For other ailments, including cold and flu, sufferers can inhale steamed, fresh ginger root or steep 2 tablespoons of shredded ginger in hot water for use two to three times a day.
While ginger root has many health benefits, it also has potential side effects. Ginger root may decrease platelet thromboxane production and inhibit platelet aggregation, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. This increases the risk of bleeding. Do not take ginger root if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners, including aspirin.
Pregnant women should be cautious when taking ginger root. If taken in high dosages, it can lead to increased uterine discharges and possibly spontaneous abortion. Not all scientists agree with this assertion. One study in "Obstetrics & Gynecology" concluded that more research into the safety of ginger root is needed. Before using the herb to treat morning sickness, pregnant women should discuss their options with their doctor.