Ginger, the underground stem, or rhizome, of the plant Zingiber
officinale has been used as a medicine in Asian, Indian, and Arabic herbal
traditions since ancient times. In China, for example, ginger has been used to
aid digestion and treat stomach upset, diarrhea, and nausea for more than 2,000
years. Since ancient times, ginger has also been used to help treat arthritis,
colic, diarrhea, and heart conditions. In addition to these medicinal uses,
ginger continues to be valued around the world as an important cooking spice and
is believed to help the common cold, flu-like symptoms, headaches, and even
painful menstual periods. Native to Asia where its use as a culinary spice spans
at least 4,400 years, ginger grows in fertile, moist, tropical soil.
Today, ginger root is widely used as a digestive aid for mild stomach upset
and is commonly recommended by professional herbalists to help prevent or treat
nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness, pregnancy, and, sometimes,
chemotherapy for cancer (although the latter has not been studied).
Motion Sickness Several studies suggest that ginger may be
more effective than placebo in reducing symptoms associated with motion
sickness. In one trial of 80 novice sailors (prone to motion sickness), those
who took powdered ginger experienced a significant reduction in vomiting and
cold sweating compared to those who took placebo. Similar results were found in
a study with healthy volunteers. While these results are promising, other
studies suggest that ginger is not as effective as medications in reducing
symptoms associated with motion sickness. In a small study of volunteers who
were given ginger (fresh root and powder form), scopolamine (a medication
commonly prescribed for motion sickness), or placebo, those receiving the
medication experienced significantly fewer symptoms compared to those who
received ginger. Given the safety of ginger, however, many people find it a
welcome alternative to medications if it relieves their motion sickness.
Pregnancy Related Nausea and Vomiting At least two studies
have found that ginger is more effective than placebo in relieving nausea and
vomiting associated with pregnancy. In a small study including 30 pregnant women
with severe vomiting, those who ingested 1 gram of ginger every day for four
days reported more relief from vomiting than those who received placebo. In a
larger study including 70 pregnant women with nausea and vomiting, those who
received a similar dosage of ginger felt less nauseous and experienced fewer
vomiting episodes than those who received placebo. (Note: fresh ginger root is
safe to use during pregnancy, but dried ginger root is not. See
Nausea and vomiting following surgery Research has produced
mixed results regarding the use of ginger in the treatment of nausea and
vomiting following surgery. In two studies, 1 gram of ginger root before surgery
reduced nausea as effectively as a leading medication. In one of these two
studies, women who received ginger also required fewer nausea-relieving
medications following surgery. Other studies, however, have failed to find the
same positive effects. In fact, one study found that ginger may actually
increase vomiting following surgery. For this reason, further studies are needed
to determine whether ginger is safe and effective for the prevention and
treatment of nausea and vomiting following surgery.
Inflammation In addition to providing relief from nausea and
vomiting, ginger extract has long been used in traditional medical practices to
decrease inflammation. In fact, many herbalists today use ginger to help treat
health problems associated with inflammation, such as arthritis, bronchitis, and
ulcerative colitis. In a recent study of 261 people with osteoarthritis (OA) of
the knee, those who received a ginger extract twice daily experienced less pain
and required fewer pain-killing medications compared to those who received
placebo. Although there have also been a few other studies of the benefit of
ginger for arthritis, one recent trial found that the herb was no more effective
than ibuprofen (a medication frequently used to treat OA) or placebo in reducing
symptoms of OA.
Other Although it is much too early to tell if this will
benefit those with heart disease, a few preliminary studies suggest that ginger
may lower cholesterol and prevent the blood from clotting. Each of these effects
may protect the blood vessels from blockage and the damaging effects of blockage
such as atherosclerosis, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Again,
however, it is too early too know if these initial study results will ultimately
prove helpful for people. More research would be helpful.
Ginger is a knotted, thick, beige underground stem (rhizome). The stem
extends roughly 12 inches above ground with long, narrow, ribbed, green leaves,
and white or yellowish-green flowers.
What's It Made Of?
The important active components of the ginger root are thought to be volatile
oils and pungent phenol compounds (such as gingerols and shogaols).
Ginger products are made from fresh or dried ginger root, or from steam
distillation of the oil in the root. The herb is available in extracts,
tinctures, capsules, and oils. Fresh ginger root can also be purchased and
prepared as a tea. Ginger is also a common cooking spice and can be found in a
variety of foods and drinks including ginger bread, ginger snaps, ginger sticks,
and ginger ale.
How to Take It
Ginger should not be used by children under 2 years of age.
Ginger may be used by children over 2 years of age to treat nausea, digestive
cramping, and headaches. Adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the
child's weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a
150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the
appropriate dose of ginger for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.
In general, ginger intake should not exceed 2 to 4 g per day (this includes
the ginger obtained through diet such as from ginger ale, ginger snaps, and
For nausea, gas, or indigestion: 2 to 4 grams of fresh root daily
(0.25 to 1.0 g of powdered root) or 1.5 to 3.0 mL (30 to 90 drops) tincture
daily. To prevent vomiting, take 1 gram of powdered ginger (1/2 tsp) or its
equivalent every four hours as needed, or 2 ginger capsules (1 gram) three times
daily. You may also chew a ¼ oz piece of fresh ginger.
To relieve arthritis pain: Take fresh ginger juice, extract, or tea, 2
to 4 grams daily; rub ginger oil into painful joint; or place fresh root in a
warm poultice or compress and apply to painful areas.
For cold and flu symptoms, sore throat, headache and menstrual cramps:
Steep 2 tbsp of freshly shredded ginger in boiled water, two to three times
daily, or place a drop of ginger oil or a few slices of fresh rhizome in
steaming water and inhale.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For
these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a
practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) gives fresh ginger root a
class 1 safety rating, indicating that it is a safe herb with a wide dosage
range. Side effects associated with ginger are rare, but if taken in excessive
doses the herb may cause mild heartburn. The AHPA gives dried ginger root a
class 2b rating, indicating that it should not be used during pregnancy.
People with gallstones should consult a physician before taking ginger.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you
should not use ginger without first talking to your healthcare provider.
Blood-thinning medications Although ginger may interfere with
blood clotting, there have been no scientific or case reports of interactions
between ginger and blood-thinning medications. However, people taking these
medications with ginger should be monitored closely by a healthcare practitioner
for risk of bleeding.
Cyclophosphamide Ginger may reduce the toxic side effects of
cyclophosphamide (a medication used to treat a variety of cancers). More
research is needed in this area.
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Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Steven Dentali, PhD (May 1999),
Senior Director of Botanical Science, Rexall Sundown, Boca Raton, FL; Jacqueline
A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard
University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary
Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick,
MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh, Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH;
Tom Wolfe, P.AHG (May 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD. All interaction
sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD
(July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh
(August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in
Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland
School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD;
R. Lynn Shumake, PD (March 2000), Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary,
Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical
Center, Glenwood, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and
Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
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before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed