Do you keep ginger in your spice cabinet? Maybe it should be in your medicine cabinet. Besides being a tasty spice often used to enhance holiday treats, ginger can soothe upset stomachs and diminish nausea, and studies show it may help pain and inflammation, too.
In fact, a University of Miami study concluded that ginger extract could one day be a substitute to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The study compared the effects of a highly concentrated ginger extract to placebo in 247 patients with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. The ginger reduced pain and stiffness in knee joints by 40 percent over the placebo.
“Research shows that ginger affects certain inflammatory processes at a cellular level,” says the study’s lead author, Roy Altman, MD, now at the University of California, Los Angeles.
What makes ginger so helpful? “Ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antioxidant activities, as well as a small amount of analgesic property,” says Roberta Lee, MD, vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
Choosing the most effective form of ginger may be the biggest challenge to reaping its rewards. Ginger comes in capsules, tinctures, teas, powders, oils and foods made from the dried or fresh root of the ginger plant. While many forms of ginger boast health benefits, Dr. Lee says capsules provide better benefits than other forms. She advises people to look for brands that use “super-critical extraction,” because it results in the purest ginger and will provide the greatest effect. She also suggests taking ginger capsules with food. Why? Although small amounts of ginger can help settle a sour stomach, concentrated doses can actually cause stomach upset.
Although they smell wonderful, foods like gingerbread, gingersnaps and ginger tea may not contain enough ginger to have an effect, says Dr. Altman. The capsule taken twice daily by patients in Dr. Altman’s study contained 255 milligrams (mg) of ginger, the equivalent of nearly a bushel of your grocer’s ginger.
Before taking ginger, be sure to check with your doctor. If you get the “go ahead” from your physician, try a 100- to 200-mg ginger capsule each day for four to six weeks to see if you feel an effect. Steer clear of ginger if you’re taking a blood-thinning medication, like warfarin (Coumadin), as ginger may reverse the effects of these types of drugs.
If you prefer the tangy zip of fresh ginger, here’s some good news. Researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens and Georgia State College & University in Milledgeville reported in the Journal of Pain that a few tablespoons of grated ginger can help ease muscle pain caused by exercise.
You can add a few tablespoons to your diet by grating ginger over a salad or into a stir fry.
Or you could grate one to two teaspoons and simmer it in a pot with hot water for five minutes to make a soothing tea.