Ginger is the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale, consumed as a delicacy, medicine, or spice.
Gathering its name from its genus and family Zingiberaceae, other notable members of this plant family are turmeric, cardamom, and galangal.
Ginger cultivation and medicinal use was a mainstay in ancient Persian medicine, as well as South Asia and has since spread to East Africa and the Caribbean. It is sometimes called ginger root to distinguish it from other things that share the name ginger.
Historically, as early Persian medicine proved, ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. In herbal medicine, ginger is regarded as an excellent carminative (a substance which promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) and intestinal spasmolytic (a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract). Modern scientific research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inflammatory compounds, and direct anti-inflammatory effects.
Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. These substances are believed to explain why so many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid Arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly. In two clinical studies involving patients who responded to conventional drugs and those who didn’t, physicians found that 75% of Arthritis patients and 100% of patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief of pain and/or swelling.
Arthritis-related problems with your aging knees?
Ginger can help, suggests recent studies. In a twelve month study, 29 patients with painful Arthritis in the knee (6 men and 23 women ranging in age from 42-85 years) participated in a placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study. Patients switched from placebo to ginger or visa versa after 3 months. After six months, the double-blind code was broken and twenty of the patients who wished to continue were followed for an additional six months.
By the end of the first six month period, those given ginger were experiencing significantly less pain on movement and handicap than those given placebo. Pain on movement decreased from a score of 76.14 at baseline to 41.00, while handicap decreased from 73.47 to 46.08. In contrast, those who were switched from ginger to placebo experienced an increase in pain of movement (up to 82.10) and handicap (up to 80.80) from baseline. In the final phase of the study when all patients were getting ginger, pain remained low in those already taking ginger in phase 2, and decreased again in the group that had been on placebo.
Not only did participants subjective experiences of pain lessen, but swelling in their knees, an objective measurement of lessened inflammation, dropped significantly in those treated with ginger. The mean target knee circumference in those taking ginger dropped from 43.25cm when the study began to 39.36cm by the 12th week. When this group was switched to placebo in the second phase of the study, their knee circumferences increased, while those who had been on placebo but were now switched to ginger experienced a decrease in knee circumference. In the final phase, when both groups were given ginger, mean knee circumference continued to drop, reaching lows of 38.78 and 36.38 in the two groups.
How does ginger work its anti-inflammatory magic? Two other recent studies provide possible reasons.
At least one reason for ginger’s beneficial effects is the free radical protection afforded by one of its active phenolic constituents, 6-gingerol. In an in vitro (test tube) study, 6-gingerol was shown to significantly inhibit the production of nitric oxide, a highly reactive nitrogen molecule that quickly forms a very damaging free radical called peroxynitrite. Another study found that in mice, five days treatment with ginger (10 mg per kilogram of body weight) prior to exposure to radiation not only prevented an increase in free radical damage to lipids (fats found in numerous bodily components from cell membranes to cholesterol), but also greatly lessened depletion of the animals stores of glutathione, one of the body’s most important internally produced antioxidants.
A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine sheds further light on the mechanisms of action that underlie ginger’s anti-inflammatory effectiveness. In this research, ginger was shown to suppress the pro-inflammatory compounds (cytokines and chemokines) produced by synoviocytes (cells comprising the synovial lining of the joints), chrondrocytes (cells comprising joint cartilage) and leukocytes (immune cells)