Thursday, December 17, 2009

Medicinal Herbs: Ginger

Ginger

Overview

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. 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 treat the common cold, flu-like symptoms, headaches, and even painful menstrual periods. Native to Asia where its use as a culinary spice spans at least 4,400 years, ginger grows in fertile, moist, tropical soil.

Plant Description

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).

Medicinal Uses and Indications

Today, health care professionals commonly recommend to help prevent or treat nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness, pregnancy, and cancer chemotherapy. It is also used as a digestive aid for mild stomach upset, as support in inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, and may even be used in heart disease or cancer.

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.

Conventional prescription and nonprescription medicines that decrease nausea may also cause unwanted side effects, such as dry mouth and drowsiness. Given the safety of ginger, many people find it a welcome alternative to these medications to relieve motion sickness.

Pregnancy Related Nausea and Vomiting

Human studies suggests that 1 gram daily of ginger may be safe and effective for pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting when used for short periods (no longer than 4 days). Several studies have found that ginger is more effective than placebo in relieving nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy. In a small study of 30 pregnant women with severe vomiting, those who ingested 1 gram of ginger every day for 4 days reported more relief from vomiting than those who received placebo. In a larger study of 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.

Chemotherapy nausea

Evidence from a few studies suggests that ginger reduces the severity and duration of nausea (but not vomiting) during chemotherapy. More research is needed to confirm these results and establish safety.

Nausea and vomiting following surgery

Research has produced mixed results regarding the use of ginger in the treatment of nausea and vomiting following surgery. Two studies found that 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. More research is 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 reduce inflammation. In fact, many health care professionals use ginger to help treat health problems associated with inflammation, such as arthritis and ulcerative colitis. In a 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 a few studies have shown a benefit of ginger for arthritis, one 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 uses

  • Although it is too early to tell if ginger will benefit those with heart disease, preliminary studies suggest that ginger may lower cholesterol and help 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.
  • Laboratory studies have also found that components in ginger may have anticancer activity. More research is needed to determine the effects of ginger on various cancers in humans.

Available Forms

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

Pediatric

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 - 25 kg), the appropriate dose of ginger for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.

Adult

In general, ginger intake should not exceed 4 grams daily (this includes the ginger obtained through diet such as from ginger ale, ginger snaps, and ginger bread). Usually, food sources contain no more than 0.5% ginger.

Standardized dose: Take 75 - 2,000 mg in divided doses with food, standardized to contain 4% volatile oils or 5% total pungent compounds including 6-gingerol or 6-shogaol.

For nausea, gas, or indigestion: 2 - 4 grams of fresh root daily (0.25 - 1.0 g of powdered root) or 1.5 - 3.0 mL (30 - 90 drops) liquid extract daily. To prevent vomiting, take 1 gram of powdered ginger (1/2 tsp) or its equivalent, every 4 hours as needed (not to exceed 4 doses daily), or 2 ginger capsules (1 gram), 3 times daily. You may also chew a 1/4 oz piece of fresh ginger when needed.

For pregnancy-induced vomiting, use 250 mg 4 times daily.

To relieve arthritis pain: Take fresh ginger juice, extract, or tea, 2 - 4 grams daily. Topical ginger oil may also be rubbed into a painful joint. Fresh ginger root may also be placed 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 hot water, 2 - 3 times daily. A drop of ginger oil or a few slices of fresh rhizome may also be placed in steaming water and inhaled.

Precautions

The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain components 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 health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine.

Side effects associated with ginger are rare, but if taken in excessive doses the herb may cause mild heartburn, diarrhea and irritation of the mouth. Some of the mild gastrointestinal side effects, such as belching, heartburn, or stomach upset, may be relieved by taking ginger supplements in capsules.

People with gallstones should consult a doctor before taking ginger. Make sure to tell your doctor if you are taking ginger and will be undergoing surgery or placed under anesthesia for any reason.

Do not take ginger if you have a bleeding disorder or if you are taking blood-thinning medications, including aspirin.

Possible Interactions

Ginger may alter the effects of some prescription and nonprescription medications. If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use ginger without first talking to your health care 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, such as aspirin and warfarin. However, people taking medications that thin the blood should use ginger only under the supervision of a health care provider.

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