By Dr. Mercola
Whether you're an enthusiast of Asian and East Indian cuisine or enjoy experimenting with different herbs and spices in the kitchen, it's likely you're familiar with the warming essence of ginger. From stir-fries to salad dressings, the flavor and fragrance of ginger is versatile and distinct.
And like so many plants, ginger is renowned for both traditional and modern medicinal remedies. An attractive perennial herb that produces a sideways-growing rhizome underground, ginger is the common name for the plant known as Zingiber officinale.
Some ginger species (and there are roughly 1,600 of them) produce beautiful tropical flowers, and most thrive in warm humid climates. Turmeric and cardamom are considered members of the ginger family, according to Healthy Food Tribe, which discloses how to keep the nubbly roots fresh:
"There are many tricks for keeping ginger fresh for longer in your kitchen. One way is to keep the ginger root in the freezer until it is ready to use. This is probably the easiest way to keep ginger fresh for a very long time … You will often see pink pickled ginger in Japanese cuisine — it makes for a fantastic palate cleanser when eaten between each course, making the flavor of each new dish more distinctive from the last."1
You can use a dehydrator to make ginger powder, which can be used in both smoothies and stir fries. To get the most of its complex, flavorful nuances, add ginger at the beginning of your cooking as well as toward the end, and peel it as little as possible for a deeper flavor profile.
Organic powdered ginger is an excellent alternative to using portions of ginger root, and can last up to a year when refrigerated. A number of studies reveal ginger as legendary throughout the world for thousands of years, and in many different capacities.
WebMD notes that this spice can stimulate saliva flow, settle an upset stomach, relieve nausea and diarrhea and prevent gas. One of the latest findings scientists have discovered2 is the chemical component in ginger responsible for eliminating bad breath.
How 6-Gingerol and Citric Acid Affect Saliva
The compound 6-gingerol, which enhances the mechanism that enables gastrointestinal transport (the time it takes for food to leave your stomach and travel through your intestines3), is the same one that enables an enzyme in saliva to break down unpleasant odors. That's how scientists identified its ability to freshen your breath, as well as reduce disagreeable aftertastes.
Conversely, citric acid increases the sodium in saliva so salty foods won't taste so salty. Additional aspects of food components and the molecules dissolved in saliva were explored by a study team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Leibniz-Institute for Food Systems Biology, according to Prevent Disease, which notes:
"Many food components contribute directly to the characteristic taste of food and beverages by means of contributing their own particular taste, scent or spiciness. However, they also indirectly influence our sense of taste via other, still largely unknown biochemical mechanisms."4
A team from the chair of food chemistry and molecular sensory science, led by food chemist Thomas Hofmann, investigated this phenomenon in greater detail and found that 6-gingerol increases the enzyme sulfhydryl oxidase 1 in saliva 16 times over within a few seconds.
They also showed that citric acid influences your perception of taste. For instance, sour foods such as lemons stimulate your salivary glands while simultaneously and proportionally increasing the amount of minerals dissolved in your saliva. The sodium ion level in saliva rises by a factor of about 11 after it's stimulated by citric acid, which makes you less sensitive to the taste of salt. As Hoffman explains:
"Table salt is nothing other than sodium chloride, and sodium ions play a key role in the taste of salt. If saliva already contains higher concentrations of sodium ions, samples tasted must have a significantly higher salt content in order to taste comparatively salty."5
Hoffman believes more research is warranted to understand how molecules in food create taste and the biological interactions involving saliva. Driving his aim is to "satisfy the health and sensory needs of consumers."6 That's the thrust of a future project to develop a new scientific basis for food production. Meanwhile, TUM notes that the discovery of the 6-gingerol mechanism may provide a direction for the development of new oral hygiene products.
The Power of Ginger in Clinical Studies
Scientists also note ginger's ability to relieve motion sickness. While the cause of motion sickness is what Prevent Disease7 describes as "conflicting sensory signals going to the brain," there are several remedies for this bothersome condition. Ginger is all-natural and has myriad other valuable health benefits; plus, it's backed by ample evidence over many decades.
The Journal of Visualized Experiments published a study involving patients highly prone to motion sickness. Twenty minutes after study subjects were given two capsules of powdered ginger, an antinausea medication or a placebo, they were given a spin on a motorized chair for up to six minutes (or as long as they could handle it).
The results: Taking ginger delayed the onset of sickness about twice as long as the medication, and half the participants who took ginger lasted the full six minutes, compared with none of those given either the placebo or the medication. The authors noted:
"Motion sickness occurs because of a mismatch between actual and expected perceptions from different sensory systems, such as the vestibular and the visual system.
This mismatch leads to a series of vegetative symptoms like nausea, vertigo, sweating, or tiredness, but also to changes in gastric myoelectrical activity, and can be evoked in most healthy participants depending on the strength of the stimulus."8
As for anti-inflammatory effects achieved by using ginger, a blog in Arthritis Today9 suggests that because studies point to the rhizome for decreasing pain and inflammation, you might be wise to keep it in your spice cupboard as well as your medicine cabinet.
One of many little-known uses for ginger is for asthma, which is good news, as the medical mainstream's solution usually involves drugs, which can actually increase the severity of the condition. Further, a University of Miami study10 says it has the potential of replacing nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
Here, a placebo was placed up against ginger extracts in 247 patients with osteoarthritis in their knees. Those who received ginger reported a 40 percent reduction in pain and stiffness. Lead author Roy D. Altman said research indicates that gingerol affects certain inflammatory processes at the cellular level.
Ginger for Nausea and so Much More
As a therapeutic substance, ginger has been widely used in Chinese, Ayurvedic and other medical practices for any number of maladies, including arthritis, muscular aches, rheumatism, sprains, sore throat, indigestion, vomiting, cramps, constipation, hypertension, dementia, fever, infectious diseases and helminthiasis (parasite infestation).11
An indication that ginger is taken very seriously in the medical world is that it's been approved by Commission E, Germany's agency responsible for regulating herbal products.
One study notes the phenolic substances are collectively known as gingerols, but 6-gingerol is the major pharmacologically-active component. The 6-gingerol is extracted from ginger root using ethanol and other organic solvents. As noted in one study (and corroborated in many more):
"Due to its efficacy and regulation of multiple targets, as well as its safety for human use, 6-gingerol has received considerable interest as a potential therapeutic agent for the prevention and/or treatment of various diseases"12
Besides fighting inflammation and oxidation, the anticancer activities linked to 6-gingerol affects several biological processes, including apoptosis (programmed cell death), cell cycle regulation, cytotoxic activity and slowing angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels.
The National Cancer Institute explains that angiogenesis plays an important role in slowing cancer growth, as solid tumors need a blood supply to grow larger than a few millimeters in size.13
Also, in regard to the aspects of ginger for people with cancer, another study recognizes ginger as an antiemetic, or an antinausea remedy for morning sickness during pregnancy or stomach flu, but also for those undergoing chemotherapy, not to mention medications that may cause nausea and vomiting.
However, as noted by Medical News Today,14 one of the problems with antiemetic drugs is that other problems might emerge, such as:
Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
Muscle weakness, spasms or convulsions
Worsening nausea and vomiting
Drowsiness that prevents driving
Psychological effects such as confusion or hallucination
Ginger for Cancer and Cognitive Function
According to a study conducted in 2012, cisplatin is a platinum-based drug used for patients undergoing cancer treatment, but earlier studies have shown it to have numerous side effects. Gingerol, (as well as genistein, an antioxidant isoflavone in animal cells and plants) have demonstrated antigenotoxic and antimutagenic potential in cultured human lymphocytes.
There are three things of note in this study: 1) Gingerol is a proven antioxidant; 2) Gingerol can help prevent reactive oxygen species (ROS) damage by scavenging free radicals produced by genotoxic (DNA-altering) agents; and 3) Gingerol has greater potential to improve genotoxicity than genistein. It's also important to note that in regard to chemotherapy:
"Chemotherapy leads to the complication of secondary cancers. Antioxidants in diet could protect patients undergoing chemotherapy as shown by studies where antioxidants were combined with chemotherapeutic drugs that increased growth-inhibition of chemotherapeutic agents on cancers.
Cancer cells and normal cells are different, which helps antioxidant complementary therapy protect the normal tissues from damage due to chemotherapeutic agents without compromising therapeutic effectiveness."15
Ginger has also been shown to have positive effects on cognitive function, especially in healthy middle-aged women.16 Researchers started with the premise that middle-aged women "usually develop some form of cognitive impairment" in such areas as attention, calculation and immediate recall," but that oxidative stress exacerbates it.
Ginger is also known for exerting positive effects in serum lipid levels, inflammation and arthritis, with a tradition of enhanced memory. In their conclusion, the scientists wrote that ginger "clearly demonstrates that Zingiber officinale may enhance both the attention and cognitive processing in middle-aged women," and "the improvement of cognitive function was observed in all attention and cognitive processing domains."
Ginger: Suggested Forms, Including Grated for Pain Relief
While ginger is a safe food, in rare cases, high doses may cause mild upset stomach, diarrhea, sleepiness, restlessness or heartburn. Taking ginger with food typically alleviates such problems. It may also interact with medications such as anesthesia, anticoagulants and analgesics, possibly leading to poor wound healing, sun sensitivity, irregular heartbeat, bleeding and prolonged sedation.
Among all the forms of ginger available, including tinctures, ginger tea, powders, oils, capsules and foods made from the root, capsules with "super-critical extraction" are what Roberta Lee, vice chair of the department of integrative medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center recommends because it results in the purest ginger and will provide the greatest effect.
Lee also suggests taking 100 to 200 milligrams of ginger daily for four to six weeks before increasing the dosage.
Since ginger has been proven effective for easing muscle pain caused by exercise, researchers of a study published in the Journal of Pain suggested trying a bit of grated ginger root in your food, such as salads or stir-fries, or a few teaspoons of it in a pot steeped with very hot water for five minutes for a soothing brew. The study noted that when ginger is heated, it exerts hypoalgesic effects — helping to alleviate pain 23 to 25 percent better than placebo.17
Source: mercola rss