Ginger has powerful health benefits – here are 12 compelling reasons to add it to your diet.
Medically reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson and words by Annie Hayes
Whether it’s ground into a powder for cooking, shredded or sliced for pickling, or steeped in boiling water and served as tea, ginger health benefits are far-reaching, meaning it has become a staple ingredient in kitchens around the world for centuries. The spice has long played a starring role in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, and is a popular home remedy for nausea, sore throat, and stomach ache.
We spoke to Dr Vijay Murthy, Ayurvedic doctor and owner of Murthy Clinic; Jenna Hope, nutritionist; and David Wiener, training specialist at Freeletics, to share ginger health benefits – from giving your gut health a boost to easing symptoms of osteoarthritis:
12 proven health benefits of ginger
There are a wealth of healthful compounds packed into ginger – in fact, 400 different naturally occurring chemical compounds have been identified, says Dr Murthy – with the main bioactive compound in ginger being gingerol. However, not all ginger is created equal.
‘Fresh ginger is best, as it contains a higher level of gingerol.’
‘The composition of these constituents varies depending on the source, where they are grown, how they are grown, curing methods, drying methods and storage,’ he says. ‘As such, buying a trusted and organic source of ginger is very important.’
The chemical make-up also differs depending on whether you’re choosing dried, powdered or fresh. ‘Fresh is always the best way to go as it contains a higher level of gingerol,’ says Wiener. ‘When looking for supplements, it’s always important that you choose those that are all natural.’
You’ll find more about choosing the right ginger supplement below, including dosage recommendations, potential interactions, and safety guidelines. Here are 12 evidence-backed health benefits of ginger worth knowing about:
1. High in vitamins and minerals
Ginger is a nutrient powerhouse, says Hope, containing a wide range of vitamins – including vitamin C, and B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin and niacin – along with minerals such as iron, calcium and phosphorus.
The spice also contains plant compounds known as phenols, she says, of which gingerols, shogoals and gingerdiols are the most prominent. Gingerol is the most abundant of the three, and this oily liquid gives ginger its pungent taste.
2. Has anti-inflammatory properties
Gingerol is an anti-inflammatory compound, which may explain ‘why people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly,’ says Wiener. This is because gingerols have an effect on the chemical messengers of the immune system.
‘Gingerdiols have been found to have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects through modulating the biochemical pathways involved in chronic inflammation,’ says Hope. They also suppress the formation of leukotrienes – inflammatory chemicals released by the body – therefore contributing to a reduction in inflammation.
3. Reduces nausea
There are multiple digestive benefits that have been linked to ginger, specifically acting on parts of your GI tract responsible for feelings of nausea, stomach upset, and vomiting, says Wiener. ‘Ginger significantly reduces nausea,’ agrees Dr Murthy. ‘It is a potent anti-emetic and used to prevent motion sickness.’
Ginger has long been used as a sea sickness remedy, and appears to be especially effective in treating pregnancy-related nausea. However, if you are pregnant, talk to your doctor before taking large amounts of ginger. Some experts worry that it could raise the risk of miscarriage, especially in high doses.
4. Improves digestion
There’s a reason people take ginger to settle their stomach – ginger encourages food to move from the stomach to the small intestine by stimulating the action of digestive juices, and has also been shown to ease bloating and flatulence. It may be particularly beneficial for those with chronic indigestion, known as dyspepsia.
‘Active ingredients of ginger stimulate digestion and absorption, and relieve constipation and flatulence by increasing muscular activity in the digestive tract,’ says Dr Murthy. ‘The gingerols and -gingesulfonic acid in ginger root accelerate gastric emptying and also relieve gaseous distension,’ he adds.
5. High in antioxidants
Ginger is a broad spectrum antioxidant and it helps in reducing cell damage, says Dr Murthy. Ginger root contains very high levels of antioxidants, surpassed only by pomegranate and certain types of berries. ‘The antioxidant properties of -gingerol has been extensively studied,’ he says Dr Murthy. ‘It helps reduce free radical activity, therefore reducing cell damage and promoting healthy ageing.’
6. Has antimicrobial properties
Ginger extract can inhibit the growth of many different types of bacteria, including E.coli, proteus species, Staphylococci, Streptococci and Salmonella, says Dr Murthy. In this way, ginger promotes healthy gut flora.
Due to its antimicrobial properties, ginger has also been shown to be effective against the oral bacteria that causes inflammatory diseases in the gums – such as gingivitis and periodontitis – in a lab setting. However, human studies are needed.
7. Good for gut health
Ginger is high in gut-healthy fibre, and as such, acts as a prebiotic, says Dr Murthy. ‘Gut bacteria utilise the fibre,’ he says. ‘Ginger can help in reducing the population of bad gut microbes and increasing beneficial gut microbiomes.’
8. Reduces heart disease risk
The anti-inflammatory compounds in ginger can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, says Weiner. ‘This is because ginger can lower blood pressure and decrease blood lipids (fats) levels, both of which help protect against heart disease,’ he says.
The spice also helps to reduce cholesterol levels. A small study conducted on 85 participants with high blood pressure by Babol University of Medical Sciences revealed that supplementing with three grams of ginger powder per day caused significant reductions in most cholesterol markers.
9. May help to prevent cancer
The cell-protecting properties of ginger can lower the long-term risk of certain cancers, says Wiener. ‘That’s because it may reduce cellular activity that causes DNA changes, cell death, and proliferation of cancer cells,’ he explains. ‘It could also help sensitise tumours to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.’
These potential effects make ginger ‘a potent agent in preventing or suppressing cancer growth in lymphoma, hepatoma, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer, liver cancer, and bladder cancer,’ says Dr Murthy – though more controlled human studies are needed.
10. Relieves menstrual pain
Ginger is useful in relieving menstrual cramps, says Dr Murthy, thanks to its antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory effects. In a study by the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, 150 women were instructed to take one gram of ginger powder per day, for the first 3 days of their period. Ginger was found to reduce pain as effectively as ibuprofen.
11. Treats migraines
Consumption of ginger has shown to offer relief from migraine attacks, says Dr Murthy, either by relieving nausea, or pain, or both. A dose 500-600mg of ginger powder administered at the onset of migraine for a period of three to four days at am interval of four hours is reported to provide relief from migraine attack, he says.
12. Improves insulin resistance and boosts metabolism
‘Ginger has been linked to improvements in insulin and metabolism,’ says Wiener, who adds that regular intake can lower your blood sugar levels. This was confirmed in a very small study conducted by the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, in which 41 participants with type 2 diabetes who supplemented with two grams of ginger powder every day lowered their fasting blood sugar by 12 per cent. While the results are promising, more human studies are needed.
Ginger health benefits: dosage
The bioactive compound, gingerdiol, is most prominent in fresh ginger. ‘Research shows that gingerdiol is not affected by heat and therefore you can consume this in your cooking, as juice, in your water or raw,’ says Hope. ‘It’s recommended to use fresh ginger rather than dried ginger for optimal health benefits.’ Here are some of the ways to incorporate ginger into your day:
- Grate or crush fresh ginger into a glass of boiled water and drink in the morning upon waking.
- Add five or six slices of fresh ginger into a thermos and keep sipping ginger water throughout the day.
- When cooking grains, lentils, legumes, pulses or vegetables, add ½ tea spoon of ground ginger.
- To improve digestion, sprinkle a pinch of Himalayan rock salt on a square of fresh ginger and chew it before meals.
If you’d rather use a supplement, ‘research suggests that the maximum serum concentration of ginger metabolites is reached from the consumption of 1.5g to 2g of ginger,’ she continues. Make sure to take no more than 5g ginger per day – it may end up giving you some nasty side effects such as indigestion and heart burn, says Wiener. And if you’re pregnant, do not consume more than 1g per day.
As ginger has more than 400 different chemical constituents, it is good to look for whole root extracts as opposed to a single extract like gingerol, adds Dr Murthy. ‘Products that combine ginger root extract with ginger powder are more effective and safe than extracts alone,’ he adds. Ginger supplements can interact with other medications, so you should speak to your healthcare provider first.