The Benefits of Ginger
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Over the years, I have often been asked why we include ginger as an ingredient in a number of our herbal formulations. The primary reason is that, in herbal medicine, combinations of herbs require a “harmonizer”, a herb which helps the other herbs function well together. In Chinese medicine the most common herb used for this is licorice. However, when designing these formulas I was well aware of the consumer’s wariness of licorice, due to its potential for raising blood pressure. Thus, I went with the next most commonly used harmonizer, which was ginger. And, from my perspective, ginger had an advantage over licorice, in that it was also good for improving circulation, and so could help deliver the herbal agents in each formula throughout the body.
Even better, whereas licorice can increase blood pressure, ginger can lower high blood pressure: “According to animal studies ginger has the potential to offer a natural alternative dietary supplementation to conventional anti-hypertensive agents.” (Study)
But ginger has other beneficial properties as well, which we will be examining in this newsletter.
To further explore how ginger is of benefit in our formulas, let’s begin with looking at the original products in which we utilized this valuable herb/spice. Our first herbal formula was JointStart, now called JointStart Original. Like our latest product JointStart Supreme, it was designed to deal mostly with osteoarthritis (though both formulas are also of benefit for treating bursitis, tendonitis, sciatica, and sports injuries). In these formulas the ginger does not just serve as a circulatory and harmonizing agent but, as many clinical studies have revealed, it adds to the overall anti-inflammatory effect.
For example, this study on ginger for treating osteoarthritis (OA) had this to say: “Following ginger intake, a statistically significant pain reduction with a low degree of inconsistency among trials, and a statistically significant reduction in disability were seen, both in favor of ginger. Patients given ginger were more than twice as likely to discontinue treatment compared to placebo. Ginger was modestly efficacious and reasonably safe for treatment of OA.” (Study)
Now, if we look for the additional advantage of having ginger in our JointStart Premium product, which is designed for treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA), we find this material: “It seems that ginger can improve RA by decreasing disease manifestations via increasing FoxP3 genes expression and by decreasing RORγt and T-bet genes expression.” (Study)
And, further to the subject of inflammation, one of the most important benchmarks to monitor when it comes to preventing a heart attack is C-reactive protein (CRP). In fact, when you get a blood test during a check up, any doctor worth his salt will ensure that your CRP levels are checked. Here, ginger once more shows its value: “This systematic review and meta-analysis of RCTs (randomized controlled trials) demonstrates a significant impact of ginger in lowering circulating CRP.” (Study)
(JS Original contains 360 mg of ginger root powder; JS Premium contains 90 mg of a 4:1 ginger extract; JS Supreme contains 100 mg of a 4:1 ginger extract. These amounts are not sufficient to be therapeutic, if ginger were the only ingredient, however those amounts offer a low therapeutic dose, synergistically adding value to the other ingredients in these formulas.)
Now, inflammation is a cause of pain, and while they are related, it can take longer to reduce inflammation than to address pain. Thus the existence of pain relievers. So, if ginger can also help reduce pain, that means it is providing immediate relief while we wait for it, and other components, to work at reducing total inflammation. This study looked at ginger for reducing pain.
“Participants consumed 2 grams of either raw or heated ginger or placebo for 11 consecutive days. Participants performed 18 eccentric actions of the elbow flexors to induce pain and inflammation. Pain intensity, perceived effort, plasma prostaglandin E(2), arm volume, range-of-motion and isometric strength were assessed prior to and for 3 days after exercise. Results, raw and heat-treated ginger resulted in similar pain reductions 24 hours after eccentric exercise compared to placebo.”
“This study demonstrates that daily consumption of raw and heat-treated ginger resulted in moderate-to-large reductions in muscle pain following exercise-induced muscle injury. Our findings agree with those showing hypoalgesic effects of ginger in osteoarthritis patients and further demonstrate ginger’s effectiveness as a pain reliever.” (Study)
(By “heat-treated” I assume they are referring to ginger that has been cooked, which apparently does not reduce its effectiveness.)
Many of the diseases of aging are caused, in part, by inflammation and oxidative stress (free radical damage). Such diseases include Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, diabetes, hypertension, and Parkinson’s. “Since oxidative stress and inflammation contribute to these diseases, ginger is one of the potential herbs that can be used to reduce the level of oxidative stress and inflammation. Ginger consists of two major active components, 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol, which are essential for preventing oxidative stress and inflammation.” (Study)
Oxidative stress, mentioned just above, “plays a major role in the development and progression of diabetic nephropathy (DN)”, a form of nerve damage. In a study done with a diabetic rat model, ginger “extract significantly attenuated oxidative stress, inflammation and apoptosis (cell death), and enhanced antioxidant defenses in the diabetic kidney”. (Study)
Not only does ginger help protect the diabetic from nerve damage but it also can help to prevent diabetes. It does this “by increasing insulin sensitivity/synthesis, protecting β-cells of pancreatic islets, reducing fat accumulation, decreasing oxidative stress, and increasing glucose uptake by the tissues. In addition to these effects, ginger also exhibits protective effects against several diabetes-linked complications, notably nephropathy and diabetic cataract, by acting as an antioxidant and antiglycating agent. In conclusion, this work suggests that consumption of ginger can help to treat Type 2 diabetes and diabetic complications”. (Study)
Aside from the JointStart formulations, the other product we use ginger in is AdrenalStart, which contains a relatively high amount (200 mg of a 4:1 extract).
AdrenalStart, like any good adaptogen formula, helps the body to cope with stressors, be they emotional, mental, and/or physical. As well, adaptogens reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that destroys collagen, and builds belly fat (which can lead to insulin resistance). And, a well-formulated adrenal support product can also raise DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) levels. This “mother” hormone in turn balances out our sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone), and is a valuable aid in treating hormonal imbalances such as andropause, menopause, and PMS. (A customer of ours once did a DHEA test before, and two months after, using AdrenalStart. She attained roughly 20 – 25% increase in DHEA)
Of course I wouldn’t be mentioning this unless ginger had a role to play here, too.
“Since 1991, various in-vivo, as well as basic research studies, have discovered a link between ginger (Zingiber officinale) and testosterone. The mainstream of research that links ginger to testosterone demonstrated that ginger supplementation, particularly in oxidative stress conditions, enhances testosterone production in males. The mechanisms by which this occurs mainly by enhancing luteinizing hormone (LH) production, increasing the level of cholesterol in the testes, reducing oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation in the testes, enhancing the activity of the antioxidant enzymes, normalizing blood glucose, increasing blood flow in the testes, increasing testicular weight, and recycling testosterone receptors.” (Study)
Ailments related to estrogen imbalance include certain forms of cancer, menopausal symptoms, endometriosis, and polycystic ovary syndrome, all of which can be helped by the use of ginger.
This study summarized “the molecular mechanisms of estrogen actions induced by ginger constituents and related applications, such as the chemoprevention of cancers, and the improvement of menopausal syndromes, osteoporosis, endometriosis, prostatic hyperplasia, polycystic ovary syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease”.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder in women which affects fertility. In those who have this disorder, estrogen concentration is too high while progesterone and follicle-stimulating hormone concentrations are too low. This study found the “use of ginger as a herbal medicine without any side effects at high doses can be an effective and good alternative (to the drug Clomiphene citrate) in improving PCOS”. Thus supporting the thesis that ginger can regulate both estrogen and progesterone.
An elderly woman told me that she cured her arthritis simply by consuming copious amounts of ginger. She drank the tea, ate crystallized ginger candy, and added it to her food (such as stir frys, soups, or salad dressings). That is how powerful this simple spice can be.
And, it is easy to use, unlike turmeric which, while it has similar health benefits, contains many fat-soluble elements that make it less effective when brewed as a tea, or just added to smoothies or foodstuffs. Ginger’s constituents on the other hand are water-soluble, and so are easy for the body to access in any mode: tea, candy, or food. Given the broad benefits of this herb/spice it is clear we all could benefit from adding more ginger to our lives.