Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger lends its name to its genus and family Zingiberaceae. Other members of the Zingiberaceae plant family are turmeric and cardamom. Ginger has been used as a medicine in Arabic, Asian and Indian herbal traditions since ancient times. In China, ginger has been used to help digestion and treat stomach upset and nausea for more than 2,000 years.
Recent research has examined ginger for its antibacterial, antifungal, pain-relieving, anti-ulcer, antitumor, antioxidant, and numerous other properties. This research also associates ginger with diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
Although ginger is a modest source of nutrients, ginger contains a plethora of beneficial phytochemicals and volatile oils.
- Volatile oils: bisabolene, cineole, phellandrene, citral, borneol, citronellol, geranial, linalool, limonene, zingiberol, zingiberene, camphene
- Oleoresin: gingerol, shogaol
- Phenol: gingeol, zingerone
- Proteolytic enzyme: zingibain
- Nutrients: Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Iron, Protein, Sodium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B-complex and Vitamin C.
The constituents of ginger can vary depending on where and how it is grown and the processing it has undergone.
Research and preposed functions of ginger
There are a plethora of claims both historical and current; preliminary research intimates ginger as an anti-emetic, antioxidant, thermo stimulant, antibacterial, antifungal, pain-relieving, anti-ulcer, antitumor, and the list goes on. The following is a brief literature review of the rationalisation of some of these claims.
Ginger has long been associated with gastrointestinal disturbances but why ginger effects the gastrointestinal system is yet to be elucidated. However preliminary research indicates that compounds found in ginger may bind to human serotonin receptors which may influence gastrointestinal function[i],iv.
Ginger may aid digestion as it exhibits sialagogue properties (saliva producing) as saliva is used to breakdown ingested food preparing it for further digestion in the stomach[ii]. Ginger also contains a digestive enzyme called Zingibain which exceeds papain (from papaya) in digestive potencyiv.
Ryan et al (2011) found ginger to be more effective than placebo for treating nausea caused by morning sickness, seasickness, and chemotherapy[iii]. The constituents behind this function are believed to be the shogaols and gingerols[iv].
Ginger may be useful in chronic inflammation because it partially inhibits cyclooxygenase (COX) and 5-lipoxygenase (LOX), two important enzymes that play a role in inflammation[v]. Furthermore as it doesn’t shut down the inflammatory process completely, it allows inflammation to complete the beneficial portion and then turn itself off, the way it does with an injury.
Two compounds in ginger, 6-Gingerol and Gingerdiones, are potent inhibitors of prosaglandins (by blocking COX). One study showed that ginger was as effective as ibuprofen and mefenamic acid in relieving menstrual pain[vi].
Ginger exhibits anticoagulant properties, helping make blood platelets less sticky which subsequently provides an anti-thrombotic and anti-inflammatory effect[vii].
Ginger has a broad range of anti-fungal activity in both fresh and dried ginger oils. The higher content of oxygenated compounds makes fresh ginger oil more potent than dry ginger oil. The electronegativity associated with the oxygenated compounds in the fresh ginger oil has more influence in controlling the microorganisms. The Dry Ginger Oil contains sesquiterpene hydrocarbons which contain more double bonds making them more active against certain microorganisms than the monoterpenesiv,[viii]. In another study the main antifungal principles were shown to be due to the 6‐gingerdiols[ix].
The polyphenol compounds (gingerol and its derivatives) found in ginger have potent antioxidant activity; inhibiting hydroxyl radicals which induce lipid peroxidation[x],[xi]. 10-shogaol inhibits the oxidative products which allow it to form a stable complex, displaying moderate antioxidant activities. 10-Shogaol has shown to have positive effects on cell viability along with increasing the rate of cell proliferation in both keratinocytes and fibroblasts. Ginger compounds have the ability to induce faster abrasion wound repair by modulating collagen or decreasing reactive oxygen species xi.
The ginger constituents terpenes and oleoresin exhibit antiseptic qualities[xii].
Ginger may be useful in peptic ulceration due to its action as a thromboxane synthetic inhibitor[xiii].
Published research behind ginger is still in preliminary stages, mostly in vivo and in vitro. However, historical evidence, nutritional profile and lack of side effects of this functional food mean it could be used medicinally to some extent. All this aside, it’s a great tasting spice that boasts a plethora of uses.
Ways to enjoy ginger
- Ginger tea
- Ginger beer
- Dried ginger
- Ginger jam
- Ginger cake and cookies
- Ginger sauce
Iced ginger tea (great to aid digestion)
3-4 ginger tea bags (I like Morlifes Ginger Digest tea)
½ lemon, juiced
4 teaspoons of honey
2 cups cold filtered water
2 cups boiling water
3 sprigs mint
- Make up 1 cup of ginger tea using the 3-4 teabags and mint
- Infuse for 3-4 minutes
- Remove tea bags
- Allow to cool
- Pour tea into a large jug and add 4 teaspoons of sugar, honey or sweetener to taste
- Add lemon juice and stir to dissolve
- Pour over 2 cups cool filtered water.
- Chill in the refrigerator
Serve in a tall glass with ice cubes and garnished with a lemon slice
Glossary of terms
Volatile oils have an oily consistency, derived from plants and containing the principles to which the odour and taste of the plant are due.
Oleoresin is a naturally occurring mixture of a resin and oil.
Phenols are aromatic compounds found in some essential oils of plants. Phenols have powerful antiseptic and antibacterial properties.
Proteolytic enzyme any of a group of enzymes that break the long chain like molecules of proteins into shorter fragments (peptides) and eventually into their components, amino acids. Proteolytic enzymes are present in bacteria and plants but are most abundant in animals.
Cyclooxygenase: enzyme responsible for the formation of biological mediators (e.g. prostaglandins); inhibition of cyclooxygenase can provide relief from the symptoms of inflammation and pain.
Lipooxygenase: an enzyme that catalyses the oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids to form a peroxide of the acid. Also facilitates the synthesis of leukotrienes by converting arachidonic acid to hydroxyeicosenoic acid via an oxidative process.
lipid peroxidation is the oxidation of lipids which causes tissue damage and the formation of harmful free radicals.
[i] Abdel-Aziza H, Windeck T, et al (2006) Mode of action of gingerols and shogaols on 5-HT3 receptors: Binding studies, cation uptake by the receptor channel and contraction of isolated guinea-pig ileum. European J of Pharma;530(1–2): 136–143.
[ii] Ghayur M.N & Gilani A.H (2005) Pharmacological Basis for the Medicinal Use of Ginger in Gastrointestinal Disorders. Digestive Diseases and Sci; 50(10): 1889-1897.
[iii] Ryan J.L, Heckler C. E, et al (2011) Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces acute chemotherapy-induced nausea: a URCC CCOP study of 576 patients. Support Cancer care.
[iv] Iyer UM, Desai PA, Venugopal S. (2010) Impact of panchratna juice in the management of diabetes mellitus: Fresh vs. processed product. Int J Green Pharm;4:122-128.
[v] Julia A. Podlogar, Eugen J. Verspohl (2011) Antiinflammatory Effects of Ginger and Some of its Components in Human Bronchial Epithelial (BEAS-2B) Cells. Phytotherapy Research; Early View (Online Version of Record published before inclusion in an issue).
[vi] Ozgoli G, Goli M and Moattar F (2009) Comparison of Effects of Ginger, Mefenamic Acid, and Ibuprofen on Pain in Women with Primary Dysmenorrhea. The J of Alternative and Comp Med;15(2):129–132.
[vii] Ali B.H, Blunden G, et al (2008) Some phytochemical, pharmacological and toxicological properties of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe): A review of recent research. Food and Chem Toxicol; 46: 409–420.
[viii] Sasidharan I, Menon A.N (2010) Comparative Chemical Composition And Antimicrobial Activity Fresh & Dry Ginger Oils (Zingiber Officinale Roscoe). Int J Curr Pharm Res;2(4): 40-43
[ix] Ficker C, Smith ML, et al (2003) Bioassayguided isolation and identification of antifungal compounds from ginger. Phytother Res;17:897‐902.
[x] Stoilova I, Krastanov A, et al (2007) Antioxidant activity of a ginger extract (Zingiber officinale). Food Chem; 102: 764–770.
[xi] Chen C-Y, Cheng K-C, et al (2012) 10-Shogaol, an Antioxidant from Zingiber officinale for Skin Cell Proliferation and Migration Enhancer. Int J Mol Sci; 13: 1762-1777.
[xii] Vitetta L (2008) Alternative therapies for musculoskeletal conditions. Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology;22(3): 499–522.
[xiii] Kochhar K.P (2008) Dietary Spices In Health And Diseases (Il). Indian J Physiol Pharmacol; 52 (4) : 327–354.