In practicing functional medicine, we use the best of both worlds of medicine, and both worlds benefit from quality studies looking at the therapies we recommend to our patients. Regardless of whether we’re recommending an herbal or a pharmaceutical, we want some evidence to back up our plans. Clinical experience always guides our protocols, but evidence from studies give us and our patients more confidence that we are on the right track to successful restoration. This paper offers a review of the literature on ginger, an herb used for centuries and across a wide range of medical conditions.
The most well known and widespread use of ginger addresses various situations of nausea or vomiting. Another GI use, besides for nausea and vomiting, included treating irritable bowel syndrome. Beyond the GI, the next major area of application surrounds various types of acute or chronic pain. This overlaps with the use of ginger for inflammatory conditions. In addition to GI and pain modulatory effects, ginger has found uses in metabolic conditions like diabetes and cholesterol. Each of these areas are further addressed both below and in the paper referenced.
While many studies have been performed, the author of this paper wanted to isolate out the highest quality studies. Poor study design can easily lead to biased results for or against an outcome. Small study size makes it difficult to detect small benefits. Lack of blinding and placebo controls make the confirmation of a real effect more difficult. Proper dosing or comparisons of different doses enable researchers to speak with more confidence in their findings.
As the most common target for ginger therapy, nausea and vomiting has received more study effort. Given the need for adequate nausea control in chemotherapy patients, multiple studies have asked the question of its efficacy. The results have been mixed when looking at the highest quality studies. Many studies indicate no benefit while the self-reports of many undergoing chemotherapy and other studies support its benefit. Given its relative safety, it is probably worth trying for those facing this challenge.
In the case of nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, studies are more supportive of a real effect. The rate of improved symptoms is statistically higher than placebo and comparable to vitamin B6, pyridoxine, another common and effective therapy. Other studies indicate a very safe risk profile for the infant of those mothers taking ginger. This is likely a helpful and safe therapy to try for pregnant moms facing nausea.
In other areas of the GI world, some studies do suggest that ginger has other benefits. It seems to help some with delayed gastric emptying by enhancing this function. It may have some positive benefits in preventing colon cancer, but the jury is still out on a final verdict.
Various forms of pain have also been studied to some extent, with some of those studies being of sufficiently quality to base therapy decisions on. In the case of women with dysmenorrhea, or cycle pain, measurement found significant benefits. For muscular pain post exercise, there was a tie between 4 studies, with 2 showing benefits and 2 showing no benefits. In terms of migraines, ginger fared better, with the 2 quality studies showing improvement in the headaches.
In looking at the inflammatory conditions of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. All studies showed benefits. In terms of pain, the symptoms of osteoarthritis improved. In terms of actually measured inflammatory markers, these objective labs did show improvement with ginger therapy. In a different setting, ginger lowered the inflammatory markers of “tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha, ferritin, and malondialdehyde (MDA) levels compared to the control group.”
In the realm of metabolic disease, ginger also demonstrated promise. For type 2 diabetics, fasting blood sugar and A1c improved, as well as insulin sensitivity marker. Another study, however, found no changes in blood pressure. Overall, given the widespread nature of the metabolic syndrome epidemic, ginger looks to be a helpful tool in limiting the health effects of this condition.
With little adverse effect noted besides occasional nausea, ginger looks to be a useful tool in the toolbox of functional medicine practitioners. Hopefully, interest in studying its benefits will grow in the conventional medical world so we can have more evidence on which to base our clinical decisions. Until then, we can continue to offer it to our patients as we guide them to healthier, more abundant lives.
Anh, N. H., Kim, S. J., Long, N. P., Min, J. E., Yoon, Y. C., Lee, E. G., Kim, M., Kim, T. J., Yang, Y. Y., Son, E. Y., Yoon, S. J., Diem, N. C., Kim, H. M., & Kwon, S. W. (2020). Ginger on Human Health: A Comprehensive Systematic Review of 109 Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 12(1), 157. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12010157
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.