Ginger – a ubiquitous spice that suppresses many diseases

EatThis Functional Food

By Janet Colston

Emerging from the Coronavirus lock down can create fear for even the healthy, in particular with regard to the ability to fight off COVID-19. This has incentivized many to improve their personal health and wellbeing to build resilience for the future.

The CDC recommends the following measures in regard to COVID-19.
How to protect yourself • What to do if you are sick
Disclaimer: We are not doctors and do not prescribe this blog as a medicinal alternative to bona fide medical advice should you contract seasonal flu or Coronavirus.

Ginger: Zingiber officinale is a popular root and spice used in cookery throughout the world. Ginger originates from Asia where it has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. It was exported to the west through the spice trade routes and was first recorded in western cookery and medicines by the Greeks and Romans around the first century.

Ginger has wide ranging effects in pain relief and fever control

Ginger has been used to treat many different diseases with a powerful anti-inflammatory effect on the body [1]. The root or rhizome is enriched with more than 100 bioactive metabolites, including terpenes and oleoresin which are called ginger oil. The most studied bioactive components include gingerols and shogaols. Both [6]-gingerol and [6]-shogaol have the ability to mediate anti-inflammatory effects [2]. Ginger is routinely used to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis through a mechanism which inhibits the formation of inflammatory cytokines, and chemical messengers of the immune system [3]. 

As a diaphoretic, ginger systemically induces perspiration, cooling the body which helps maintain homeostasis [4]. This can help to reduce a high fever when suffering from influenza or a cold [5]. Consuming ginger several times a day when suffering from a cold also helps the body fight infections, speeding up the healing process. Freshly grated ginger in hot water and inhaling the steam helps to alleviate congestion and other symptoms associated with common colds. It is no coincidence in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak in China that the demand for ginger soared and outstriped supply leading to shortages of the spice in the US [6].

The first sign of a cold is a sore throat. Grated ginger with manuka honey and lemon antioxidant tea helps to soothe sore throats and eases coughs reducing inflammation. 

Ginger Soothes the Gut lining and Reduces Nausea

Ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating discomfort and pain in the stomach [7] and has a positive effect on pancreatic and intestinal enzymes, which are important for digestion [8]. Ginger has been used to eliminate excessive gas from the digestive system, and soothes the intestinal tract and both colic and dyspepsia have been shown to respond positively to ginger [9].

Ginger root has also been used as an anti-emetic and it has been reported to reduce the symptoms associated with motion sickness, including dizziness, nausea, vomiting and cold sweating [10]. Ginger has been used to treat nausea associated with mild pregnancy sickness [11]. 

Anti-inflammatory, Anti-diabetic, Anti-Cancer and Cardiovascular Protectant

Inflammation is triggered by oxidative stress leading to many disease states. Oxidative stress markers such as nitric oxide (NO) are known to influence the signal transduction pathways that cause DNA damage leading to many diseases. [6]-gingerol has been reported to dose-dependently inhibit NO production [12] while other ginger compounds effectively inhibit superoxide production [13].

Active compounds in ginger are linked to improvements in insulin levels [14] and have been shown to have anti-cancer and antioxidant effects [13]. The anticancer properties of ginger are attributed to the presence of vallinoids,  [6]-gingerol and [6]-paradol, as well as some other constituents like shogaols, zingerone [15]. Researchers studied the data of more than 4,000 subjects and revealed people with greater ginger use had a lower chance of developing chronic heart disease or hypertension [16].

Growing Ginger

Image courtesy of Lotus Garden Botanicals

Ginger is botanically similar to other Zingiberaceae such as Turmeric, Cardamom and Galangal (Thai or Siamese Ginger), and the rhizome is produced under a frond of shoots. Ginger is predominantly grown in tropical countries with the paler Jamaican ginger regarded as superior for culinary use [17]. Japanese ginger (Mioga) produces a much smaller tuber and edible ground flower which also has promising antioxidant properties [18]. 

L-R. Turmeric – Mioga Ginger – Ginger

Ginger is a perennial plant growing up to a metre in height and like turmeric it produces new growth annually as an underground tuber. Shooting ginger rhizomes need to be soaked prior to shooting under a heat lamp.  Ginger grows well in hydroponics; have a look at this backyard flood and drain tutorial on growing Ginger.

Janet Colston PhD is a pharmacologist with an interest in growing ‘functional’ foods that have additional phytonutrients and display medicinal qualities that are beneficial to human health. She grows these using a range of techniques including plant tissue micropropagation and controlled environmental agriculture to ensure the highest quality control.

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