Ginger root is one of my new favorite things.
Last year I began having pain in my wrists and fingers making it difficult to use my hands, not only because of the pain but also because the joints would lock up and limit the amount of movement I had with them. Initially, I thought it was just wear and tear over the years from the gym and playing sports growing up. Then it started happening in my toes and feet and eventually around my ribs and chest cavity. Some days I would feel completely fine, while other days I found it difficult to move and could only take shallow breathes due to the pain in my chest when my lungs expanded. It was getting in the way and making it hard to be productive.
Finally, I brought the issue up with my doctor because I thought it was due to a respiratory pseudomonas infection flare up. Apparently it’s a fairly common symptom among people who have cystic fibrosis (CF) and culture pseudomonas. He thinks that I have arthritis and prescribed pain medication to help deal with the episodes as they happened. I tried it a couple times but it was more of a distraction than a remedy. I take plenty of meds as it is for the CF, including 1600mg of bactrim twice a day so I should be nearly impervious to pain anyway. I wanted to find another solution.
So I started eating healthier. Basically I cut out deep fried food almost entirely and began taking in more fruits and vegetables. I also incorporated more food into my diet that is known to reduce inflammation like substituting saturated fats with natural sources of omega-6 fatty acids (hemp and flax seeds, uncooked olive oil, canola oil, salmon) and other polyunsaturated fats. Unfortunately, it was difficult to maintain when I’m only home for a small portion of the day and don’t care to spend that precious time cooking. I solved that by buying a blender and making smoothies. Now, in the mornings I can simply shove a cup half full of greens, throw in some fruit and a little hemp or flax seed, blend and drink. This ensured that I got all those nutritents I was lacking and best of all the entire process with cleanup takes only about 10 minutes.
At some point I began adding raw ginger root to my smoothies every morning because I was trying a lot of new things. That was over 6 months ago and I haven’t had any joint or chest pain whatsoever since, nor have I been sick once and my lungs have felt better overall. Normally I probably would have had 12 or more painful episodes in that amount of time, so I’m fully convinced that these changes made the difference. However, I don’t know if I can attribute it to the ginger because I did change a few things in my diet and I’ve been consuming ginger in my smoothies almost every day.
I was curious what the scientific literature had to say about ginger.
One of the well known properties of ginger is that it reduces nausea. If you’ve ever had a stomach illness and drank ginger ale because it made you feel better, its because the ginger eases the nausea. Scientists currently don’t know the mechanism by which ginger reduces nausea. Some of the suggestions are that compounds found in ginger can enhance gastrointestinal transport of food or the nervous system may be acted upon in some way.
Ginger has also been found to possess antioxidant activities and studies in cell culture and mice show that it may aid in cancer prevention through multiple pathways.
It may even be an effective treatment for obesity. A new study showed that rats who were fed a high fat diet and received a daily dose of gingerol had reduced body weight, glucose and tissue lipid levels compared to control rats – with results that were comparable to rats given the weight loss drug lorcaserin. This was corroborated by a double blind placebo controlled study in humans with type 2 diabetes that ginger consumption not only reduced lipid profiles, but increased insulin sensitivity and reduced fasting blood glucose levels as well as HbA1C levels.
And yet, another similar study published earlier this year showed improvement in insulin sensitivity and glycemic indices of type 2 diabetic patients who took 3 grams of ginger powder daily for 8 weeks.
Additionally, ginger may help with asthmatic symptoms as certain compounds in ginger have been found to induce relaxation of airway smooth muscle cells in vitro.
And finally on to the anti-inflammatory effects. It’s been shown by multiple studies using cell culture that ginger has anti-inflammatory action by inhibiting prostaglandin and leukotriene synthesis as well as pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1, TNF-α and IL-8…all of which are proteins that are usually elevated with inflammation arising from anything from diabetes to arthritis. Adding to that evidence, a rat model of rheumatoid arthritis proved that ginger significantly increased anti-inflammatory cytokines and decreased pro-inflammatory cytokines.
However, its less clear how effective ginger is at relieving inflammation in humans. A double blind placebo controlled study where osteoarthritis patients were given 170mg of ginger once a day for 3 weeks found no difference between the placebo at relieving pain. A separate study saw a moderate effect at reducing knee pain in patients with osteoarthritis, but they were given a 255mg tablet containing ginger and galanga, a close relative of ginger, twice a day for 6 weeks. I found a more recent double blind placebo study that claimed to have statistically significant effect at reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and TNF-α in type 2 diabetic patients who received 1 gram of powdered ginger twice a day. I looked at the data, however, and it seems like there was a lot of variation in their results and I was surprised there was a statistically significant difference between the treatment group and control. Maybe the raw data tells a more convincing story, but we don’t have access to that.
When I do a Google search for “ginger” and “inflammation” a study by Dr. Krishna C. Srivastava keeps coming up in several articles. The claim is that Srivastava gave arthritic patients ginger daily for 3 months and “the majority of people had significant improvements in pain, swelling, and morning stiffness by eating ginger daily.” Further claiming that ginger had results that were comparable to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Tylenol and Advil. However, I could not find any peer reviewed research that points to that study anywhere and I contacted the author of what seems to be the original article here who could not recall the original source, only that the research may have taken place some two decades ago. I have no idea why no citations would not be given for claims like that. Nonetheless, I would consider this anecdotal evidence at best but it could be completely made up for all I know.
In conclusion, it seems that ginger MAY reduce inflammation and arthritis pain. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence out there, but the scientific evidence is a bit lacking at the moment. It seems to be working for me, but I will post an update if I ever stop taking ginger for a long period of time. It doesn’t seem to matter how you consume the ginger, most studies use the powdered form in a tablet. However, the natural source is almost always better if you can go that route. It does appear to matter how much of it you consume and, frankly, I don’t think the osteoarthritis studies that I cited used enough. In every situation where ginger was effective the does was at least 1 gram a day up to about 5 grams. If you’re using raw ginger, that would be about 1 inch of cut root.
So go ahead, and try ginger for what ails you. With virtually no side effects, besides acting as a blood thinner, there’s no harm in trying. Just don’t expect to throw away your traditional medications.