Ginger is an herb. The rhizome (underground stem) is used as a spice and also as a medicine. It can be used fresh, dried and powdered, or as a juice or oil.
Ginger is commonly used to treat various types of “stomach problems,” including motion sickness, morning sickness, colic, upset stomach, gas, diarrhea, nausea caused by cancer treatment, nausea and vomiting after surgery, as well as loss of appetite.
Other uses include pain relief from arthritis or muscle soreness, menstrual pain, upper respiratory tract infections, cough, and bronchitis. Ginger is also sometimes used for chest pain, low back pain, and stomach pain.
Some people pour the fresh juice on their skin to treat burns. The oil made from ginger is sometimes applied to the skin to relieve pain.
In foods and beverages, ginger is used as a flavoring agent.
In manufacturing, ginger is used as for fragrance in soaps and cosmetics.
One of the chemicals in ginger is also used as an ingredient in laxative, anti-gas, and antacid medications.
Ginger contains chemicals that may reduce nausea and inflammation. Researchers believe the chemicals work primarily in the stomach and intestines, but they may also work in the brain and nervous system to control nausea.
Ginger is LIKELY SAFE for most people. Some people can have mild side effects including heartburn, diarrhea, and general stomach discomfort. Some women have reported extra menstrual bleeding while taking ginger.
When ginger is applied to the skin, it may cause irritation.
Pregnancy: Using ginger during pregnancy is controversial. There is some concern that ginger might affect fetal sex hormones. There is also a report of miscarriage during week 12 of pregnancy in a woman who used ginger for morning sickness. However, studies in pregnant women suggest that ginger can be used safely for morning sickness without harm to the baby. The risk for major malformations in infants of women taking ginger does not appear to be higher than the usual rate of 1% to 3%. Also there doesn’t appear to be an increased risk of early labor or low birth weight. There is some concern that ginger might increase the risk of bleeding, so some experts advise against using it close to your delivery date. As with any medication given during pregnancy, it’s important to weigh the benefit against the risk. Before using ginger during pregnancy, talk it over with your healthcare provider.
Breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the safety of using ginger during breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and don’t use it.
Bleeding disorders: Taking ginger might increase your risk of bleeding.
Diabetes: Ginger might lower your blood sugar. As a result, your diabetes medications might need to be adjusted by your healthcare provider.
Heart conditions: High doses of ginger might worsen some heart conditions.
- Nausea and vomiting following surgery. Most clinical research shows that taking 1 gram of ginger one hour before surgery seems to reduce nausea and vomiting during the first 24 hours after surgery. One study found ginger reduced nausea and vomiting by 38%. Also, applying ginger oil to patients’ wrists before surgery seems to prevent nausea in about 80% of patients. However, ginger might not reduce nausea and vomiting in the period 3-6 hours after surgery.
- Dizziness. Taking ginger seems to reduce the symptoms of dizziness, including nausea.
- Menstrual pain. Some research shows that ginger can reduce symptoms of menstrual pain in some women when taken during menstruation. One study shows that taking a specific ginger extract (Zintoma, Goldaru) 250 mg four times daily for 3 days at the beginning of the menstrual period reduces pain symptoms in as many as 62% of people. It seems to work about as well as the medications ibuprofen or mefenamic acid.
- Arthritis. Some research shows that taking ginger can modestly reduce pain in some people with a form of arthritis called “osteoarthritis.” One study shows that taking a specific ginger extract (Zintona EC) 250 mg four times daily reduced arthritis pain in the knee after 3 months of treatment. Another study shows that using a different ginger extract (Eurovita Extract 77; EV ext-77), which combines a ginger with Alpinia also reduces pain upon standing, pain after walking, and stiffness. Some research has compared ginger to medications such as ibuprofen. In one study, a specific ginger extract (Eurovita Extract 33; EV ext-33) did not work as well as taking ibuprofen 400 mg three times daily for reducing arthritis pain. But in another study, taking ginger extract 500 mg twice daily worked about as well as ibuprofen 400 mg three times daily for hip and knee pain related to arthritis. In another study, a specific ginger extract combined with glucosamine (Zinaxin glucosamine, EV ext-35) worked as well as the anti-inflammatory medication diclofenac slow release 100 mg daily plus glucosamine sulfate 1 gram daily. Research also suggests that massage therapy using an oil containing ginger and orange seems to reduce short-term stiffness and pain in people with knee pain.
- Preventing morning sickness (discuss the possible risks with your healthcare provider). Ginger seems to reduce nausea and vomiting in some pregnant women. But taking any herb or medication during pregnancy is a big decision. Before taking ginger, be sure to discuss the possible risks with your healthcare provider.