The Herbs Section
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Ginger, or Zingiber officinale (Latin), is a tasty, aromatic spice that has been a mainstay of Asian and Indian cuisine and traditional medicine for thousands of years. Today ginger’s popularity has spread across the globe, and it is one of the world’s most widely used herbal treatments.
Ginger has been used in traditional Asian medicine to treat nausea, stimulate appetite, fight body odor, and promote perspiration. Indian ayurvedic medicine traditionally recommends ginger for the treatment of arthritis, and recent studies have shown that ginger does indeed inhibit the production of cytokines, which are chemicals that can promote inflammation.
Ginger also helps treat joint pain by stimulating blood circulation, and this effect may make it a useful treatment for many illnesses characterized by pain and poor circulation, including rheumatoid arthritis and Raynaud’s syndrome.
Research indicates that ginger is beneficial to the heart as well. Clinical studies have shown that as little as 5 grams of dried ginger a day slows the production of triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol in the liver. Ginger also guards against heart attack and stroke by preventing the platelet clumping or stickiness that can lead to blood clots and atherosclerosis.
One of ginger’s best-known uses is as a treatment for nausea. Controlled clinical studies have found ginger to be more effective in relieving motion sickness than dimenhydrinate (Dramamine). When given in large doses, ginger also seems to be effective for treating nausea induced by chemotherapy when given in large doses.
Pregnant women have reported relief from consuming small amounts of ginger root, ginger tea, and ginger ale. However, women should not consume large amounts of ginger during pregnancy, as it can cause the uterus to contract.
Ginger is also often used for treatment of flatulence, indigestion, diarrhea, and menstrual cramps. This is because ginger mimics some digestive enzymes used to process protein in the body, and is known to act as a gastronintestinal antispasmodic. Commission E, a panel in Germany that evaluates herbs for the government, recommends ginger to prevent and treat indigestion.
Ginger is also sometimes recommended for relief of cold symptoms—it helps to loosen phlegm and fight chills by spreading a warm feeling throughout the body. Pickled ginger is traditionally eaten with sushi, probably because of its ability to destroy parasites—it contains zingibain, a parasite-killing chemical that has been shown to kill the anisakid worm, a parasite sometimes contaminates raw fish.
Ginger is derived from the root of a perennial plant. The ginger root may be consumed raw, steeped in hot water to make a tea, or added to a variety of dishes. Ginger is also available in capsules, pickles, extracts, and prepared teas that can be made into compresses. The usual dosage is 1/3 of an ounce of fresh ginger root per day, or 150 to 300 milligrams of freeze-dried ginger in capsules three times per day.
Pregnant women should be careful not to overdo it when taking ginger supplements; it has been said to stimulate uterine contractions. People taking blood thinners, barbiturates, beta-blockers, insulin or diabetes medications should consult a physician before supplementing with ginger on a regular basis, since it may increase the effects of these medications.
Ginger may interfere with the absorption of dietary iron and fat-soluble vitamins, and cause stomach upset in higher doses. Also, because ginger helps thin the blood, it should not be taken two weeks prior to surgery.
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