[9/13/17] You may know ginger as a warming herb that decreases nausea. But it’s known for so much more than that in Asia, where it’s been used for over 4,000 years as herbal medicine to treat everything from arthritis, colic, and diarrhea to heart conditions, immune support and menstrual pain. How many of these applications are backed by science? A surprisingly large number. Ginger contains several unique and powerful compounds like gingerols and 6-shogaol which are not only highly beneficial themselves, but once consumed they also give rise to metabolites (like gingerdiols) that are even more powerful. Scientists are still in the early stages of uncovering all the benefits these compounds have to offer, but there is already very good evidence behind many health benefits of this super-herb. Here is a quick survey of what’s already been found on ginger (so far) in carefully run clinical trials which were carried out on people under controlled conditions and measured dosages.
- Memory and Brain Function: Middle-aged women given 800 mg of ginger extract daily for two months showed significant improvements in working memory and cognitive function compared to those getting a placebo. More specifically, they were able to remember words faster and more accurately, they reacted faster on rapid tasks (number and letter recognition), and their spatial working memory improved (picture detail recognition). Of all the health benefits of this amazing herb, this could be the most useful for making us more productive at work!
- Fat Burning: This trial was a bit of a puzzler for researchers, because giving a single dose of 1 gram of powdered ginger to adults did not result in any warming effect at all or increased sweating. However, when given in the morning it did result in an impressive 13.5% increase in fatty acid oxidation (fat burning) as measured two hours after consumption. This could help to explain past observations that gingerol seemed to protect mice from gaining weight when they were on an obesity-promoting diet. Note that this trial could not test for weight loss effects because it was quite short in duration, measuring the effects of a single dose of this herb.
- Weight Loss in Overweight Women: Considering the fat-burning effects seen in the last trial, it’s no surprise that ginger could help people lose weight over the long term. Women who took two grams daily of powdered ginger lost nearly two kilograms (four pounds), showed improved body mass index (BMI), smaller hip circumference and smaller waist circumference compared to placebo after just 12 weeks. Most impressively, all study participants were instructed to not make any other changes in their diet or exercise routine. For those who want to try ginger for losing weight, always consult with your doctor first, and take note that dosage may be key here, as another study in which obese men were given only one gram daily of the powdered herb (half the dose used in this study) did not show any weight loss effects.
- Cholesterol and Triglycerides in Adults with High Cholesterol: Adults with high cholesterol that were given three grams daily of ginger powder for 45 days had significantly lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides compared to those taking a placebo pill, while at the same their HDL levels increased. This is exactly what is desired in the long term to reduce the risk for heart disease.
- Type II Diabetes-Key Markers for Complications: Patients with type II diabetes were given 1600 mg of ginger daily for 12 weeks, after which they showed significant reductions in their levels of fasting blood sugar, insulin, triglycerides, and cholesterol compared to placebo. In the long term, this would be expected to reduce their risk of heart disease. In addition, levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) also went down. This is an important marker for inflammation (which has many complications of its own) as well as for heart disease risk. In fact, a recent study showed that those with high CRP levels had triple the risk of heart disease compared to those with low levels. A second trial was carried out with a higher dosage (three grams of powdered root daily for three months) and also had similar very positive results.