After getting "substantial attention" from researchers around the world, a clinical review confirms that ginger (Zingiber officinale) serves as a viable antidote and protective agent against fatal poisoning from such agents as pesticides, environmental pollutants, heavy metals, bacterial and fungal toxins and even some cosmetic products and medications.
Published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, the study 1 acknowledges the protective effects of ginger and its phytochemicals against natural, chemical and radiation-induced toxicities. It also holds an "arsenal of metabolites" with numerous health benefits, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic (programmed cell death-inducing) properties.
The researchers concluded that the properties in ginger could (and should) encourage additional study in regard to alleviating damage from radiation and chemotherapy in cancer treatments, as well as ways it could be used to offset the chemical toxicity of some of the previously mentioned toxins, as well as industrial pollutants, alcohol, smoking and/or prescription drugs.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one condition that has shown vast improvement with the use of ginger. One study stated that several mechanisms are at work in this chronic condition that's reaching epidemic proportions, and inflammation is one of the main contributors.
There's evidence that supplementing with ginger or increasing it in your diet could increase the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions, such as diet modification and increased physical activity, compared to lifestyle interventions alone. 2 In fact, there's evidence that with obesity and fatty liver disease, both attributed to the liver, ginger in any form may prove to be an essential strategy for both liver detoxification and as a support strategy.
Trial and Error in Ginger Studies
Ginger has been used for millennia in areas of India and China for much more than adding a sweet/spicy flavor to foods and drinks. It's proved over time to be a popular remedy to soothe away headaches, nausea, particularly motion sickness, and to treat several problems related to digestive health as well as pain and inflammation from arthritic conditions, to mention but a few.
But even up to the present century, studies with titles touting the benefits of ginger on conditions like obesity used rats as study subjects rather than humans. 3 Dr. Michael Greger, creator behind the Nutrition Facts website, cites a 2017 study that suggests the "lack of clinical studies may be attributed to numerous factors, including ethical issues and lack of commercial support." 4 In the featured video, Greger wryly asks:
"Wait; why don't they just do human clinical studies? The 'lack of clinical studies may be attributed to,' for example, 'ethical issues' and 'limited commercial support.' Limited commercial support I can see; ginger is dirt cheap. Who's going to pay for the study? But ethical issues? We're just talking about feeding people some ginger!" 5
A number of studies on ginger for weight management have been relatively easy and inexpensive, he observes, but sometimes based on faulty premises. "Maybe ginger consumption is just a marker of more traditional, less Westernized, junk food diets," he contends. "You don't know — until you put it to the test."
Considerations for Testing the Effects of Ginger on Humans
As such, a randomized, controlled trial 6 was conducted to evaluate the results of taking 1 teaspoon of ginger (about 5 cents' worth, Greger notes) in a teacup of hot water. The participants who drank the "hot ginger beverage" reported feeling much less hungry afterward. Researchers then used hot water alone in another trial, without the ginger as their "control," but if the subjects knew when they were and were not ingesting ginger, the placebo effect would come into play.
To remedy that, the scientists thought about "stuffing" powdered ginger into capsules for the study subjects to swallow for a double-blinded study, but decided against it because of the possibility that at least part of the effect of ginger might be through taste receptors on the tongue. Greger explains:
"Not all the effects were just subjective, though: Four hours after drinking, the metabolic rate in the ginger group was elevated compared to control, though in a previous study, when fresh ginger was added to a meal, there was no bump in metabolic rate.
The researchers suggest this may be 'due to the different method of ginger administration,' giving fresh instead of dried. And, there are dehydration products that form when you dry ginger that may have unique properties." 7
While the researchers found that participants who had the ginger tea in the study reported more satiety and fullness than those who had the hot water control beverage, there was no follow-up on the participants to see if they actually ate less for lunch that day.
The fact is, Greger asserts, there had never been a "randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of that much ginger and weight loss" until 2012, 8 when 44 patients with NAFLD were directed to consume 1 teaspoon of ginger every day for 12 weeks. This time, though, it was hidden in capsules. He also notes:
"They were all told 'to limit their dietary cholesterol intake' … and get more fiber and exercise. So, even the placebo group should improve. But did the ginger group do any better? Yes, daily consumption of just that teaspoon of ground ginger a day 'resulted in a significant decrease in inflammatory marker levels,' and improvements in liver function tests, and a drop in liver fat. All for 5 cents worth of ginger powder a day." 9
"Check it out," Greger says. "No change in the placebo group, but a drop in the ginger group — though body fat estimates didn't really change, which is kind of the whole point."
His next question was whether ginger could be used to pull fat from specific organs, such as the liver. After all, previous studies, such as another one done in 2012, indicated that "Treatment with ginger ameliorates fructose-induced fatty liver … in rats." 10 Greger made the tongue-in-cheek observation that it would have worked just as well to lower both body weight and fructose-induced fatty liver by "not feeding them so much sugar in the first place."
Radioprotective Effects From Gingerol and Other Plant-Based Compounds
Nutrition Facts discusses how compounds in ginger root protect white blood cells in vitro (a test tube or petri dish) against genetic damage caused by exposure to radiation as a cancer treatment. Scientists have been curious about the disease-preventative elements in of plant-based foods, and as Greger asserts, "lots of different plant products have been found to be protective in vitro against radiation damage by a whole variety of mechanisms."
The problem with radiation for treating cancer patients is that side effects include damage to normal tissue. Radioprotective compounds found in ginger, as well as gogi berries, garlic and turmeric, can selectively protect normal tissues against radiation injury. Simultaneously, it allows the use of higher doses of radiation for cancerous cells "and possible cure," one study 11 notes.
However, "synthetic compounds are toxic at their optimal concentrations," which is why plant-based interventions have been explored. Ginger and its phytochemicals, including zingerone, have radioprotective effects. Studies on the mechanisms involved suggest its antioxidant compounds scavenge free radicals and fight inflammation while being anticlastogenic — protective against chromosome breakage or disruption. 12 What is zingerone?
"It's a phytonutrient found in cooked ginger root. You blast cells with some gamma rays, and you get less DNA damage, and fewer free radicals, when you add ginger phytonutrients. They even compared it to the leading drug injected into people for radiation sickness, and found the ginger compound to be 150 times more powerful, and without the serious side effects of the drug itself." 13
Another plant-based agent with a similar effect is lemon balm. Made into tea, it was found to have protective benefits against radiation-induced oxidative stress experienced by radiology staff. 14 Compared to other hospital staff, people who run X-ray machines have been found to suffer chromosomal damage and higher levels of oxidative stress. Unfortunately, not only can X-rays damage DNA directly, free radicals generated by the radiation wreak the most havoc.
But there's good news: Fifty-five radiology staff members were asked to drink a lemon balm infusion twice daily for 30 days while researchers measured their lipid peroxidation, DNA damage, catalase, superoxide dismutase, myeloperoxidase and glutathione 15 peroxidase activity. Afterward, all markers showed either significant or marked improvement. Greger cites the study:
"So, what happened? The level of antioxidant enzymes in their bloodstream went up, and the level of free radical damage went down — leading to the conclusion that 'oral administration of lemon balm tea may be helpful for the protection of the radiology staff against radiation-induced oxidative stress and improved antioxidant defense system, especially enzymatic defense, due to its antioxidant properties.'"
What Else Is Ginger Known For?
After years of study, ginger has been identified as a dramatic game-changer in several areas of human health. Besides being anti-inflammatory and a powerful antioxidant, there are antimicrobial properties that fight premature aging. You'll also find gingerols, shogaols 16 and paradols, less prominent but effective compounds in the rough-looking rhizome. Studies list numerous areas that benefit in the way of disease treatment and prevention due to ginger intervention, including:
- Degenerative disorders such as arthritis and rheumatism 17
- Digestive health such as indigestion, constipation and ulcers 18
- Cardiovascular disorders, from atherosclerosis to hypertension 19
- Nausea from pregnancy 20 and motion sickness 21
- Diabetes mellitus, significantly lowered blood glucose 22
Cancer prevention is another area that's been well documented in regard to ginger . Studies note that "Ginger and its bioactive molecules are effective in controlling the extent of colorectal 23 , gastric, ovarian, liver, skin, breast and prostate cancers." 24 Preventive properties are cited in another study, 25 6-shagaol being the pungent component involved in targeting breast cancer, particularly breast cancer stem cells.
Other benefits from ginger, whether it's fresh or in supplement form, have a wide array of benefits. Because it can be used in powder form for tea, sliced raw in stir-fries and crystalized for a tasty punch of powerful antioxidants, it's never too late to try your hand at experimenting with ways to get more ginger in your diet. You may never know how effective it's been in disease prevention and adding years to your life.