Precautions

Ginger is extremely safe. Some people have trouble tolerating its spiciness, but most tend to adapt if they keep taking it.

Some concern has been raised because ginger may block platelets from sticking together and cause bleeding, but there have been no cases reported of bleeding in people taking ginger.

However, do not take ginger with blood thinners without first consulting your health care professional. Ginger is safe to use for short-term use (a few days) in pregnancy.

Ginger is one of the ancient, revered medicines of India and Asia. The list of conditions for which it is used is so long that it might prompt skepticism. How can one herb affect so many seemingly different diseases?  Here's how this alternative medicine works:

Healing Properties

Ginger's ability to combat a variety of diseases and conditions is due in part to its impact on excessive inflammation, which is a significant underlying cause of many illnesses. Inflammation is the body's natural healing response to illness or injury, and its pain, redness, heat, and swelling are attempts to keep you from moving a damaged area while it is being repaired. Inflammation subsides as the body heals. However, in some conditions, including arthritis, diverticulosis, gallbladder inflammation, and heart disease, the inflammation does not go away. It becomes chronic and leads to many other problems.

Ginger is particularly useful in treating chronic inflammation because it partially inhibits two important enzymes that play a role in inflammation gone awry -- cyclooxygenase (COX) and 5-lipoxygenase (LOX).

While anti-inflammatory drugs block COX more strongly, they don't affect LOX at all and therefore only address part of the problem. Even worse, anti-inflammatory drugs can cause side effects, such as ulcers, because they also block the beneficial effects that COX has on the digestive tract, including protecting the stomach.

Ginger does not cause stomach irritation; instead it helps protect and heal the gut. Ginger also treats a broader range of the inflammatory problem because it affects both the COX and the LOX enzymes. And because it doesn't shut down the inflammatory process entirely, ginger may actually allow it to work properly and then turn itself off, the way it does with an injury.

Besides reducing inflammation, ginger has many other benefits. It helps relieve nausea, destroys a host of viruses, and in some laboratory studies has shown promise as an anticancer agent.

Preparation and Dosage

The part of ginger we use is not a root, as one might guess from the way it looks. It's actually the rhizome, or underground stem. The spicy, aromatic compounds in the rhizome that impart the medicinal activity to ginger are relatively susceptible to heat and oxygen, so tread gingerly when making medicine from this herb.

To make a tea, cut a two-inch cube of rhizome into slices and simmer them in one cup of water on low heat for 10 minutes. Cover the pot while cooking to retain as many volatile constituents as possible. Remove the slices, and sip the remaining liquid before a meal. Eat the slices after drinking the tea. Drink three cups of tea per day, one before each meal.

Ginger capsules or powder are also widely available. Take at least 2,000 milligrams three times or more per day with or without food. Just be sure to use powder that has not been sitting around too long, as it can lose its potency.

People often make the mistake of taking too little ginger and thus don't gain the full benefits.

Storage

Store fresh ginger rhizomes in a cool, dark, dry place. Do not keep them in the refrigerator, even after cutting them, or they will shrivel up. Use within 2 to 3 weeks for optimal effects. Capsules or powder should be kept away from heat and light.

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This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.