By Joe Leech
Ginger is among the healthiest (and most delicious) spices on the planet.
It is loaded with nutrients and bioactive compounds that have powerful benefits for your body and brain.
Here are 11 health benefits of ginger that are supported by scientific research:
Photo credit: Shutterstock
1. Ginger Contains Gingerol, a Substance With Powerful Medicinal Properties
Ginger is a flowering plant that originated from China.
It belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, and is closely related to turmeric, cardomon and galangal.
The rhizome (underground part of the stem) is the part commonly used as a spice. It is often called ginger root, or simply ginger.
Ginger has a very long history of use in various forms of traditional/alternative medicine. It has been used to help digestion, reduce nausea and help fight the flu and common cold, to name a few.
Ginger can be used fresh, dried, powdered, or as an oil or juice, and is sometimes added to processed foods and cosmetics. It is a very common ingredient in recipes.
The unique fragrance and flavor of ginger come from its natural oils, the most important of which is gingerol.
Gingerol is the main bioactive compound in ginger, responsible for much of its medicinal properties. It has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (1).
Bottom Line: Ginger is a popular spice. It is high in gingerol, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
2. Ginger Can Treat Many Forms of Nausea, Especially Morning Sickness
For example, it has a long history of use as a sea sickness remedy, and there is some evidence that it may be as effective as prescription medication (3).
But it may be the most effective when it comes to pregnancy-related nausea, such as morning sickness.
According to a review of 12 studies that included a total of 1,278 pregnant women, 1.1-1.5 grams of ginger can significantly reduce symptoms of nausea (6).
However, ginger had no effect on vomiting episodes in this study.
Although ginger is considered safe, talk to your doctor before taking large amounts if you are pregnant. Some believe that large amounts can raise the risk of miscarriage, but there are currently no studies to support this.
Bottom Line: 1-1.5 grams of ginger can help prevent various types of nausea. This applies to sea sickness, chemotherapy-related nausea, nausea after surgery and morning sickness.
3. Ginger May Reduce Muscle Pain and Soreness
Ginger has been shown to be effective against exercise-induced muscle pain.
In one study, consuming two grams of ginger per day, for 11 days, significantly reduced muscle pain in people performing elbow exercises (7).
Ginger does not have an immediate impact, but may be effective at reducing the day-to-day progression of muscle pain (8).
These effects are believed to be mediated by the anti-inflammatory properties.
Bottom Line: Ginger appears to be effective at reducing the day-to-day progression of muscle pain, and may reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness.
4. The Anti-Inflammatory Effects Can Help With Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a common health problem.
It involves degeneration of the joints in the body, leading to symptoms like joint pain and stiffness.
In a controlled trial of 247 people with osteoarthritis of the knee, those who took ginger extract had less pain and required less pain medication (9).
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Bottom Line: There are some studies showing ginger to be effective at reducing symptoms of osteoarthritis, which is a very common health problem.
5. Ginger May Drastically Lower Blood Sugars and Improve Heart Disease Risk Factors
This area of research is relatively new, but ginger may have powerful anti-diabetic properties.
In a recent 2015 study of 41 participants with type 2 diabetes, two grams of ginger powder per day lowered fasting blood sugar by 12 percent (11).
It also dramatically improved HbA1c (a marker for long-term blood sugar levels), leading to a 10 percent reduction over a period of 12 weeks.
There was also a 28 percent reduction in the ApoB/ApoA-I ratio, and a 23 percent reduction in markers for oxidized lipoproteins. These are both major risk factors for heart disease.
However, keep in mind that this was just one small study. The results are incredibly impressive, but they need to be confirmed in larger studies before any recommendations can be made.
Bottom Line: Ginger has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and improve various heart disease risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes.
6. Ginger Can Help Treat Chronic Indigestion
Chronic indigestion (dyspepsia) is characterized by recurrent pain and discomfort in the upper part of the stomach.
It is believed that delayed emptying of the stomach is a major driver of indigestion.
Interestingly, ginger has been shown to speed up emptying of the stomach in people with this condition.
After eating soup, ginger reduced the time it took for the stomach to empty from 16 to 12 minutes (12).
In a study of 24 healthy individuals, 1.2 grams of ginger powder before a meal accelerated emptying of the stomach by 50 percent (13).
Bottom Line: Ginger appears to speed up emptying of the stomach, which can be beneficial for people with indigestion and related stomach discomfort.
7. Ginger Powder May Significantly Reduce Menstrual Pain
Menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) refers to pain felt during a woman's menstrual cycle.
One of the traditional uses of ginger is for pain relief, including menstrual pain.
In one study, 150 women were instructed to take one gram of ginger powder per day, for the first three days of the menstrual period (14).
Ginger managed to reduce pain as effectively as the drugs mefenamic acid and ibuprofen.
Bottom Line: Ginger appears to be very effective against menstrual pain when taken at the beginning of the menstrual period.
8. Ginger May Lower Cholesterol Levels
High levels of LDL lipoproteins (the “bad" cholesterol) are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
The foods you eat can have a strong influence on LDL levels.
In a 45-day study of 85 individuals with high cholesterol, three grams of ginger powder caused significant reductions in most cholesterol markers (15).
This is supported by a study in hypothyroid rats, where ginger extract lowered LDL cholesterol to a similar extent as the cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin (16).
Both studies also showed reductions in total cholesterol and blood triglycerides.
Bottom Line: There is some evidence, in both animals and humans, that ginger can lead to significant reductions in LDL cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels.
9. Ginger Contains a Substance That May Help Prevent Cancer
Cancer is a very serious disease that is characterized by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells.
Ginger extract has been studied as an alternative treatment for several forms of cancer.
In a study of 30 individuals, two grams of ginger extract per day significantly reduced pro-inflammatory signalling molecules in the colon (19).
However, a follow-up study in individuals at a high risk of colon cancer did not confirm these findings (20).
Bottom Line: Ginger contains a substance called 6-gingerol, which may have protective effects against cancer. However, this needs to be studied a lot more.
10. Ginger May Improve Brain Function and Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease
Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation can accelerate the aging process.
They are believed to be among the key drivers of Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline.
There is also some evidence that ginger can enhance brain function directly. In a study of 60 middle-aged women, ginger extract was shown to improve reaction time and working memory (25).
Bottom Line: Studies suggest that ginger can protect against age-related damage to the brain. It can also improve brain function in elderly women.
11. The Active Ingredient in Ginger Can Help Fight Infections
Gingerol, the bioactive substance in fresh ginger, can help lower the risk of infections.
It is very effective against the oral bacteria linked to inflammatory diseases in the gums, such as gingivitis and periodontitis (31).
12. Anything Else?
Ginger is one of the very few “superfoods" that are actually worthy of that term.
This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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