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Ginger is one of the most ancient spices in the world. Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is part of the Zingiberaceae plant family which also contains turmeric and cardamom, both of which have health benefits of their own. Ginger “root” has been used as a medicine for nearly 5,000 years by ancient Chinese and Indian civilizations, and it has become a common ingredient in home remedies today.

Ginger “root” is not actually a root at all. It is a rhizome, a stem that grows horizontally underground. The leaves grow upward from this horizontal stem while the roots grow downward. This is why the ginger seen in stores is often so irregularly shaped.

There are well over 100 chemical components of ginger, but most of the therapeutic benefits come from gingerols, an oily resin produced by the rhizome. Gingerol is the oil that gives ginger its strong flavor and distinctive aroma, and it is also responsible for most of ginger’s medicinal properties. Here are some of the amazing benefits of ginger.

Anti-Inflammatory

Gingerol, and thus ginger, is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatories found in food. This anti-inflammatory power has been shown to help with conditions such as osteoarthritis. In one study, individuals with osteoarthritis in their knees were given ginger extract. These individuals reported less pain and required less pain medication than those who did not take ginger extract. Similarly, a mixture of ginger, mastic, cinnamon and sesame oil has been found to reduce osteoarthritic pain and stiffness when it was applied topically.

Anti-Nausea

Many people have been told to drink ginger ale when they have been feeling nauseous. This is because ginger has been shown to reduce nausea connected with everything from motion sickness to pregnancy to chemotherapy. The rapid absorption of ginger helps it to regulate a person’s bodily functions without the side effects of many modern anti-nausea medications.

Treating Indigestion

Ginger is also a reasonable measure to take when combating chronic indigestion. Chronic indigestion, or dyspepsia, is characterized by pain and discomfort and is believed to be caused when the stomach delays emptying. Ginger has been shown to speed up the rate at which the stomach empties, relieving the symptoms of chronic indigestion. Ginger also relaxes the smooth muscles found in the gastrointestinal tract to ease digestion.

The oil gingerol has been shown to assist in digestion by regulating sugar levels as well. High sugar levels can disrupt digestion and lead to pain and discomfort. Gingerol and other chemical compounds found in ginger have also been shown to help the human body absorb the nutrients and minerals found in other foods.

Pain Relief

Ginger has been shown to be a natural pain reliever. The gingerol present in ginger attaches to the vanilloid receptors on sensory nerve endings which leads to a brief burn followed by relief. Ginger is especially effective at reducing the pain caused by menstrual cramps when a woman takes ginger supplements, eats ginger or consumes ginger oil within the first three days of her menstruation. In addition, ginger has been shown to be effective against muscle pain created by vigorous exercise or activity. The impact on overworked muscles is not immediate but is effective at reducing the day-to-day progression of muscle pain.

Lower Cholesterol

LDL lipoproteins are commonly called “bad cholesterol” and are influenced by the foods a person consumes. Studies done on hypothyroid rats have shown that ginger extract can lower LDL cholesterol in amounts similar to the modern cholesterol control drug atorvastatin. When humans with high cholesterol increased their ginger intake, scientists also found a marked drop in cholesterol levels.

Cancer Prevention

Ginger is unfortunately not the miraculous cure the world is waiting for, but consuming ginger has been shown to lower a person’s risk of cancer. The anti-cancer properties of ginger are largely attributed to the substance 6-gingerol which is found in large amounts in raw ginger root. Studies in mice showed that ginger can delay or prevent the growth of malignant cells in the colon and had similar effects on ovarian cells. The studies are not conclusive, however, and a follow up study done in individuals with a high risk of colon cancer did not achieve such encouraging results.

Enhance Brain Function

The results are not certain, but ginger may be able to enhance brain function. In a study of middle aged women, ginger extract was linked to improved reaction time and greater working memory. There is also evidence that ginger could guard against age-related decline in brain-function. This, combined with ginger’s anti-inflammatory abilities, could make it an effective preventative measure against Alzheimer’s disease. This is because chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are believe to be two of the major causes of Alzheimer’s disease.