Doctor’s Tip: Medicinal uses of ginger
Various plants have been used in different cultures as “folk remedies” for centuries. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are effective or free of side-effects. Scientific studies have been a long time in coming, because they cost money, and Big Pharma, that underwrites studies of pharmaceuticals, can’t make money selling plants. Fortunately, in recent years some good, placebo-controlled studies have been done on a number of natural products used in traditional medicine. As expected, some of these remedies have been shown to be effective and others not, and some have been found to have side-effects.
Ginger has been used in folk medicine and has recently undergone scientific studies that showed it to be effective for several conditions, and to be free of significant side-effects. We know that intensely colored fruits and vegetables have special anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so we tell people to “eat the rainbow.” Intensely flavored plants such as herbs and spices share these properties. Ginger is an intensely flavored spice, and is available in root and powdered form in most grocery stores. Based on Dr. Michael Greger’s book “How Not to Die,” and his website nutritionfacts.org, credible studies show that ginger can do the following:
• Reduce menstrual cramps, which 90 percent of young women complain of, resulting in an estimated $2 billion of lost productivity annually in the U.S. Most women rely on anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, but these can have side-effects such as stomach irritation and bleeding, hypertension and increased risk of heart attacks. One-fourth teaspoon of powdered ginger taken three times a day works as well as 400 milligrams of ibuprofen three times a day, with minimal cost and no side-effects.
• Reduce heavy menstrual flow, which many young women complain of. Anti-inflammatories are often used to treat this condition, but 1/8 teaspoon of ginger daily for three days starting one day before menstrual onset has been shown to cut menstrual flow in half.
• Treat morning sickness, experienced by 70-85 percent of pregnant American women. This condition can sometimes be so serious that hospitalization and IV fluids are required. One gram of ginger a day is often effective in treating morning sickness. This is equivalent to ½ teaspoon of powdered ginger, 1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger, or 4 cups of ginger tea. Ginger is safe during pregnancy, although the maximum recommended dose is 4 grams a day. (Note that marijuana is also effective, but there are concerns about fetal safety.)
• Treat nausea caused by other conditions. Ginger has been shown to be effective in treating postoperative nausea and vomiting, motion sickness, and nausea associated with HIV anti-retroviral treatment. Ginger has also been shown to prevent nausea associated with chemotherapy.
• Treat migraine headaches. Imitrex (sumatriptan) and similar drugs have become the mainstay of migraine treatment, but are costly and often have side-effects, including dizziness, sedation and heartburn; and have (rarely) been associated with heart attacks and fatal heart irregularities. One-eighth of a teaspoon of ginger has been shown to be as effective as Imitrex, without the side-effects or cost.
• Mitigate radiation damage. Cooked ginger has been shown in the lab and in people to help prevent radiation damage.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and other medical issues, and to help people with hospital or other medical bills they don’t understand or think are too high. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.