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Information about Ginger

Scientific Name: Ginger

Other Names: Black ginger, Canton ginger, Cochin ginger, Common ginger, Garden ginger, Gingembre, Imber, Jamaican ginger, Zingiber officinale

Who is this for?

Most commonly used as a flavoring for food, ginger may also be taken orally in higher amounts as an herbal remedy to prevent or relieve nausea resulting from chemotherapy, motion sickness, pregnancy, and surgery. Results of laboratory studies as well as from small studies conducted among seasick sailors or ship passengers, found that ginger generally has more effectiveness for relieving motion sickness than placebo (or sugar pills). Several comparisons between ginger and prescription or non-prescription drugs have been conducted for relieving the nausea of pregnancy, but results are inconclusive. In some of the studies, similar effectiveness was seen between ginger and the comparator drug, while other studies found less or no effectiveness for ginger as compared to the drugs. In general, no adverse effects were noted from using ginger, for either the mother or the developing baby. Ginger has also been used in folk medicine to treat minor gastrointestinal problems such as gas or stomach cramps. Recent studies may confirm that ginger directly affects the gastrointestinal tract, helping to improve muscle tone and to prevent abnormally rapid and strong intestinal contractions.

Results of limited studies in animals with diabetes show that ginger may reduce blood levels of sugar and cholesterol, while also lowering blood pressure. However, no human studies with similar results have been reported. A few small studies that have been conducted in humans have shown some promise for supplemental ginger in the treatment of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Other traditional uses for ginger, such as for relieving toothaches, have not been proven by clinical studies. More research is needed for these and other possible uses of ginger as a dietary supplement.

Topically, the juice of fresh ginger has been used in folk medicine as a remedy for burns and minor skin irritation. Studies of laboratory cultures show that applying ginger — usually as a liquid extract — may kill or disable certain bacteria and fungi, In some parts of the world, ginger oil is used to repel insects and to prevent aphid or fungal infestation of gardens.

When should I be careful taking it?

Individuals with diabetes should avoid using large amounts of ginger because it may lower blood sugar levels, potentially resulting in hypoglycemia (blood sugar that is too low). Signs that blood sugar may be too low include shakiness, sweating, confusion, distorted speech, and loss of muscle control. If not corrected, low blood sugar can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, and even death.

Ginger is also thought to promote the flow of bile, which can worsen gallstones, so individuals who have gallstones should not use it.

Precautions

Although ginger is generally considered to be safe during pregnancy, one case of a miscarriage has been reported in a woman who was using ginger to relieve nausea. Whether the miscarriage was related to the use of ginger is unknown. In laboratory studies, one component of ginger has appeared to cause birth defects in babies born to animals given very large doses of ginger during pregnancy. No similar results have been reported in humans, and equivalent amounts of ginger for humans would be nearly impossible to ingest. To avoid any possible problems, ginger should only be used with the supervision of a health professional for pregnancy-induced nausea.

Because very little is known about the possible effects of large amounts of ginger for infants and very young children, women who are breast-feeding and children less than 2 years of age should avoid taking it as a supplement. The amounts of ginger ordinarily used to flavor foods are thought to be within acceptable limits for all age groups, however.

What side effects should I watch for?

NOTE: Ingesting ginger occasionally in the amounts used to flavor foods has not been associated with side effects. Taking amounts over about 2000 mg (2 grams) of fresh ginger or about 3000 mg (3 grams) of powdered ginger per day on a continual basis may result in side effects more often than lower or less frequent doses. Side effects may be more common with uncooked, fresh ginger than with other forms of ginger.

Major Side Effects

Very large overdoses of ginger in laboratory animals have been associated with changes in heart rhythm and central nervous system symptoms such as dizziness and weakness. No reports of similar side effects in humans have been published.

Less Severe Side Effects

Side effects most often reported by individuals taking supplemental ginger include:

  • Burning or tingling in the mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn

What interactions should I watch for?

NOTE: Using ginger occasionally in foods has not been associated with interactions. However, when taken continually, supplemental amounts exceeding 2000 mg (2 grams) of fresh ginger or 3000 mg (3 grams) of powdered ginger per day may have a small risk of interactions.

Prescription Drugs

In studies of laboratory animals, extremely high doses of ginger have been associated with a small increase in the time blood needs to clot. At least one case of an increased international normalized ratio (INR) and nosebleed has been reported in a human taking both an anticoagulant and an unknown amount of supplemental ginger. Therefore, the possibility exists that high continual doses of ginger taken with an antiplatelet or anticoagulant drug, could increase the effect of the drug and that uncontrolled bleeding could occur.

  • Antiplatelet drugs include Plavix and Ticlid.
  • Anticoagulants include heparin and warfarin.

Because ginger may have a lowering effect on blood sugar, taking large amounts of ginger for extended periods of time may increase the effectiveness of medications used for the treatment of diabetes. If you are using insulin or taking medications for diabetes, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking supplemental ginger.

Due to an unpredictable effect on blood pressure, prolonged daily use of powdered ginger over about 4000 mg (4 grams) or fresh ginger over about 10,000 mg (10 grams) may interfere with the effects of drugs that lower blood pressure. Some blood pressure-lowering drugs are:

  • ACE inhibitors such as captopril, enalapril, lisinopril, and Monopril
  • Beta blockers such as atenolol, metoprolol, and propranolol
  • Calcium channel blockers such as nifedipine, Norvasc, and verapamil
  • Diuretics such as Dyazide, furosemide, and hydrochlorothiazide

The effectiveness of drugs used to treat heart conditions may also be altered by large amounts of ginger taken for extended periods of time. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking ginger if you take drugs for any heart condition.

Ginger is believed to affect the production of acid in the stomach. Therefore, it may interfere with the effectiveness of sucralfate (Carafate), Histamine-2 (H-2) receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors.

  • H-2 receptor blockers include:
    • cimetidine (Tagamet)
    • famotidine (Pepcid)
    • nizatidine (Axid)
    • ranitidine (Zantac)
  • Proton pump inhibitors include:
    • esomeprazole (Nexium)
    • lansoprazole (Prevacid)
    • omeprazole (Prilosec)
    • pantoprazole (Protonix)

Non-prescription Drugs

In theory, ginger can slow down the ability of blood to clot. Aspirin can also delay clotting, so high doses of ginger should not be taken at the same time as aspirin.

The possibility that ginger can affect the production of stomach acid could interfere with the effectiveness of antacids and over-the-counter medications such as Pepcid AC, Prilosec OTC, and Zantac AR.

Herbal Products

Theoretically, if large doses of ginger are used with other herbs that affect blood clotting, bleeding may occur. The most common herbal products that might inhibit blood clotting are:

  • Danshen
  • Devil's Claw
  • Garlic
  • Ginkgo
  • Ginseng
  • Horse Chestnut
  • Papain
  • Red Clover
  • Saw Palmetto

Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals.

Should I take it?

Thought to have originated in southeastern Asia, ginger has been a part of traditional Chinese and Indian healing for centuries. Historical records show that it was widely used as a food flavoring and preservative in Asian countries as much as 2,500 years ago. It was well-known as both a spice and a medicine in ancient Rome and it was used as medicine in Europe as early as the 1200s.

A tropical plant, ginger grows in most hot, wet areas as a small perennial bush about 4 feet tall. Its long, narrow leaves can grow up to 2 feet in length before they die at the end of the growing season. Most of the ginger used in medicine is cultivated in Jamaica — usually in greenhouses, where plants are not allowed to produce flowers. Uncultivated ginger plants typically produce large, fragrant, long-lasting blooms that grow on a thick central stalk and look similar to pine cones. Wild ginger develops,green or purplish flowers; various other ginger species produce pink, orange, or red flowers that make them popular as ornamental plants.

For medicine, the rhizome is cut from ginger plants that are between 6 months and 20 months old. Rhizomes are fleshy extensions of plant stems that run along or under the ground and often produce shoots and roots for new plants. The knobby ginger rhizomes are light tan to dark brown in color. Fresh and dried ginger are both used in medicine. For cooking, ginger may be used fresh, powdered, or preserved — usually in a sweet syrup. It has a spicy taste that has been used for flavoring beverages — such as gingerale, foods — such as gingerbread, and medicines. Commercially, ginger is also used as a fragrance in cosmetics and other products such as air fresheners.

Dosage and Administration

To lessen the possibility of side effects, no more than 4000 mg (4 grams) of powdered ginger or 10,000 mg (10 grams) of fresh ginger should be taken orally per day.

Ginger for medical use is available in a wide variety of dosage forms that include fresh ginger, dried powder (usually in capsules containing 500 mg or 1000 mg), and liquids such as extracts, tinctures, and syrups. Extracts are concentrated liquid preparations usually made by soaking chopped or mashed plant parts in a liquid such as alcohol, and then straining out the solid parts. Tinctures are less concentrated than extracts, but they are prepared in similar ways. Due to its sharp, tangy taste, ginger may be sweetened with sugar to make a syrup that may be more acceptable to children.

Ginger tea is made by simmering approximately 500 mg of fresh, grated ginger or approximately1000 mg of dried ginger in about 5 ounces of boiling water for about 10 minutes. The solid particles are then removed from the tea before drinking it. Ginger tea is often sweetened or flavored with other sweet spices such as cinnamon.

Although dosing varies, some common recommendations for powdered ginger are:

Motion sickness 1000 mg (one gram) up to 4 hours before travel
Nausea after surgery 1000 mg 9one gram)one hour before surgery
Nausea from chemotherapy 2000 mg to 4000 mg ( 2grams to 4 grams)per day
Nausea of pregnancy 500 mg to 1500 mg (0.5 gram to 1.5 grams) up to four times a day

Summary

Aside from its value as a spice and flavoring agent, ginger is used in western countries mainly to relieve nausea. It may also have some ability to relieve stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal complaints.

Risks

Supplemental ginger should be avoided by women who are breast-feeding, individuals who have diabetes or gallstones, and children less than 2 years of age. Pregnant women should consult a health professional before taking ginger in supplemental amounts.

Side Effects

In humans, the medical use of ginger has been associated with minor side effects such as a tingling feeling in the mouth and diarrhea. In laboratory animals, however, extremely high doses of ginger may have caused heart rhythm changes and central nervous system impairment.

Interactions

Although the amounts of ginger used in foods are not thought to interact with drugs, other herbal products, or foods; very large amounts of ginger could interfere with:

  • Anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs and herbals
  • Antacids and drugs that reduce stomach acid
  • Drugs for heart conditions
  • High blood pressure drugs
  • Insulin and oral drugs for diabetes

References

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