You’ve probably tasted ginger’s punchy flavor in foods you eat every day, like smoothies, teas, curries, and salads. Recently, much like turmeric and apple cider vinegar, ginger has garnered lots of attention as a miracle cure for a plethora of health woes, like easing stomach pain, fighting infections, and even lowering your risk of heart attack and cancer.
The fragrant herb is anything but new, though. Dried ginger has been used in Asian medicine as a treatment for diarrhea, nausea, and stomach ache for thousands of years, according to the National Center for Complementary Integrative Health.
But is there any truth to these ancient claims? For the past decade, scientists have studied ginger to try and understand its true potential. Most notably, they’ve found that gingerol, the active compound in ginger, might have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.
In fact, one 2010 study found that people who ingested two grams of ginger root for 11 days experienced less muscle soreness post-workout compared to those who didn’t. A new study published in the Dental Research Journal also found that ginger might actually be as effective as ibuprofen for pain relief after dental surgery.
Some studies suggest ginger could inhibit prostate cancer cell growth, while other research lauds ginger’s ability to reduce anxiety, making it the perfect sleep aid.
That sounds great — but before you reevaluate your spice cabinet, know that many of these studies need more research before they can be claimed as fact.
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“The study on ginger and prostate cancer added ginger extract directly onto cancer cells. Although this seemed to help, it is not possible to apply ginger extract directly onto prostate cancer,” explains Sujay Kansagra, M.D., director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program. “Animal studies seem to indicate ginger may help with both anxiety and seizures, but we are far from being able to support its use for either cause in humans.”
Experts suggest that eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and beginning screenings at the age of 55 if you’re at normal risk will be more effective in protecting against prostate cancer, he says. And if quality shuteye is your goal, taking the time to create a calming bedtime routine and sticking to a proper sleep schedule will help you snooze more soundly than relying on ginger alone, Kansagra says.
As for those sore muscles? Don’t trade in your foam roller just yet. The study linking ginger to less post-workout pain was small, says Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., and only lasted for a short amount of time.
Because ginger can be ingested as a pill, powder, or fresh root, no one is really sure “how much of that good stuff remains once it has been digested and what form is the most potent,” explains Adrienne Youdim M.D., F.A.C.P., meaning it’s hard to tell which forms of ginger have the strongest effect.
Still, that isn’t to say that ginger doesn’t have its perks, especially when it comes to easing an upset stomach and nausea. “Ginger has demonstrated usefulness in GI-related issues.” Kansagra notes, which might explain why you see it pop up in tea so much. In fact, one study found that just 1/4 teaspoon of ginger helped decrease nausea by 40 percent in chemotherapy patients.
Youdim and Kansagra point out that ginger may have also some anti-clotting properties, which may be helpful in preventing heart attacks, but could also be dangerous to those taking blood thinners or high blood pressure medication, since some properties of ginger might make them less effective.
Still, experts agree that ginger looks promising. While it might not be a cure-all, ginger root has a unique taste, and is a healthy way to flavor your meals and add a kick to any smoothie. Using herbs and spices in place of extra salt or sugar? That’s never a bad idea, Youdim says.
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