by Karin Parramore, LAc, CH
Isn't it comforting when familiar friends turn out to be powerful allies? One of the world's most common spices, Ginger, is also an incredibly effective herbal medicine.
Of course, for most of human history there was no distinction between spice and medicine, as herbs were our primary medicinal aid! Ginger has been a valued spice in many parts of the world, since before recorded history, and later was recorded in Sanskrit, Chinese, Greek, Roman, and Arabic medical literature (Bone, 1997).
Today, most people around the world are familiar with Ginger, the knobby root of the Zingiber officinalis plant. The root is full of aromatic compounds that quickly volatilize when peeled. These compounds account for the pungent fragrance so easily recognized in many Chinese and Indian dishes, where Ginger is typically combined with hard to digest foods like legumes. Ginger was often added to these foods to make them more digestible, and it is as a digestive aid that Ginger really shines.
Ginger is excellent at combating nausea of all types. In a study that measured it effectiveness as an anti-emetic (to stop vomiting) Ginger was put up against Dramamine, the most commonly used over the counter medication for motion-induced nausea. Ginger came out the obvious winner, proving to be more effective than the drug at allaying nausea with none of the drowsiness typically seen with Dramamine. Ginger has also shown to be very effective at reducing nausea following surgery.
Perhaps the most exciting use of Ginger is for the nausea associated with pregnancy—morning sickness. The earliest stages of pregnancy often include this debilitating side effect, yet this is such a delicate stage of the pregnancy it is often difficult to treat. Fortunately, it turns out that Ginger may be exactly the right choice for morning sickness. Ginger has a tremendous amount of clinical research behind it, and much of that research has centered on its effectiveness against nausea and vomiting in pregnant women. In 2001 the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Chiang Mai University performed a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial (the benchmark type of study for the scientific community) on Ginger for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. The study concluded that nausea was significantly decreased in the group taking Ginger. Even more significantly, no adverse effects of Ginger on pregnancy were detected (italics added for emphasis). Unlike many prescription drugs, which may have devastating effects on the developing fetus, Ginger proved to be both effective and safe. Another study conducted in 2002 found Ginger syrup to be an effective, safe treatment for nausea in early pregnancy.
In China, where Ginger has been used and studied for literally thousands of years, the Pharmocopoeia lists no contraindications for Ginger during pregnancy. The US Pharmacopoeia states that no harmful effects have ever been reported for the use of Ginger. Clearly, Ginger in early stage pregnancy is a sure bet to help new mamas overcome morning sickness.
Interestingly, the herb also has an affinity for the uterus, and has actually been shown to inhibit smooth muscle activity. In a study performed at Aga Khan University Medical College ginger was shown to possess uterine smooth muscle relaxant activity, possibility mediated via Ca2+channel blockade, justifying its use in disorders such as...dysmenorrhoea and uterine and menstrual spasms and congestion.
As there has been some concern that Ginger actually promotes uterine contraction, it is encouraging to see studies that refute this claim.
Along with the good news about ginger and cramping, it is reassuring to know that it is a natural, safe, and effective treatment for pregnancy nausea. As you enjoy a cup of warming Ginger tea, imagine the many pregnant women throughout the course of human history who have turned to this common spice for relief—it helps connect us to the continuum of human existence in a very profound way.
Keating, A, Chez RA. Ginger Syrup as an antiemetic in early pregnancy. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. Sept/Oct 2002;8:89-91.
Vutyavanich T, Kraisarin T, Ruangsri R. Ginger for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy: randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled trial. Obstet Gynecol. 2001 Apr;97(4):577-82.
Bone, K, and Mills, S. Medical Phytotherapy
Muhammad Nabeel Ghayur, and Anwarul Hassan Gilani. Inhibitory activity of ginger rhizome on airway and uterine smooth muscle preparations. European Food Research and Technology:Volume 224, Number 4 / February, 2007