Healing Spice Bulb: Is Ginger Really a Health Maker?

A number of healing properties are attributed to ginger.

Healing Spice Bulb: Is Ginger Really a Health Maker?

A number of healing properties are attributed to ginger. It is said to help with headaches and stomach pains, has an anti-inflammatory effect and even keeps blood sugar stable. But what can the sharp root really do? And which substances work how?

Ginger not only brings the special taste and burning spiciness to dishes, but is now also widely used as a natural remedy. In traditional Chinese medicine and in Ayurveda, the special root has been used for healing for 5000 years. Both the fresh version and the powder from the tubers are said to have numerous health-promoting properties. The ingredients from the natural medicinal plant are said to promote digestion, stimulate circulation and be antibacterial. The hot broth made from slices of ginger is also said to help before and during colds and even activate fat burning in the body.

However, it was previously unclear which substance in ginger causes which reactions in the human body. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich have now discovered how the pungent substances in ginger activate the body's immune system. To do this, they examined the effect of a ginger tea made from 100 grams of fresh, peeled and chopped ginger bulbs and boiling water. The researchers let the drink steep for 15 minutes and then strained it.

It was already known from a previous study that the consumption of ginger tea causes various pungent substances from the tuber, above all the so-called 6-gingerol, to enter the blood directly. The substance is the main arousal of ginger. The pungent substance is known to develop its "taste" effect via the so-called TRPV1 receptor, the researchers write in a statement from the university.

The research team led by Gaby Andersen from the Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology knew that 6-gingerol docks to this specific receptor in nerve cells, which, in addition to heat and pain stimuli, also detects the hot taste of chili and ginger. During the further investigation, the researchers finally realized that these receptors are also located on two-thirds of the white blood cells of our immune system, on the so-called neutrophilic granulocytes. These fight invading pathogens and are assigned to the non-specific, innate immune system.

Further laboratory tests by the research group showed that a very low concentration of just under 15 micrograms of 6-gingerol per liter of culture medium is sufficient to put the cells on an increased alert. The cells stimulated by the ginger pungent reacted about 30 percent more strongly to a mock bacterial infection compared to control cells. They responded with various defense-specific mechanisms.

"Thus, at least in the experiment, very low 6-gingerol concentrations are sufficient to influence the activity of immune cells via the TRPV1 receptor. Such concentrations could theoretically be achieved in the blood by consuming a good one liter of ginger tea," Andersen explains in the message quoted. Even if many questions remain unanswered, the researchers, with their study results from the laboratory, provide strong scientific evidence that ginger boosts the immune system. In addition, the team can explain plausibly how this happens in the body.

A number of previous studies have largely demonstrated other health-promoting effects of ginger. The pungent substances not only activate the body's defense system, they also help to balance blood sugar, as two publications from 2020 show, for example. The results of several studies that prove the effects of ginger in these cases also exist for the effect on nausea, motion sickness and morning sickness. For pregnant women, however, it is repeatedly pointed out that the food should be used in moderation, i.e. no more than 6 grams per day, and only used in mild forms of nausea and vomiting.

Ginger can also relieve the pain of arthrosis patients and thus lead to more mobility. Various research teams have provided scientific evidence for this. Ginger is also of particular interest because of its effects on nerve cells. There is already scientific evidence that the ingredients in ginger, when consumed regularly, could stop the cell loss that occurs in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. Similar effects are also attributed to saffron, rosemary, cinnamon and turmeric.

At the same time, the superfood is also attributed effects that have not been scientifically proven or have not been clearly proven so far. These include blood-thinning properties, the prevention of heart attacks or a direct effect on weight loss. But it doesn't matter why you regularly eat ginger, swallow ginger capsules, drink ready-made shots or ginger tea, you should be aware that even with the popular health-giving product, you can overdose. Because the sharp ingredients can irritate the gastric mucosa. This can lead to unpleasant and unwanted side effects such as stomach pain, flatulence or diarrhea.

There are various statements about the maximum amount of ginger consumed per day. In any case, you should differentiate between using fresh ginger or consuming it in powder form. A guide value for the fresh tuber is 50 grams per day, for the dried version maximum doses of between two and five grams are given. But even those could be too much for people with a sensitive stomach, digestive or bile problems. If you are unsure, you should talk to the doctor treating you beforehand about your individual consumption of ginger.

By the way: How popular the hot root has become in Germany in recent years can be seen from the import volumes. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the annual import quantity of ginger tubers has almost quadrupled within the last ten years. It is currently given as around 31,600 tons per year. There are also attempts to grow the plant, which thrives in tropical and subtropical regions, here as well.

(This article was first published on Saturday, March 04, 2023.)