Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is one of the most commonly used spices around the world and is a popular ingredient in many Ghanaian dishes and beverages. Ginger has also been used in traditional medicine as a cure for many diseases.

It is well known for its use in the treatment of nausea and vomiting. However, several articles on the internet and the social media have also touted its perceived medicinal and nutritional benefits, particularly in weight loss, management of chronic diseases (such as hypertension and diabetes) and as an anti-inflammatory agent.

A couple of questions however remain. Are these supposed benefits backed by scientific evidence, and also, what are the mechanisms of action? This week, we have scouted around for research evidence backing a couple of these claims about ginger and we share some of our findings below.

Ginger and weight loss

Ginger has been touted as a weight loss agent. A study conducted in 2012 assessed the effects of a hot ginger beverage on energy expenditure and feelings of appetite and satiety among other factors, in overweight men.

The results of the study indicated that, feelings of hunger among the study participants reduced with consumption of the ginger beverage, when compared to a similar group who were not given the ginger beverage.

This finding suggests that ginger may have a potential role to play in weight management through appetite suppression. This study was, however a small pilot study involving 10 male participants and thus does not carry much strength. Additional studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Ginger and inflammation

Another popular claim is that, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used in the treatment of many infectious diseases. In a study conducted in 2016, patients diagnosed with tuberculosis were divided into 2 groups.

One group received 3 g of ginger extract daily for 1 month whilst the other group received no ginger extract. Both groups were also given standard anti-tuberculosis treatment during the study.  At the end of the study, the group that received the ginger supplement had significantly reduced levels of inflammatory markers when compared to the group that did not receive any ginger extract.

The findings of this study suggest that ginger may be an effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant supplement and may be beneficial for immuno-suppressed individuals. According to the authors, this particular benefit may be attributed to the fact that ginger is rich in many bioactive substances.

The study, however also raises a couple of questions.  Is this anti-inflammatory effect of ginger significant enough to make a real difference to health? Will ginger in the form and amounts we use in cooking food produce the same effect as the 3g of ginger extract used in this study? Then again, the study was conducted with participants who had tuberculosis therefore are we likely to see the same anti-inflammatory effect in healthy participants? Once again, further research is needed to answer these and many other questions.

In the nutshell

Several studies have investigated the medicinal and nutraceutical potential of ginger with contradicting results. For instance, the findings of scientific paper which reviewed the results of several studies on ginger suggested that through various mechanisms of action, ginger significantly reduced the levels of an inflammatory marker in the body, improved blood sugar indices and improved blood cholesterol levels of participants in those studies. Other studies on the other hand have also reported negative findings where supplementation with ginger did not improve inflammatory markers.

Clearly, there exists a need for further studies in different population groups and lasting for an extended period to further explore the medicinal and nutraceutical potential of ginger.

When used as a spice, ginger is generally recognised as safe and may even provide potential health benefits.  However, the evidence for the use of ginger as a medicinal agent lacks strength in many areas.

It is far more important to follow the advice of your doctors in managing many health conditions such as infections, diabetes and high blood cholesterol. In addition, remember to inform your doctors about any dietary supplements or herbs you are using or intend to use in order to ensure your safety.