Ginger: The Key to Health

Traditional Chinese medicine has understood the thermal nature of food and for centuries have used this as their method of healing the body's imbalances. In TCM the first steps to healing start with what we eat since the Spleen and Stomach organs are directly in charge of breaking down food and metabolizing this into energy for other organs to use. This metabolic kitchen is sometimes compared to a pot of bubbling soup. In TCM the "pot-o-soup" is the Spleen while the Stomach is the burner under the pot and the Kidneys are the pilot light of the stove. Foods that digest easily in this soup pot are foods that are warm in thermal nature and cooked thoroughly. 

When cold, raw foods or foods taken directly out of a fridge or freezer are added to this pot, it stops the soup from bubbling slowing down the digestive process until the foods warm up to match the body's temperature. If your digestion is strong warming up these cold foods can occur quickly but over time the body has to "turn up the burner" to create more heat to break down these foods which can ultimately damage your entire digestive system. When the heat is turned up it manifests as different symptoms such as forehead headaches (similar to "brain freeze"), bleeding gums, increased appetite, dry mouth, dry lips, and eventually even bad breathe! If the consumption of cold foods and drinks continues it can actually start to dim the Kidney's "pilot light". An analogy for what this looks like is when you put wet wood on a fire and it creates smoke, known as Stomach heat in TCM, and burns low, providing very little heat or what us practitioners call Spleen Qi Deficiency.  

Eventually the burner cannot be "turned up" anymore. Your digestion becomes so sluggish that eventually your food is not fully broken down and it passes through your stools undigested. Going back to the wet wood fire, this wet wood dampens the fire causing Kidney Yang Deficiency.  

Basically eating cold foods and drinks actually cause more heat and you're better off drinking a cup of cooling mint tea than an iced drink to cool down the body. Iced foods and drinks cause your vessels to contract so your body doesn't actually absorb the liquid/ or the nutrients. Excess cold consumption depletes the digestive heat causing gas, bloating, amenorrhea, lowered libido, pains in the lower back and knees and a lowered immune system. 

How Can You Fix This?

Ginger! Of Course.

I am a huuuuge advocate for ginger and I mean huge. My kitchen pantry, my dinner table, my herbal tea and even some beauty products I've made have some kind of ginger involved in it. How can't I love this herb? It is so medicinal! 

Historically, ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. Ginger is regarded as an excellent carminative (a substance that promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) & intestinal spasmolytic (a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal track). Ginger is anti-inflammatory, cancer preventing, nausea and vomiting reducing. It induces cell death in ovarian cancer cells, it boosts the immune system and all of this and it actually tastes amazing once you get over the spiciness.

Anti-Inflammatory

Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerol. This is the main reason for the pain reducing effects those with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis report. In two clinical studies involving patients who responded to conventional drugs and those who didn't, physicians found that 75% of arthritis patients and 100% of patient with muscular discomfort experienced relief of pain and/or swelling. A study published in Osteoarthritis Cartilage stated that those with arthritis related problems who regularly spice up their meals with fresh ginger help reduce discomfort and inflammation. In this 12 month study, 29 patients with painful arthritis in the knee (6 men and 23 women ranging in age from 42-85 years) participated in a placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study. Patients switched from placebo to ginger and vice versa after 3 months.

 

After six months, the double-blind code was broken, twenty of the patients wished to continue and thus were followed for an additional six months. By the end of the six month period, those given ginger were experiencing significantly less pain on movement and handicap than those given the placebo.  Pain on movement decrease from 76.14 at baseline to 41.00, while handicap decreased from 73.47 to 46.08. In contrast, those who were switched from ginger to placebo had an increase in pain of movement (82.10) and handicap (80.80) from baseline. 

But how does ginger work its inflammatory magic? Good question

In a study published in Life Sciences it stated that the benefits can be linked to one of the active phenolic constituents of ginger, 6-gingerol. In this in vitro (test tube) study, 6-gingerol was shown to significantly inhibit the production of nitric oxide, a highly reactive nitrogen molecule that quickly forms a very damaging free radical called peroxynitrite. A study published in Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine sheds further light on the mechanisms of action that underlie ginger's anti-inflammatory effectiveness. In this research, ginger was shown to suppress the pro-inflammatory compounds (cytokine and chemokine) produced by synoviocytes (cells that comprise the synovial lining in the joints), chondrocytes (cells comprising joint cartilage) and leukocytes (immune cells). 

Protects Against Colorectal Cancer

Gingerols as stated above are the main active components in ginger and the ones responsible for its distinctive flavor also inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells. In a study down by the Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, researchers fed mice who lacked an immune system a half milligram of (6)-gingerol three times a week before and after injecting human colorectal cancer cells into their flanks. Control mice received no (6)-gingerol. 

Tumors appeared 15 days after the mice were injected, but only 4 tumors were found in the group of ginger treated mice compared to 13 in the control mice, those mice in the gingerol group had significantly smaller tumors on average. Even on day 38, one mouse in the (6)-gingerol group still had no measurable tumors. One associate professor, Ann Bode noted, "These results strongly suggest that ginger compounds may be effective chemopreventive and/or chemotherapeutic agents for colorectal carcinomas." 

Safe Nausea & Vomiting During Pregnancy

Ginger has been used for centuries as a natural anti-vomiting remedy. It is useful in reducing nausea and vomiting in pregnancy and even in sever cases of, hyperemesis gravidum. In a double-blind study, ginger root brought about a significant reduction in both the severity of nausea and number of attacks of vomiting in 19 out of 27 women in early pregnancy (less than 20 weeks). Unlike drugs used to reduce vomiting, ginger can be used in smaller doses and are much safer to the fetus. 

Induces Ovarian Cell Death

In a study dine by Dr. Rebecca Lui and her colleagues from the university of Michigan, it showed that gingerols kill ovarian cancer cells by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) and autophagocytosis (self-digestion). Ginger extracts have been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects on cells. Whole ginger extracts containing 5% gingerol caused cell death in all the ovarian cancer lines studied. 

Immune Boosting

Ginger does not just warm you up on a cold day, it can also help promote healthy sweating. A good sweat may do a lot more than simply detox. German researchers found that sweat content potent germ-fighting agents that may help fight off infections thanks to a protein called dermicidin. Dermicidin is manufactured in the body's sweat glands, secreted into sweat and transported to the skin's surface where it provides protection against invading microorganisms, including bacteria such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, fungi and Candida albicans.

Any way you slice it you should have some kind of ginger in your diet if you want optimal health. I preach drinking ginger tea everyday at "Spleen Time" (Check out my blog post on the body organ clock). It is very warming, healing and therapeutic. If you suffer from painful menstrual cramps, arthritis or knee pains you could truly benefit from a daily cup or two of ginger tea and pitted red dates. Ginger; the key to overall health!