The Science Behind How Ginger Helps Digestion

The Science Behind How Ginger Helps Digestion

People have been cultivating and consuming ginger for millennia. For over 5,000 years, ginger root has been a popular culinary and therapeutic spice in Southeast Asia, India, and China. While people have turned to ginger to treat a wide range of ailments, it’s primarily known for its ability to help with stomach and digestive issues. Whether you’re suffering from motion sickness, indigestion, or even the nausea effects of chemotherapy, you can find relief with ginger thanks to its powerful healing properties. As ginger has become more popular, companies have made it easier than ever to work it into your diet. These days, ginger is available in many convenient forms, even tasty elixirs from companies such as ImmuneSchein.

When you examine ginger more closely, you’ll find its history and science create a compelling story and even a bit of mystery. You’ll discover that its impact is worldwide, and its popularity is only growing. Also, researchers are working harder than ever to understand how this incredible healing substance works its magic.

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The History of Ginger

Ginger root is native to Southeast Asia. But, about 5,000 years ago, the Austronesian people and other travelers began to carry it to other regions, such as India, West Africa, and the Pacific Islands. During the 1st century, ginger made its way to Europe, and the people of the Roman Empire came to appreciate ginger for its medicinal properties. Also, the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians used an early form of gingerbread in ceremonies. By the 14th century, the knobby root with its greyish skin and stringy, vibrant orange innards had become so sought after in Europe that a single pound was worth as much as a sheep.

Today, the sweet, spicy rhizome is cultivated in tropical countries worldwide, including Jamaica, India, and Australia. Staying close to its roots, ginger is commonly prescribed by practitioners of ancient, holistic healing systems, such as Ayurvedic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Ginger remains a popular home remedy for several ailments, most commonly affecting the gastrointestinal tract. After all, who hasn’t sipped ginger ale to help relieve an upset stomach?

Ginger as Medicine

While ginger has a long track record as an effective treatment for digestion, scientists have begun investigating those claims more closely to understand why and how it works so well.

Ginger has an elaborate chemical makeup. Scientists have identified 115 bioactive compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiemetic properties. Plus, some of these compounds affect digestion. That’s one reason we see such a broad range of health-promoting effects. But, because ginger is so complicated, scientists face a more significant challenge in nailing down exactly how it functions. Fortunately, they are making headway.

Most current research concerns how ginger relieves gastrointestinal discomforts; early evidence is promising. Clinical trials indicate that ginger can reduce nausea and vomiting resulting from motion sickness, pregnancy, indigestion, and some chemotherapies. It can even provide relief for women who deal with painful cramps during and before menstruation.

"Scientists are more closely examining the science behind ginger’s medicinal properties."  Dominik Martin

Several studies have found that ginger works better—and causes fewer side effects—than some major pharmaceuticals, including dimenhydrinate, the active ingredient in Dramamine, and common anti-nausea medications given to pregnant women. But what about this ancient botanical makes it such a star when treating tummy troubles?

The science doesn’t yet tell us the exact mechanisms by which ginger improves digestion and relieves gastrointestinal distress. However, researchers have some robust theories.

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Ginger Gathers in the Gut

Ginger and its metabolites tend to collect in the digestive tract. Researchers believe this is why so many of our benefits are related to the gastrointestinal system. It’s only logical that the bulk of ginger’s action would be taking place in the part of the body that holds it in the highest concentrations.

It’s Carminative

According to the research, ginger helps kick nausea and other digestive discomforts to the curb because it’s carminative, relieving flatulence. While some herbs prevent the buildup of gases in the gastrointestinal system, ginger does it exceptionally well. It breaks up and removes the intestinal gases that can cause pressure, cramping, and that nasty urge to vomit.

Ginger Reduces Nausea

While ginger affects the gastrointestinal system directly, there is some evidence that it may also work outside the digestive tract. Studies suggest ginger inhibits neural receptors that signal to vomit, thereby reducing nausea.

It Stimulates Digestion

"Ginger helps food move through the digestive system, preventing gas buildup."  Tony Hisgett

Beyond its ability to reduce nausea and vomiting, ginger is also used by many people to improve overall digestion. Researchers theorize that the spice stimulates the digestive tract. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but in some studies, ginger is associated with increased digestive enzymes trypsin and pancreatic lipase. Plus, ginger is linked to elevated saliva flow and improved gastric motility. Together, these factors keep food moving through the system so that problems like fermentation in the gut or gas buildup are less likely to occur.

Consuming Ginger

You have many options if you want to incorporate ginger into your diet. The root can be eaten fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallized, candied, and in powder and liquid forms, so it’s found in various products. In the West, beverages are probably the most popular way to consume ginger. In addition to that sugary childhood favorite ginger ale, the root is found in teas, kombuchas, and ginger beer. But these beverages often include all kinds of unwanted extras. Try one of the small-batch Ginger Elixirs from ImmuneSchein for a healthier option. Available in several flavors, such as Elderberry, Lavender, and Turmeric, these elixirs provide a tasty and convenient way to incorporate real ginger root into your diet without added sugar, vinegar, additives, or preservatives.

Safety Concerns

Even when used medicinally, moderate consumption of ginger is considered very safe. However, you should chat with your physician if you're taking medications. A growing body of research supports the plant’s digestive benefits and minimal side effects. However, some foods interact with drugs, reducing their efficacy or triggering dangerous conditions.

Learn more about ImmuneSchein’s ginger elixirs.

Stacey McKenna wrote them for Matcha in partnership with ImmuneSchein Ginger Elixirs.

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