Is ginger really a health food?

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Ginger is believed to have several healing properties. It is said to help with headaches and stomach aches, have an anti-inflammatory effect and even keep blood sugar stable. But what can the spicy root do? And which substances work how?

Ginger brings a special taste and burning spiciness to dishes and is now widely used as a natural remedy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, the special root has been used for healing for 5000 years. Both the new variety and the powder from the tubers are said to have numerous health-promoting properties. For example, the ingredients from the natural medicinal plant are said to promote digestion, stimulate circulation and be antibacterial. Likewise, the hot decoction of ginger slices is said to help before and during colds and even activate fat burning in the body.

However, it was previously unclear which substance in ginger leads to which reactions in the human body. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich have discovered how pungent substances in ginger activate the immune system in the body. They studied the effect of a ginger tea made from 100 grams of fresh, peeled and crushed ginger tubers and boiling water to do this. The researchers let the drink steep for 15 minutes and then strained it.

Two ginger shots are “very good.
From a previous study, it was already known that through the consumption of ginger tea, various aromatic substances from the tuber, above all the so-called 6-gingerol, enter directly into the blood. This substance is the main aromatic agent in ginger. The aromaresearchers write in a university statement that the tic substance is known to exert its “gustatory” effect via the so-called TRPV1 receptor.

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

How much ginger do you need?
Further laboratory experiments by the research group showed that even a very low concentration of just under 15 micrograms of 6-gingerol per litre of nutrient medium is sufficient to put the cells on heightened alert. Compared to control cells, the cells stimulated by the ginger pungent reacted about 30 percent more strongly to a mock bacterial infection. They responded with different defence-specific mechanisms.

“Thus, at least in experiments, very low concentrations of 6-gingerol are sufficient to influence the activity of immune cells via the TRPV1 receptor. In blood, such concentrations could theoretically be achieved by consuming just over a liter of ginger tea,” Andersen says in the release. Although many questions remain unanswered, the researchers’ laboratory study results prove that ginger boosts the immune system. Moreover, the team can plausibly explain how this happens in the body.

For nausea and arthritis
Several previous studies have largely demonstrated other health-promoting effects of ginger. The aromatic substances not only activate the body’s defence system, but they also help to balance blood sugar, as shown, for example, in two publications from 2020. Also, on the effect on nausea, motion sickness and pregnancy nausea, several studies prove the effects of ginger in these cases. For pregnant women, however, it is always advised to use the food in moderation, that is, no more than 6 grams per day, and to resort to it only in mild nausea and vomiting.

Ginger can also relieve the pain of osteoarthritis patients, leading to greater 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 halt cell loss associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Similar effects are also attributed to saffron, rosemary, cinnamon and turmeric.

At the same time, however, the superfood is also said to have effects that have not yet been scientifically proven or have not been proven. These include blood-thinning properties, the prevention of heart attacks or a direct impact on losing weight. But no matter why you regularly eat ginger, swallow ginger capsules, or drink ready-made shots or ginger tea, you should be aware that even with the popular health maker, you can overdose. This is because the pungent ingredients can cause irritation of the stomach lining. This can lead to unpleasant and unwanted side effects such as stomach pain, flatulence or diarrhea.

Are dietary supplements useful or harmful?
There are various statements about the maximum amount of ginger consumed daily. However, it is important to distinguish between fresh ginger and powdered ginger. A guideline for the new tuber is 50 grams per day; maximum doses of between two and five grams are given for the dried version. But even that could be too much for people with sensitive stomachs, digestive or bile problems. Therefore, anyone who is unsure should talk to their doctor about their ginger consumption beforehand.

Incidentally, the import volumes show how popular the spicy root has become in Germany recently. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the annual import volume of ginger tubers has almost quadrupled over the last ten years. It is currently stated at around 31,600 tons per year. In addition, there are attempts to cultivate the plant, which thrives in tropical and subtropical regions, here as well.

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