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Arthritis and Ginger

Ginger is an ancient remedy for a number of diseases. Its efficacy in the treatment of arthritis is due to its analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
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What is Ginger?

Ginger refers to the rhizome of Zingiber officinale.

Also called ginger root, it is the plant stem running underground and sprouting green leaves and white or yellow-green flowers above ground. After harvesting, the rhizomes are washed and scalded with hot water or scraped to prevent new leaves and flowers from growing.

Ginger is extensively used as seasoning, spice, delicacy and medicine in many Asian cultures. It is related to other known seasonings such as turmeric and cardamom.

Young ginger rhizomes are edible; they are usually pickled to be eaten as snacks but they can also be made into candy. Ginger tea is usually made from such rhizomes. Matured ginger rhizomes are drier and they are the form of ginger used as spice in different Asian cuisine.

Powdered ginger is more potent than fresh ginger. In fact, 6 parts of fresh ginger is the equivalent and substitute for 1 part of powdered ginger.

The characteristic odor and taste of ginger is due to its zingerone and gingerol content. Shagaols which are produced from gingerols when ginger is cooked or dried can also produce this odor and flavor.

Ginger also contains essential oils such as zingiberene, citral, cineol, farnesene and bisabolene.

Ginger: Uses, Supplements and Doses

Medicinal Properties of Ginger
  • Sedative
  • Analgesic
  • Antipyretic 
  • Antibacterial
  • Antioxidant
  • Laxative

The antioxidant property of ginger is useful for preventing damage to cells, tissues and organs in the body. It specifically regulates the peroxidation of lipids and the release of harmful free radicals.

A new study found ginger extract to be effective for reducing muscular pain. In this study, ginger was able to reduce pain by 25% after recent exercises. Ginger has also been indicated to be helpful for reducing arthritic pain.

However, the most common indication for ginger root is nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness, chemotherapy and pregnancy.

Early results from preliminary studies show that ginger may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke because it lowers cholesterol levels and prevents blood from clotting. Ginger is also showing possible anticancer benefits in in vitro studies.

Ginger is sold in food markets as a cooking spice. It is available both as fresh and dried roots.

Fresh ginger root can be used to prepare ginger tea and the dried root can serve as an herbal remedy. Ginger oil, obtained from the steam distillation of the root, is also sold as a supplement.

Ginger supplements take different forms including tincture, capsule, extracts and oils.

Ginger is not recommended for children under the age of 2. In adults, daily doses of ginger should not exceed 4 g and the upper limit for pregnant women is 1 g daily. The dose of ginger for arthritic pain is 250 mg taken 4 times daily.

Ginger: Safety and Side Effects

Ginger interferes with some drugs especially those used in the treatment of diabetes, hypertension and for preventing blood clot (anticoagulants such as Coumadin). Therefore, patients placed on these drugs should consult their doctors before starting on ginger.

Ginger can lower blood sugar levels, therefore, it increases the risk of hypoglycemia in patients already taking diabetes medications. It can also lower blood pressure and prevent blood from clotting.

Lastly, ginger increases the production of bile. Therefore, it must not be used for patients suffering from gallstones.

Still, the FDA recognizes ginger as safe. It takes a very high dose to achieve ginger toxicity. The symptoms of this toxicity are caused by the overstimulation of the central nervous system. This intoxication occurs at doses exceeding 2 g of ginger per kg of body weight.

Common side effects of therapeutic doses of ginger involve gastrointestinal symptoms. These include belching, gas, bloating, nausea, heartburn and diarrhea. Some of these gastrointestinal side effects can be avoided by taking ginger capsules instead of extracts, tinctures and oils.

Ginger allergy is also possible and its chief presentation is rash.

How Ginger Works For Arthritis

Ginger is useful in the management of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis because it relieves joint pain and reduces inflammation. It also has antioxidant properties.

These 3 effects of ginger are interrelated.

Studies show that ginger produces its anti-inflammatory effect at the cellular level by inhibiting the production of inflammatory factors such as COX-2, lipoxygenase and TNF-alpha (tumor necrosis factor-alpha).

In the inflammatory cascade reaction, arachidonic acid is oxygenated by two enzymes: cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase. This reaction produces leukotrienes (LT) and prostaglandins (PG). Of the leukotrienes and prostaglandin produced, two of them, LTB4 and PGE2, are the major factors involved in inflammatory processes such as the one that causes the joint to swell in arthritic patients.

Ginger inhibits the production of LBT4 and PGE2. Therefore, it is described as a dual inhibitor of eicosanoid (leukotrienes and prostaglandins are examples of eicosanoids) synthesis.

This anti-inflammatory action explains the efficacy of ginger extracts in the treatment of arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders.

Research on the Efficacy of Ginger in the Management of Arthritis

In a 1992 study published in the journal, Medical Hypotheses, all 56 patients who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and other muscular disorders experienced improvement in pain and inflammation while taking powdered ginger.

In the period of treatment with ginger (up to 2.5 years), none of the patients reported adverse effects like they did with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids and other conventional anti-inflammatory drugs.

Another study done at the University of Miami and published in the November 2011 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism reported similar benefits.

In that study, extracts from two ginger species were taken. These ginger species were Zingiber officinale and Alpinia galanga. This concentrated extract was administered to some of the study’s 247 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.

The results of the study showed that patients receiving the combined ginger extracts experienced more pronounced reduction in knee pain upon standing and after walking. In addition, the ginger group scored higher on the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities (WAMU) Osteoarthritis Composite Index (the standard in outcome test for arthritis studies) than the control group.

A 2005 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the effects of these two ginger species on the inflammatory process.

This study was done in vitro on the cells of the synovial fluids found in the joints. These cells were treated with extracts from Alpinia ginger, Zingiber ginger and the combination of the two gingers. At the end of the incubation period, the levels of chemokines in each batch of the cells were determined.

Chemokines are proinflammatory factors that are secreted in high amounts in the cells of the synovial fluid to trigger inflammation in the joints.

The results showed that the combination of the two gingers was the most effective treatment for reducing chemokine levels and inflammation. Of the two gingers, Zingiber officinale was more effective than Alpinia galanga.

How to Use Ginger to Treat Arthritis

Ginger capsules are the best forms of the supplements to take when treating arthritis. They will help reduce the gastrointestinal side effects of the herb.

To further reduce the chances of such side effects, you should take ginger capsules with food.

Since the best production method that yields the purest ginger is the super-critical extraction, look for ginger capsules produced using this method.

Ginger snacks and tea do provide ginger when ingested but at levels that are not enough to produce significant therapeutic effects. Therefore, you should still take ginger supplements along with food sources of the herb.

Some people do prefer the taste and odor of ginger.  To keep the flavor and reduce gastrointestinal side effects, you can mix some grated ginger with food while or after cooking.

A ginger oil massage can also be helpful for relieving joint pain and reducing inflammation. This kind of massage is common in Japan and it can be easily adapted to treat arthritis patients. If a massage is unachievable, hot ginger compresses and bath can be used to treat inflamed, aching joints.

Next Article: Stop Inflammation in Joint


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