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Arthritis and Ginger

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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.

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 a spice in different Asian cuisine.

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

The characteristic odor and taste of ginger are 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 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.

Reviews on studies on ginger and osteoarthritis have shown that supplementing with ginger by mouth leads to a significant reduction in disability and pain. Ginger also was shown to have little or no side effects.

In one study, patients were treated with a prescription painkiller or ginger or both for 12 weeks. At the end of the study period, the group taking both painkillers and ginger reported the biggest reduction in pain. This led the study authors to recommend that ginger is taken in addition to prescription painkillers for arthritis patients.

Studies have also found that ginger is effective at reducing arthritis pain when applied topically as well. One case study found that applying ginger to sore joints when the pain was felt for 24 weeks reduced osteoarthritis symptoms in study participants.

Find out how ginger helps with arthritis more in-depth below:

Reduces Inflammation

After 12 weeks of treatment, a significant reduction in inflammatory markers like Nitric oxide and C reactive protein was observed in the group receiving ginger powder. These results suggested that ginger powder could be an effective supplement for osteoarthritis.

6-shogaol, the active ingredient of ginger, reduces inflammation and cartilage and bone degradation in osteoarthritis. Dietary ginger can benefit in osteoarthritis. Ginger extract inhibits inflammation in synoviocytes- cells of synovial fluid that lubricates the joint.

A cell culture study shows that ginger extract is as effective as steroid betamethasone in reducing inflammation. Ginger oil exerts anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic property.

Gingerol and shogaol have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger constituents inhibit the formation of inflammatory mediators. Ginger extract benefits in chronic inflammation by influencing genes that regulate the production of inflammatory mediators.

Ginger reduces inflammation by inhibiting the formation of the prostaglandins and leukotrienes that cause inflammation and pain in joints. In one study, it was found that supplementing with ginger for at least three months reduced pain and joint stiffness in arthritis patients. No side effects were reported from consuming ginger, even after 2.5 years of supplementing with ginger.

Another study found that within 12 weeks of supplementing with ginger, inflammatory markers were reduced. The ingredient responsible for this action is 6-shogaol, which is the main active ingredient in ginger.

One separate cell culture study found that ginger was just as effective in reducing arthritis symptoms as steroid betamethasone. In addition to anti-inflammatory properties, the study also found that ginger contains mild pain-relieving compounds.

Reduces Pain

A review of 8 clinical trials studying ginger and arthritis found that ginger was highly effective in reducing the pain associated with arthritis. One six week study found that 247 patients treated with ginger extracts reported a significant reduction in knee pain. The study authors recommended that patients supplement with 2 g of ginger daily.

The main benefit ginger has against pain is its ability to suppress prostaglandins synthesis by inhibiting enzymatic reactions that cause inflammation and pain in the joints. Additionally, it was found that ginger is more effective in reducing pain and swelling than NSAID medication because ginger also suppresses leukotriene biosynthesis which NSAID medication cannot do. This additional suppression of inflammation reduces pain even more effectively than standard OTC medication.

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 as 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 a 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

The study authors mentioned above found that supplementing with 2 g of ginger per day combined with a ginger oil massage, for when pain and inflammation strikes, are the best combination of ginger therapy to treat arthritis pain.

The study authors found that raw ginger is the most effective at reducing pain and inflammation, but dry supplements taken in capsule form is also effective and works for individuals who cannot stomach the taste and burning of raw ginger. Additionally, raw ginger can be expensive and hard to consume in large quantities, which makes powdered ginger capsules better for many individuals.

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.

Try these methods to add more ginger to your diet:

Fresh Ginger

Eat half a teaspoon of crushed ginger daily for arthritis relief.

Ginger Juice and Honey

Crush fresh ginger to extract the juice. Mix 1/2 a teaspoon of ginger and 1/2 a teaspoon of honey. Consume this concoction once a day for arthritis relief.

Ginger Recipes

  • Add chopped ginger to salads, breakfast cereal, and other cold dishes.
  • Add fresh ginger to vegetables and other recipes while they are cooking for added flavor and health benefits.
  • Add ginger to cookies, soups, bread, and candies.

Make a ginger and cinnamon tea by sprinkling a tea with ginger and cinnamon powder after it is heated. Stir to combine the powders into the tea.

Ginger Capsules

You can either swallow two capsules per day, or open the capsules (or use regular cooking ginger powder) and sprinkle them into soups, sauces, and teas. Make sure to consume 2 grams of ginger per day if you only take ginger in capsule form. You can take less in capsule form if you add ginger to your diet in other ways.

Ginger Massage

Mix 2 drops of ginger oil in 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Rub into the skin where joints are sore. A ginger oil massage can also be helpful for relieving joint pain and reducing inflammation. This form of massage is common in Japan and it can be easily adapted to treat arthritis patients. If massage is unachievable, hot ginger compresses and bath can be used to treat inflamed, aching joints.

Ginger Soak

Add a ginger root to 2 quarts of water and heat to boiling. Turn off the water and let the ginger soak in the water until lukewarm. Place sore, inflamed joints into the liquid for 20 minutes to relieve pain.

Ginger Tea Compress

Prepare ginger tea, but allow the tea to cool to room temperature. Soak a flannel or cotton cloth in the ginger liquid and squeeze out the cloth gently to prevent dripping. Place the soaked cloth over sore joints for 20 minutes.

Ginger Extract Rub

Slice 4 tablespoons of raw ginger. Cover the ginger with rubbing alcohol. Store in a closed container for one month, shaking the jar each day. Rub the liquid into sore joints when suffering from stiffness and pain.

Ginger for Arthritis Works

If you are suffering from arthritis pain, consuming ginger is one of the easiest and safest ways to reduce pain and stiffness in your joints. Ginger works for both kinds of arthritis but is particularly effective for osteoarthritis. Consuming 2 g of ginger daily will relieve arthritis pain and stiffness within just a few weeks, with full results seen after 12 weeks.

Try consuming more ginger in your daily diet and you should start to see the health benefits within just a few weeks. It has never been easier to reduce arthritis pain!

Next Article: How to Stop Arthritis