Ginger has a long history of medicinal use to treat a multitude of ailments due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antitumor properties, which have been documented in the scientific literature. Its benefits for gut health are widely publicized, and it is currently used as an integrative approach for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) relief, excessive gas, constipation, bloating, heartburn, motion sickness, gastric ulcers associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like ibuprofen and aspirin), and to improve nutrient absorption, among other conditions.
But just how effective is ginger as a treatment and preventative agent for gastrointestinal diseases and conditions? While previous studies have highlighted the gastroprotective effects of ginger, a 2018 study conducted a systemic review of all clinical trials using ginger to treat GI disorders. Results showed that ginger is a safe and effective treatment at a 1500mg daily dosage for nausea relief, specifically nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy. All other GI conditions investigated in the review – including delayed gastric emptying, fatty liver, IBS, gastroenteritis, colorectal cancer tumors, and dysphagia (impaired swallowing) – lack controlled trial studies of adequate size to draw a scientifically sound conclusion as to whether or not ginger is an effective treatment and preventative tool. Researchers call for “more extensive and well-controlled human studies” to truly uncover ginger’s efficacy and safety, as well as the appropriate dosages and preparations. Bottom line, ginger may be effective for a myriad of GI conditions, but the appropriate studies do not yet exist to draw a firm conclusion.
A study published in Cell Host Microbe uncovered the ability for a molecule in ginger to significantly alter the gut microbiome. The molecule goes by the name of GELN, or ginger-derived ELN (ELNs are exosome-like nanoparticles derived from plant foods). In previous studies ELNs were found to prevent alcohol-induced liver damage and lab-induced colitis. When researched further, GELNs were found to contain microRNAs, which are extracted by gut bacteria in feces and utilized in turning on and off bacterial genes.
Scientists extracted GELNs from ginger and fed them to rodents, then sequenced their gut microbiome. Samples were compared to rodents administered a “placebo”. Results showed that the mice in the GELN group had substantial increases in Lactobacilli species. When colitis was induced (lesions and ulcers in the lining of the gut), and then GELN was administered, the rodents showed marked improvements in colitis symptoms. GELN turns on bacterial genes that trigger cytokines in the gut lining associated with intestinal wall tissue repair, which could explain its role in improving colitis. These finding open up a new area of research into how ELNs affect the gut microbiome and can possibly treat disease.
While ginger lacks the body of scientific evidence to be a conclusive treatment for digestive diseases and conditions, it’s considered safe and possesses an array of healthy and helpful associations. If you suffer from GI distress, consider incorporating some ginger tea into your daily diet or adding fresh ginger to your green smoothies.