Ginger is derived from the tuberous rhizome (underground root) of the perennial plant Zingiber officinale of the family Zingiberaceae. Also referred to as Jamaica ginger, African ginger, or Cochin ginger, ginger has been used as a spice, condiment and flavoring agent. For nearly 2,500 years ginger has also played an important role in Asian medicine as a folk remedy to promote cleansing of the body through perspiration, to calm nausea, and to stimulate the appetite. Ginger tea was also used as a carminative (agent which expels gas from the intestines) and in the symptomatic treatment of colds when given at their onset. It has been used in China and other countries for many years as a tonic.
Ginger contains gingerol, a ginger oleoresin (combination of volatiles oils and resin) that accounts for the characteristic aroma of ginger, and explain its theraputic properties. Components of gingerol (zingiberone, bisabolene, camphene, geranial, linalool and borneol) have recently been studied and found to possess beneficial properties for the treatment of poor digestion, heartburn, vomiting and preventing motion sickness.
A report appearing in the English medical journal Lancet in 1982 concluded that powdered ginger helped with motion sickness. Researchers conducted a double-blind study on 36 college students with a high susceptibility to motion sickness. Reporting on ginger's ability to control motion sickness and aleviate neausea, they concluded that 940 mg. of powdered ginger was superior to 100 mg. of dimenhydrinate in reducing symptoms when consumed 25 minutes prior to tests in a tilted rotating chair.
On the basis of this and other studies German health authorities have concluded that ginger, at an average daily dose level of 2 to 4 grams, is effective for preventing motion sickness and is also useful as a digestive aid. Any antiemetic effects of ginger are due to its local action in the stomach, and not to any central nervous system activity.
Ginger is ordinarily taken in the form of capsules, each containing 250 to 500 mg. of powdered herb. It may also be consumed as a tea or in the form of candied ginger that is readily available in Oriental food markets. There are no reports of severe toxicity in humans from eating ginger, but recent pharmacological studies indicate that very large overdoses might carry the potential for causing depression of the central nervous system and cardiac atrhythmias.
Additionally, the whole ginger plant has been found to cause liver damage in animals. It is interesting to note that an alcoholic beverage prepared from Jamaican ginger, popular in some parts of the U.S. in the 1930s, caused a serious neurologic problem called "the Jake Walk."
CAUTION: If suffering from gallstones, or if pregnant or nursing, consult a health care professional before taking large amounts of ginger. The German Commission E monograph opposes use for morning sickness during pregnancy. Daily consumption of ginger root may interfere with the absorption of dietary iron and fat-soluble vitamins, as well as tetracycline derivatives, oral anticholinergics, phenothiazines, digoxin, isoniazid, pheytoin, warfarin, lincomycin, digitalis, nalidixic acid, sulfonamides, and phenothiozines or other psychoactive agents which are poorly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Ginger may mask the ototoxicity caused by aminoglycoside antibiotics such as neomycin. It may inhibit urinary excretion of alkaline drugs, such as amphetamines or quinidine.
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