Ginger for Colds: What are the Facts?
Ginger is often called a “superfood”, put on a pedestal for the positive impact it can have on the body. This is nothing new, either, as it’s been used in medicine for thousands of years for a variety of issues. What can it do for the common cold, though?
In this article we’ll tell you what effects ginger can have on colds, and how it might help you overcome the sniffles. With colds being almost as uncomfortable as they are tenacious, we know that any extra remedies will be most welcome in fighting them. Let’s get into the facts about ginger for colds:
What is Ginger?
Before we jump straight into things, we have to look at ginger and its history with human health. Zingiber officinale was first discovered in South and Southeast Asia thousands of years ago, with its rhizome (the part of the plant that both roots and stems grows from) having a unique flavour to it. It soon became incredibly popular, both because of its use in food and as a medicine; it was one of the first spices to be traded from Asia to Europe, being enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Since then it has spread across the world – still acting as a staple in Chinese cuisine – with both China and India being two of the biggest exporters of ginger.
Of course, it wasn’t the taste alone that made ginger so popular. It was commonly used as a treatment against nausea for centuries, especially by sailors suffering from sea sickness. According to recipes from ancient Iranian medicine, it was even used in ‘memory tonics’ and to assist with liver and bile function. These might not be as effective as their descriptions suggest but, like many ancient medicines, there’s some grounding in science. Especially for digestive health.
Ginger contain around 115 chemicals, having a range of effects on the human body when ingested. One of the most important compounds is gingerol which, surprisingly, isn’t found in any other plant. This by itself has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, but there’s other chemicals that have powerful effects on the body: zingerone, paradols and shogaols. What’s interesting is that all of these chemicals change when ginger is put under certain conditions, such as cooking it or drying it out, compared to its fresh state. This furthers ginger’s status as a superfood or a cure-all medicine, but what conditions is it the best at dealing with?
Ginger’s Typical Uses
As previously mentioned, people usually associate ginger with its ability to settle stomachs. In fact, it has an effect on the majority of the digestive system. As an aid for motion sickness, it’s still being used today with an effectiveness that rivals or, in some cases, beats over-the-counter medicines. It’s such a powerful antiemetic (a treatment against nausea) that it’s used to help two conditions notorious for vomiting: morning sickness and chemotherapy. A 2005 review found that in four out of six previous studies ginger was more effective than a placebo in fighting morning sickness, with two finding it more effective than drugs. For chemotherapy, a study of 576 patients found that a daily dose of about 1g of ginger “significantly aids in reduction of the severity of acute chemotherapy-induced nausea”.
Outside of digestive issues, ginger is used in a number of interesting ways. Those diagnosed with osteoarthritis have found it helps with chronic aches and pains, with some studies proving it to be almost as effective as ibuprofen. Another type of pain that it fights is menstrual pain (also known as dysmenorrhea), once again being as effective as medication in some cases. There’s also been reports that it can assist with blood pressure, cholesterol levels and fighting infections, though these traits haven’t received the kind of research its antiemetic properties have.
This leads us to the big question: what are the facts when it comes to ginger treating colds?
One fact that has to be laid out first is that the common cold is a surprisingly complex viral infection. With over 200 constantly-evolving viruses being linked to causing colds, it’s notoriously hard to treat with drugs. This is why there’s been no vaccination for colds, and why flu jabs have to be taken every year – they only vaccinate against the most common strains of virus from the previous year.
The typical advice from doctors when we get a cold is to rest, stay hydrated and treat the symptoms, like sore throats and congested sinuses. Of course, the two ways we tend to do this is with medicine (cough syrup) and with more natural means (honey and lemon tea), making our body more comfortable until it can fight off the virus naturally.
This means that ginger has an uphill battle as a ‘cure’ for colds, as even modern medicine recommends just riding them out. With that said, there are some elements of colds that ginger can most certainly help with, making colds a little less harsh.
Aches and Pains
One often-overlooked part of colds are the muscular aches and pains the come with it, not to mention headaches caused by sinus pressure. It can quickly sap the energy from you – bothersome for those who can’t stop to rest it off. The medicinal way to deal with this is paracetamol, a mild painkiller common in many homes around the country. Could ginger offer a natural alternative to ease aching?
We’ve already mentioned how it’s been show to help against two extreme kinds of pain, so there’s some precedence for ginger to beat aching. There’s been some research into its ability to fight muscular pain, with optimistic results (although some reviews note how there’s only been a small number of studies in this area). While this muscular pain is usually induced through exercising, many point to ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties as a reason for its pain relief characteristics. Ginger may offer some welcome relief to a cold symptom many of us forget about.
This effect may stem from some confusion about the difference between cold and flu symptoms. As previously mentioned, ginger has long been used to treat nausea in many forms, including that which is symptomatic of viral illnesses. This isn’t being contested, though.
Symptoms like diarrhoea and vomiting are found in the flu, not colds. These can be eased with ginger, with some even suggesting sipping ginger ale through the day. There’s some research that even states ginger could help with fighting swine flu, a type of flu that was pandemic in 2009-10 but has since simply become another version of the virus.
What does this have to do with ginger fighting colds? Simply put: people may mistake nausea as a symptom of a cold and use ginger to treat it, then pass on the advice that “ginger can help treat colds” when, in fact, it was used to treat a flu symptom. It’s a fairly harmless mistake to make, since there’s still ways ginger can help, but worth mentioning.
Antibacterial and Anti-inflammatory Effects
There’s various sources online that mention how ginger can be a used to fight a sore throat. This works in two ways: the anti-inflammatory effects reportedly ease the swelling in the throat and its antibacterial properties help deal with foreign bodies that might be the cause of the soreness. Although more research is required to specifically observe ginger tackling sore throats, there’s some scientific grounds to these claims.
The issue here is that, during colds, sore throats are caused by viral infections and not by bacteria. As we’ve said before, viral infections are much trickier for the body to deal with, hampering ginger’s efficacy in this situation. Therefore, taking ginger for your itchy throat may not cure it, although it may offer some relief.
How to Take Ginger
Even without the huge amount of ways ginger can be used to spice up meals, there’s still other options as to how to take ginger when you’re feeling under the weather. One of the most popular ways is making ginger tea, paired with lemon and honey for extra cold relief. The recipe is simple: cut a lemon in half, squeeze one half’s juice into a mug, slice that half into fine slices and add to the mug. Finely chop about a 2cm chunk of ginger and add to the mug. Lastly, pour in some hot water and add as much honey as you enjoy. Leave to brew and you’ll have yourself a natural cold-fighting companion.
Of course, you could elect to eat crushed or sliced ginger raw, although we wouldn’t blame you if you avoided this – the heat isn’t to everyone’s taste! A creative way to take your ginger is to add a sliced lump to a morning smoothie, as the taste goes well with fruits like mango, banana and pineapple. Both of these, as well as the tea, use ginger in its fresh state, where it has more gingerols compared to its dried form.
If you absolutely cannot stand the flavour then there are also ginger supplements available. High strength ones have as many active ingredients per capsule as 12g of ginger. Elsewhere, there’s even aromatic and cosmetic ways of using ginger – as bath and face oils – although we can’t recommend these methods, as we don’t know how effectively we can absorb the various active chemicals through the skin. That’s not to say a hot bath doesn’t feel good when you have a cold!
As common as colds are, they’re surprisingly complex in nature. It’s frustrating, but there’s simply no cure-all medicine yet. Ginger can at least help with some of the symptoms, offering some comfort until the body fights off the virus.
There’s also an element of misinformation regarding ginger’s ability to fight off colds. Remember: nausea – one of ginger’s most famous prescriptions – isn’t a symptom of colds, but of a more serious illness. Ginger can still help, though, as it has done for millennia.
Luckily, for many, ginger is a palatable aid in the fight against the inflammation and aches that come with colds. In very uncommon cases there can be side effects, though: mild cases of heartburn and stomach upsets can be attributed to ginger if your body has an intolerance. As always, if you have any concerns, ask your doctor for advice about taking ginger if you’re on medication or have a pre-existing condition.