Ginger—A Spicy Way to Stimulate Healthy Digestion
A cup of ginger tea is often just the thing to settle an upset stomach—but little is known about how it actually works. A new study, published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, found that ginger stimulates digestion by speeding up the movement of food from the stomach into the upper small intestine.
Soothing to the stomach
After having nothing to eat or drink for eight hours, the 24 healthy men in the study were given either 1,200 mg of ginger or placebo, and then ate a bowl of soup. They answered questions about their digestive comfort, and digestive activity was measured by ultrasound. One week later, they repeated the test, but the ginger and placebo groups were reversed.
Muscle contractions in the stomach, which help to move food into the upper small intestine, were more frequent and the stomach emptied more quickly after ginger than placebo. After eating the soup, mild digestive discomfort was reported in those who had placebo but not ginger.
From the kitchen to your medicine cabinet
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is popular as a culinary spice and as a medicinal herb. It is used all over the world to treat indigestion, gas and bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome. A well-known remedy for nausea during pregnancy and motion sickness, ginger has also has anti-inflammatory effects that make it a good choice for treating arthritis.
“Since low gastric motility has been associated with the digestive symptoms for which ginger is frequently used, if ginger improves the movement of food through the upper digestive tract in people with digestive problems, this could help to explain how it exerts its benefits,” said Dr. Rebecca Chollet, a naturopathic doctor who practices in New Hampshire and Vermont.
Ginger is often taken as tea, prepared by simmering the cut root in a covered pot. It can also be used as tincture (an alcohol-based extract), in capsules (as in this study), or added to common gas-producing foods like beans and lentils to prevent gas. At times when nausea makes eating or drinking difficult, crystallized ginger can be used like a lozenge.
A multifaceted approach may help your digestion
Other methods for preventing indigestion include eating slowly and being careful not to overeat. Like ginger, caraway, cumin, and fennel can be added to foods to reduce the chance of developing gas after eating. Digestive enzyme supplements are sometimes helpful when these measures are not enough.
(Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2008;20:436–40)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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