Ginger is a well known pungent, culinary spice, but it also has remarkable health promoting properties. For instance, I’ve previously written about the use of ginger for easing painful periods and preventing menstrual migraines. But, ginger offers much more than pain relief. In this scientific review in the Royal Society of Chemistry Journal: Food and Function, researchers discuss the potential ability of ginger to provide protection from gastric ulcers.
The culinary and medicinal part of ginger is the rhizome, often described as a root, but actually an underground plant stem. Thought to have originated in northern India, the remedy is now grown in many parts of the world. No doubt, at least partly due its valuable contribution to several systems of traditional herbal medicine, including Chinese, Ayurvedic, Unani, Arabic, Greek and Roman.
Ginger has a long history of use for relieving pain and spasms, as well as reducing inflammation. So it has found a use in arthritis, rheumatism, muscular aches and pains, cramps and sprains. It has also been used as a popular herbal remedy for infections, such as colds and flu, sore throats, catarrh and gingivitis. What’s more, it’s use for various digestive problems including indigestion, belching, bloating, gastritis, nausea and vomiting, has been validated by scientific studies. And now in animal studies, researchers have looked at ginger as a potential means of preventing gastric ulcers.
Gastric ulcers are ulcers that occur on the inside lining of the stomach. The stomach is vulnerable to ulceration because certain cells in the lining layer secrete digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid that are a necessary part of the digestive process. Yet these same digestive juices can erode the stomach lining, potentially forming a stomach ulcer. So specialised cells secrete mucous that coats the stomach surface, protecting it from stomach acid and other digestive secretions.
Unfortunately in some cases ulceration does occur. This can happen when the stomach makes too much stomach acid, or makes too little protective mucous. Some factors that are known to increase the risk of gastric ulceration include chronic use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, alcohol, stress and infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori.
In animal studies, ginger has been found to be an effective way of preventing gastric ulcers from these causes. Researchers suggest that ginger is protective because it mops up free radicals and prevents damage to cell membranes. It also has the ability to reduce intestinal spasms, flatulence and bloating, whilst increasing the rate of emptying of the stomach. All of which may help to reduce the amount of time the acidic contents remain in the stomach, and therefore limit damage to the stomach lining.
Ginger may also stimulate the production and secretion of mucin. This is a constituent of the slimy, protective mucous that coats the stomach lining. A thicker mucous layer helps to prevent contact between the acidic stomach contents and the stomach wall.
The researchers conclude that ginger may help to prevent gastric ulcers through several different mechanisms. And, whilst some of the available evidence is inconsistent, they say that following further studies ginger may have potential as a non-toxic broad spectrum gastroprotective agent.
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