Ginger and Turmeric: A Dynamic Pain-Fighting Duo

Are they pain cure-alls? No, but they may help ease your aching head, belly, or bones. Here’s what’s known about the medicinal qualities of ginger and turmeric, and how to incorporate them into your diet.

Both ginger and turmeric are rhizomes, or root stalks, used around the world, not only as food seasonings but also as traditional herbal medicines. As herbal remedies, both spices are used primarily to help alleviate different types of pain. Many scientific studies have been conducted to determine if and how each rhizome actually works. Although results have been mixed, there’s reason to believe that ginger and turmeric both contain active ingredients that can provide at least some relief to those suffering from a number of painful conditions, from arthritis and gastric discomfort to migraine headaches and post-surgical pain.

Ginger as a Go-To

The active medicinal ingredients in ginger are phytochemicals known as gingerols and shogoal. Ginger has long been used as an herbal remedy to relieve motion sickness, morning sickness, general nausea, and upset stomach and, more recently, post-surgical nausea and chemotherapy-induced nausea. Ginger has also been used to treat and prevent the growth of H pylori, the bacteria responsible for gastric infections and ulcers.

A study of 150 women with equally severe menstrual pain compared the pain-relieving properties of ginger to ibuprofen and a prescription NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) and found them to be equally effective. Another study found that ginger was just as effective as a common triptan medication used to treat many types of migraine headaches. Both powdered ginger and the triptan relieved headache pain within two hours. Research also suggests that regularly eating ginger can help relieve certain pain that comes with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

In addition to helping relieve pain, ginger may help to prevent some of the side effects associated with conventional painkillers as well. Long-term or high-dose use of aspirin and NSAIDs have been linked to stomach damage such as lesions, ulcers, and other gastrointestinal disorders. Research shows that the active compounds in ginger may help protect the lining of the stomach from damage due to these drugs, as well as alcohol and excess hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach in some conditions.

Working ginger into your diet

Several forms of ginger can be used to flavor foods and potentially reduce certain forms of pain. These include fresh gingerroot, powdered ginger, crystallized (sugared) ginger, and ginger juice. (To make ginger juice, shred a knob of fresh ginger over a strong paper towel; gather the shreds into a bundle and squeeze the juice out gently over a small bowl.) To routinely incorporate ginger into your diet:

  • add peeled, fresh, or powdered ginger to fruit, vegetable smoothies, and shakes
  • add powdered ginger or ginger juice to tomato juice or soup, lemonade, and hot or iced tea
  • use fresh or powdered ginger in stir-fries, curries, and meat marinades (use small amounts at first, then adjust to taste)
  • add chopped crystallized ginger to cereals, fruit salads, and nut-and-fruit mixtures, or eat out of hand
  • use powdered ginger to make herbal tea.

Turmeric as a Pain Relief Tool

Turmeric is a commonly used spice in Southeast Asian cuisine, especially in Indian and Thai food. Curcumin, an active compound in turmeric, is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity that can promote healing. Like ginger, studies have found that turmeric may have pain-reducing power equal in some cases to that of prescription and over-the-counter medications. In clinical studies, turmeric’s anti-inflammatory action appears to help improve rheumatoid arthritis, post-operative inflammation, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and stomach ulcers.

One animal study that looked at rheumatoid arthritis found that even though both turmeric and ginger reduced the incidence and severity of flare-ups, turmeric had significantly more anti-inflammatory and antioxidant power than ginger.

Working turmeric into your diet

Turmeric is available as a fresh root in specialty markets and as a dried, powdered spice in most regular grocery stores. It can be found in most curry powder mixtures. On its own, powdered turmeric powder has a dusty, bitter flavor that is generally unfamiliar to the western palate; fresh turmeric root is milder in flavor. Below are a few ways to incorporate turmeric into daily meals.

  • To make a turmeric drink, mix ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and dilute with ½ to 1 cup warm water.
  • Sweeten with a little honey or sugar, as desired. You might also consider adding a pinch or two of turmeric powder to rice, coleslaw, or scrambled eggs or omelets before cooking.
  • dd a teaspoon or more of fresh turmeric (finely chopped or grated) to fruit and vegetable smoothies and juices, curry dishes, egg dishes, pureed vegetable soups (cauliflower, carrot, potato, split pea) and marinades for poultry.
  • Turmeric also combines well with other seasonings, such as ginger, cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, cumin, and vinegar. Experiment by adding combinations of these seasonings to plain chicken or vegetable broth for a warming soup, or combine turmeric and ginger with hot water, milk, and honey for a comforting tea.

Supplements as an Option

If you wish to take ginger or turmeric supplement capsules, speak with your primary healthcare provider or health specialist first to find out if they are appropriate for your condition. Also, ask your provider about the type and dose that might be most effective for you. It’s important not to take too high a dose of either ginger or turmeric, as too much may cause indigestion or other side effects.

Updated on: 12/20/17
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