Throughout history, humans have taken advantage of natural remedies to cure their ails. From physical wounds to mental disorders, plants, animals, herbs, and even spices have been purported to treat afflictions for millennia. One such natural remedy that has been popular for almost 5,000 herbs is ginger. So, of course, we have to ask: does ginger help with anxiety?
What is Ginger?
Before we discuss how ginger may help with anxiety, let’s talk first about what ginger is.
Ginger is a tropical plant that grows in warm climates such as the Caribbean, Africa, and China. This plant may be classified as either an herb and a spice and is related to other spices such as turmeric and cardamom. Various forms of ginger have been used in many traditional dishes and herbal remedies for thousands of years.
There are several ways to consume ginger. Raw ginger root may be mashed into soup, stir fry, and other dishes. Ginger ale, tea, and beer can be found on store shelves around the world. (Ginger is also common in many tea blends, such as chai). You can even find ginger in chocolate, ice cream, and lollipops. And, of course, ginger is a common supplement sold in capsule form, too.
The Benefits and Risks of Ginger
Throughout the last 5,000 years, there have been many reported uses for ginger. But it’s only in the last few decades that science has been able to prove – or dispute – these assertions.
Benefits of Ginger
One of the most common uses for ginger is as a home treatment for nausea and upset stomach. In limited doses, there is evidence that it works, too. While more research is needed, preliminary data shows that ginger may help with nausea due to:
- Upset stomach
- Motion sickness
Ginger, as an anti-nausea treatment, is old news in the medical world. Now, modern medicine can better examine the effects of substances on the body, and clinical data shows just how useful ginger can be. Once again, more research is needed to examine these claims, but early clinical data shows that ginger may:
- Ease painful menstruation
- Lessen osteoarthritis pain
- Help with headaches
- Reduce swelling in the body
- Guard against Alzheimer’s disease
- Improve weight loss
Additionally, there is evidence that suggests ginger may help with various ailments in the cardiovascular system. These include high blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Ginger may even act as a mild blood thinner, which can help prevent blood clots. And, although the data is early, some early clinical trials have shown that ginger may even possess anticarcinogenic (anti-cancer) properties.
Risks of Ginger
It’s important to note that, while ginger appears to be healthy in low doses, consuming too much of a good thing is possible. For instance, pregnant women who use ginger to treat morning sickness should talk to their doctors first. Too much ginger during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage.
Furthermore, high doses of ginger – 5 or more grams per day – can increase the risk of other side effects. Mouth irritation, gas, and heartburn have all been attributed to too much ginger. Ironically, consuming unhealthy amounts of ginger may also cause an upset stomach and nausea.
How Does Ginger Work?
Ginger is an herb packed full of bioactive compounds and antioxidants – 14 unique compounds, to be precise. Among the most impactful of these compounds is gingerol, which is the major constituent responsible for many of its medicinal properties. Chiefly, gingerol gives ginger its distinct antioxidant properties, which can then reduce oxidative stress markers. This effect is partly responsible for the anti-inflammatory abilities expressed in ginger consumption.
Additionally, gingerol and other ginger compounds may build up the digestive tract and bloodstream, which leads to its anti-nausea effects. Some evidence also points to ginger as enhancing saliva production and flow, which may help digestive processes.
However, none of this helps answer our question: does ginger help with anxiety? To understand the effects of ginger on anxiety, we need to look at what it does to the brain.
Ginger in the Brain
Various studies have shown that ginger has a profound effect on human cognition and brain function. For instance, one double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 60 middle-aged Thai women found that ginger extract increased cognitive function and working memory. Another study performed in rat brains found that ginger enhanced cognitive ability “partly via the antioxidant activity of the extract.”
Some of the most promising studies regarding whether or not ginger does help with anxiety involve serotonin. One review of animal studies found that ginger reduces anxiety by binding to serotonin receptors. In particular, one of these underlying studies, performed on rats, specifically studied the mechanism of cellular action to determine why ginger does help with anxiety in preliminary studies. The authors found nine constituents of ginger that partly bind to the 5-HT(1A) receptor in the brain. In turn, this produced decreased symptoms of anxiety in the test subjects.
However, there are limited studies on the effects of ginger on anxiety when compared to anti-anxiety drugs. One placebo-controlled study pitted diazepam's effects against ginger to examine anxiety reduction in 60 adult female mice.
This study also controlled for the amount of ginger extract that each mouse received in 50, 100, and 200 mg/kg doses. The mice were then placed in a series of anxiety-inducing mazes and other situations. At the end of the trial, the authors concluded that ginger appeared to reduce anxiety reactions in a dose-dependent setting. The more ginger extract was given compared to diazepam, the fewer anxiety symptoms were observed.
Does Ginger Help with Anxiety?
The science on whether or not ginger does help with anxiety is unclear at present. Clinical data shows that ginger has antioxidative effects in the body and brain, which can enhance digestion, cognition, and serotonin reuptake.
But only one study has shown with any degree of measurable accuracy that ginger helps with anxiety (and that was performed on mice). So, if you’re looking for a non-pharmaceutical regimen to help with anxiety, ginger might be worth a shot – but it’s no guarantee.