Ginger: Phytochemistry

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is an angiosperm (flowering) plant that produces a large edible rhizome or root. The rhizome is used in cuisine for its distinctive taste, as well as its antioxidant and preservative properties. Ginger is a plant that is related to turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. Chemically ginger is an interesting mixture of chemicals, many of which are responsible for the unique taste of ginger. Some of the main chemicals isolated from ginger include gingerol, shogaol, paradol, beta-sitosterol palmitate, isovanillin as well as metabolites of these chemicals. Ginger also contains vitamin C and the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.  The chemical composition of ginger can be altered significantly by the growing conditions, the storage conditions, the growing time, the harvest time, and the storage length. Powdered ginger may also have a slightly different chemical composition compared to fresh ginger.  

As well as its use in cuisine, ginger has a number of particular medicinal uses. One well known action of ginger is that of inhibiting inflammation. This makes ginger useful against conditions of chronic inflammation like arthritis. Subclinical conditions associated with inflammation including obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer may also be modified in their progression by use of ginger although the effects will be less obvious and much longer in their manifestation. In terms of its biochemical effects, ginger may inhibit the synthesis of certain proinflammatory prostaglandins, particularly 5-lipoxygenase, through inhibition of the cyclooxygenase 1 and 2 enzymes. Ginger has also been shown to interfere with the vanilloid nociceptor. Ginger may also inhibit the expression of certain genes associated with inflammation including genes encoding cytokines, chemokines and cyclooxygenase 2. Ginger therefore modulates multiple pathways that can lead to inflammation, and this explains its highly effective anti-inflammatory effects. 

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Agrahari, P., Panda, P., Verma, N.K., Khan, W.U. and Darbari, S. 2015. A brief study on zingiber officinale – a review. Journal of Drug Discovery and Therapeutics. 3(28): 20-27

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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