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The Benefits of Ginger for Osteoarthritis

If ginger is so effective against migraines and also helps with the pain of menstrual cramps, what about osteoarthritis? I explore this in my video Ginger for Osteoarthritis.

An all too common disorder, osteoarthritis produces chronic pain and disability. The first major study, published in 2000, showed no benefit of ginger extract over placebo, but that study only lasted three weeks. The next study, in 2001, lasted six weeks and, by the end, was able to show significantly better results compared to placebo. However, because the placebo did so well, reducing pain from the 60s down to the 40s on a scale of 1 to 100, ginger reducing pain further down into the 30s was not especially clinically significant, so an editorial in the official journal of the American College of Rheumatology concluded that “ginger should not be recommended at present for treatment of arthritis because of the limited efficacy.”

Since that time, there have been a few other trials that showed more impressive results, such that ginger is now considered “able to reduce pain and disability” in osteoarthritis. How does it compare to other treatments? Since osteoarthritis is a chronic disease, it’s especially important to weigh the risks versus the benefits of treatment. The commonly used anti-inflammatory drugs can carry serious cardiovascular and gastrointestinal risks. For example, nearly half of the osteoarthritis patients on drugs like ibuprofen were found to have major injuries to the lining of their small intestines. That risk can be reduced by taking additional medication to counteract the side effects of the first drug.

Ibuprofen-type drugs reduce our stomach lining’s ability to protect itself from stomach acid, so blocking acid production with a second drug can lower the risk. However, ginger can actually improve stomach lining protection. Indeed, at the kinds of doses used to treat osteoarthritis—about a quarter- to a half-teaspoon a day—ginger can be considered not just neutral on the stomach, but beneficial. So, ginger can be as pain-relieving as ibuprofen but without the risk of stomach ulcers.

What about topical ginger treatment, as in externally applying a ginger-soaked cloth or patch to the affected joint? In a controlled study, compress versus patch, both showed remarkable and lasting pain relief for osteoarthritis sufferers. What was missing from the study, though, was a control group: There was no placebo patch. I don’t care if ginger has been applied externally to painful joints for a thousand years. The placebo effect has been shown to be remarkably effective in osteoarthritis in providing pain relief. So, until there’s a controlled study on topical ginger, I’m not going to believe it.

There wasn’t such a study until… 24 men stuck ginger slices on their scrotum.

Men with inflamed testicles applied six to ten paper-thin slices of ginger “over the affected testes,” and, evidently, the ginger group healed nearly three times faster than the control group. Unfortunately, the original source is in Chinese, so I can’t get further details, as is the only other controlled study on topical ginger I could find, whose title apparently translates to “Evaluation of point plaster therapy with ginger powder in preventing nausea and vomiting occurred after platinum-based interventional chemotherapy.” We know ginger powder taken orally can be a miracle against chemo-induced vomiting, but what about stuffing it in your belly button?

The external application of ginger powder to the so-called point of Shenque, which is the navel, was compared to the control group, who got potato powder in their belly buttons instead. The ginger group evidently had significantly less nausea and vomiting. Unfortunately, only the abstract is in English, so I can’t tell how effectively the researchers blinded the patients to the treatment. Presumably, it would be easy to tell whether or not you were in the ginger or placebo group simply by the smell, but perhaps the researchers controlled for that? Until we know more, I would suggest those who want to try ginger use it in the stomach, rather than on the stomach.


What other dietary interventions can help with arthritis? See, for example:

What else can ginger do? Check out:

If the placebo effect is really that powerful, should doctors prescribe them? They already do. See my video The Lie That Heals: Should Doctors Give Placebos? for more on this.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


39 responses to “The Benefits of Ginger for Osteoarthritis

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    1. Dianne,
      I use that amount of ground ginger per day, usually putting some in my oat groats, soy milk, blueberry and banana breakfast, either with ir without some cinnamon. Sometimes I eat kasha mixed with fruit for a snack and will often use some ginger then too.

      1. “That amount” meaning the 1/4- 1/2 tsp mentioned in the blog.

        It is not clear to me where that amount comes from. Perhaps someone else can clarify that, The one meta analysis cited that I looked at used ginger extracts and said:

        “In the studies included in our meta-analysis, all preparations are based on the same species of ginger, but the extraction methods, apart from the two Eurovita preparations with similar type of extraction, vary. The content of active components, especially gingerols, shogoals and paradols4, are therefore likely to vary70–73, and the composition of the different components in 1 g of ‘ginger’ is not necessarily well-defined. This will always be an issue with neutraceuticals of the same kind coming from different producers. The content of the active component may vary, and if one product has an optimal composition for effect on pain compared to the others, the results presented here may not give such a product full credit for effect.”

    2. Diane Landon,

      I put powdered ginger into my coffee — I like the taste! I use about 1/4 teaspoon in about 16 oz of coffee, then make a suspension with my milk foamer.

      I first drank gingered iced coffee about a year and a half ago, and liked it so much that I started experimenting with different ways of adding it to my coffee, first iced (during the summer) and then hot. Now my coffee tastes like it’s missing something if I don’t add ginger — unless I’ve added roasted chicory root to the grounds, to make some New Orleans style coffee.

      1. If u want to try tea add ginger to the boiling water before adding tea. It not only enhances taste it will help with your heart burn. Ginger tea is very common in India.

    3. Diane, you could mix powdered ginger into any food, or pack it in to an empty capsule and swallow it like any pill. Or what I just started doing is take some water in my mouth and drop 1/4 tsp powdered ginger in my mouth and swallow.

    4. Diane, I put ginger in my tea or coffee, along with cinnamon, cardamon, turmeric and cacoa. I put in a tsp. of blackstrap molasses for a bit of sweetness. The tea I use is a cinnamon spice blend tea.
      Just plain tea with lemon is also good with ginger added.
      Also can add ginger, cinnamon and turmeric to heated almond or soy milk with some honey for a sleep inducing treat.
      Start with a bit, and slowly work up the amount.
      Of course, ginger minced or sliced small is great in stir-fried veggies. You can use water or broth to prepare them instead of oil.

      1. Diane,

        Look up Golden Milk recipes.

        You can add it to so many things.

        I was adding it to berries with a plant-Based yogurt every day.

        Turmeric and ginger go well in so many recipes.

  1. I’m curious if ginger powder, taken in water, would help with irritable bowel disease (IBS) pain which feels inflamed to me.
    Does anyone have more info on IBS? I have to he diarrhea kind.
    Thank you.

      1. I have been on PBD since the day China Study was released, Vegan before that 19 years and haven’t eaten meat in 58 years in just a few weeks 1 January. Healthy as can but have lots of stress thus IBS. Also have How Not To Die and his cookbook.

        1. Maggie, one gastroenterologist I have great respect for says two things are triggers for IBS, diet and stress, plus of course, genetic susceptibility.

    1. Maggie, IBS is a fairly common problem I deal with in patients. The best help I have found is to start with a diet of cooked, easy on the gut foods. So nothing ‘scratchy’ like popcorn type foods or those high in -insoluble- fiber.
      Foods with resistant fiber work well. Root vegetables, cooked and reheated develop this kind of starch. Bananas, applesauce instead of apples, etc. nothing fried.
      At first it’s helpful to stop eating all wheat, and most grains, except white rice, at least till you heal. Avoid vegetables oils except for olive oil. You want to eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
      Most do not do well with cow’s milk dairy products and these are best avoided.
      Avoid all foods with gums, read labels,

      There is a type of fiber called Heather’s Acacia Fiber that I have found greatly helps most people. You can get it on the internet. Start slowly, 1/2 tsp. at a time, working up to where your symptoms resolve. It is colorless, pretty tasteless and odorless. Can be added to any food hot or cold. Can be just mixed in water. You may find you need quite a high dose of it throughout the day at first. Then, as you heal, can reduce the amount.
      It takes a while, but combining the fiber with a fairly easy to digest, bland diet works.
      After you get symptoms under control, a whole food plant based diet will keep you healthy.
      Btw, it helps to keep a food diary for a while so you note what causes a flair.

      1. I have been following Dr. Greger’s food list for IBS which is similar to yours.
        My concerns are that I’m getting enough nutrients so I watch this aspect closely with my considerable knowledge. I’ve needed to follow a gluten free for 9 years now.
        I’ve been taking 2 Extra Strength Tylenol no more than 2 a day as little as possible so delighted that peppermint gels with ginger and fennel oils actually help soothe the pelvic area pain which is considerable.
        Thanks for your info.

      1. Dr. Matt, Thank you for replying and thank you for info. I have been using powdered ginger in bulk from my local CoOp and have been experiencing some relief for which I am grateful.
        Thank you.

    1. I use fresh ginger in cooking every day, but use powdered in the morning. 1/4 tsp powder ginger in a small juice glass along with the same of turmeric, a grind of black pepper, and any other powders I am currently using I add a tbsp or two of water, mix, and drink at once. I add a bit more water, mix and drink again to clean the glass of remaining powders.

    2. I have read from several clinical herbalists who tout the value of fresh ginger over powdered, which they consider to be of flavor value only. In addition, it’s pretty hard to fake fresh ginger, whereas the powder can often find any random cheaper stuff in it, as Dr. greger has written about previously.

      1. Yes, fresh ginger is no doubt be best for reasons you say but unadulterated dry ginger can contain only slightly lower amounts of gingerols, which are presumed to be the most bioactive ingredients.

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/

        “At least 115 constituents in fresh and dried ginger varieties have been identified by a variety of analytical processes. Gingerols are the major constituents of fresh ginger and are found ****slightly reduced in dry ginger***, whereas the concentrations of shogaols, which are the major gingerol dehydration products, are more abundant (Jolad et al. 2005 ) in dry ginger than in fresh ginger.”

        Of course, the question remains whether one can reliably obtain unadulterated dry ginger.

        1. Gengo, btw, have had a chance to read your exercise info more thoroughly. Answered some of the questions I had about benefit difference in cardio, resistance, high intensity intermittent, etc. i do like Dr. Mirkin’s site.
          Looks like best choice is to alternate.
          Thanks again!

        2. MOUNTAIN ROSE HERBS (800) 879-3337 or (541) 741-7307
          mountainroseherbs.com

          Certified organic or pesticide-free plant products that are sustainably harvested.
          Vibrant, tasty, potent, and consistent herbal goods that exceed customer expectations.
          A product that is proven safe through laboratory analysis.

    3. Merry,

      Fresh tastes better than powdered.

      But I am not sure the ORAC value is better.

      Seems like I remember many of the powdered spices were higher ORAC than the fresh counterparts, but fresh makes you want to eat it more often.

      1. That may be because fresh ginger contains water which has zero ORAC value.

        Gramme for gramme therefore we would expect – all other things being equal – to see fresh ginger having lower values

    1. Most commercial ginger tea seems to contain sugar or (an artificial) sweeter.

      It’s best therefore to make your own.. Look at some of the earlier comments on this page for info on how to do this Or just Google ginger tea recipe.

  2. Have you noticed the huge number of people needing joint replacement?
    Also the large and increasing number of older people with kidney disease?
    After denying for years that NSAIDS, like ibuprofen etc., are damaging to cartilage, finally some doctors are mentioning this as a side effect.

    It makes sense, as the inflammation pathway also directs healing. So while these drugs do relieve pain, they also prevent or slow down healing of the joint.
    As far as kidney damage goes, NSAIDS are acidic for one thing, and other mechanisms are involved also. (Also reduced kidney function is exacerbated by acidic high animal protein diets.)
    So gut bleeding isn’t the only reason not to take these drugs.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7821339 (Anti-inflammatory drugs and their effects on cartilage synthesis and renal function.)

    1. Marilyn,

      You are on point.

      I have noticed it.

      It is hard for me because all of our workers take ibuprofen. They do physical labor and it is hard to fault them but I worry about all of them.

  3. The studies are so fascinating.

    I wish I knew some scientists.

    I used to as a young person.

    I wonder how many men will cut their fingers trying to get paper thin slices of ginger this week.

      1. My guess is it will be like the scene from The Lucy Show where she is offered gum on the plane and then hears them say, “You know, for your ears.” And she doesn’t know whether to chew it or put it in her ears.

  4. I’ve been regularly recommended ginger for the past 10 years since I first started having Acid Reflux GERD symptoms, and now another reason since being diagnosed with Ankylosing spondylitis 2 years ago.The problem is ginger burns like fire when I ingest it and causes anxiety until the symptoms die off in a couple hours. I’ve had it in smoothies as well with no relief. I actually like the taste but just don’t know how to integrate it.

    Also, I’ve been a strict vegetarian for 10 years, lacto-vegetarian for 3, and although I fully believe and support the positive health and environmental aspects of this lifestyle, I haven’t felt healthy, and strong since I’ve been here. It’s difficult not to listen when every healthcare provider, nutritionist, dietitian that I’ve seen recommends eating some meat and dairy and points to the lack of resulting in my health issues. Often feels like I’m being labeled as noncompliant patient.

    1. I have been using ginger for IBS about 3 weeks and I find it helps with pain.
      I was saddened to get the diagnosis of diagnosis for IBS but it isn’t caused by my Diet or food.
      On this New Year’s Day it will mark my 55 years without meat as a vegetarian. 20 years later, while reading John Robbins, I went vegan cold. Then in 2003, while reading John Fuhrman, I decided to adopt the more stricter Plant Based Lifestyle and felt better and healthier. My doctor still walks in the exam room and says “ you’re the healthiest person I know.” Maggie

  5. I grind a large piece of peeled ginger and place a 1/2 tsp + with a small piece of lemon in an ice cube tray with water. My cubes are ready for my morning hot water.

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