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Ginger and Thyroid Health

Published August 13 2018

Autoimmune conditions such as Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s involve inflammation, and there are many natural agents that can help to reduce inflammation.  Turmeric is one of the most well known herbs that can help with inflammation, and I’ve written a few articles and blog posts on the benefits of this herb.  But this article is dedicated to ginger, as this is another wonderful herb that can help to reduce inflammation, and therefore benefit people with autoimmune thyroid conditions, along with other inflammatory conditions.  In this article I’ll also discuss some of the other health benefits of ginger.

Ginger, also known as Zingiber officinale, has been used as an herbal remedy for thousands of years.  It is used in numerous forms, and while I love drinking ginger tea, ginger root can be cut into slices and added to a smoothie or other foods.  Just as is the case with other herbs, ginger can also be taken as a supplement in capsule or tablet form, or as an herbal tincture.  It can also be used as an essential oil [1], as some people will apply it to their skin, first diluting one or two drops in a carrier oil (i.e. coconut oil), while others will add a few drops to an essential oil diffuser.

Although ginger has many different health benefits, one of the main ones is helping to reduce inflammation, which as mentioned in the opening paragraph, is necessary when dealing with autoimmune thyroid conditions.  In fact, some studies have shown that the compounds in ginger have pharmacological properties that are similar to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Some of the main compounds of ginger include gingerols, shogaols, paradols, and zingerone (1) [2].

How Does Ginger Reduce Inflammation? 

As for how ginger can reduce inflammation, the compounds inhibit the synthesis of prostaglandins and leukotrienes by suppressing 5-lipoxygenase or prostaglandin synthetase (2) [3].  However, as I’ll discuss later in this article, the compounds in ginger can also inhibit proinflammatory cytokines [4], which are associated with autoimmune conditions, including Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s.

There are at least 115 constituents in fresh and dried ginger varieties, and ginger has been fractionated into the following 14 bioactive compounds (3) [5]:

The major pharmacological activity of ginger appears to be attributed to gingerols and shogaols.  Of these 14 bioactive compounds listed, 6-gingerol is the most well-studied bioactive compound of ginger.

Other Health Benefits of Ginger

Although ginger can greatly help to reduce inflammation, it has many other health benefits:

Nausea and vomiting.  Ginger is a popular natural treatment option for nausea and vomiting, especially when associated with pregnancy.  And while a number of different studies show that it can be effective (4) [6] (5) [7], a few studies show otherwise.  It seems to depend on the dosage of ginger used, as 1,000 mg of ginger per day is a common dosage used (5) [7].  However, some people have also used it in the form of an essential oil to help with nausea and vomiting.   In fact, one specific study looked at the effectiveness of aromatherapy with ginger essential oil on nausea and vomiting in abdominal surgery patients (6) [8].  The results of the study showed that nausea and vomiting scores were significantly lower in the experimental group that inhaled ginger essential oil.

Ginger can also potentially help with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.  One study showed that supplementing with 0.5 to 1 gram of ginger can significantly aid in the reduction of the severity of acute chemotherapy-induced nausea in adult cancer patients (7) [9].  Another study showed that ginger root powder was effective in reducing the severity of acute and delayed chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (8) [10].

Type 2 diabetes/metabolic syndrome.  In a double‐blind placebo-controlled trial involving 50 patients with type 2 diabetes, those who took 2,000 mg of ginger per day showed a significant reduction of fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1C when compared to a placebo group (9) [11].  A systematic review involving 10 studies showed that ginger had a significant beneficial effect on glucose control and insulin sensitivity (10) [12].  One study showed that using a ginger herbal spray reduced xerostomia (dry mouth) in type 2 diabetics (11) [13].

Cancer.  There is evidence that ginger has anticancer properties.  This is attributed to its ability to modulate several signaling molecules like NF-κB, STAT3, MAPK, PI3K, ERK1/2, Akt, TNF-α, COX-2, cyclin D1, cdk, MMP-9, survivin, cIAP-1, XIAP, Bcl-2, caspases, and other cell growth regulatory proteins (12) [14].  One in vitro study showed that 6-gingerol induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) of gastric cancer cells (13) [15].  The same study showed that 6-shogaol can reduce the viability of gastric cancer cells.

Another study looked at the effect of a ginger extract on ovarian cancer (14) [16].  The results showed that the ginger extract significantly inhibited cancer growth in ovarian cancer cell lines.  A few studies have shown that 6-gingerol has anti-tumor activities against pancreatic cancer (15) [17] (16) [18].  Other studies have shown that 6-gingerol suppresses colon cancer growth (17) [19] (18) [20].  While ginger root probably shouldn’t be used as the sole treatment option for cancer, it should be considered as an adjunct therapy.

Neurological disorders.  One review showed that ginger might be beneficial in age-related neurological disorders (19) [21].  It showed that the compounds of ginger can reduce the neurological symptoms of age-related neurological disorders by modulating cell death or cell survival signaling molecules.  Another study showed that 6-shogaol may be beneficial for preventive and therapeutic uses in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (20) [22].

Obesity.  A systematic review involving 27 journal articles looked at the anti-obesity and weight lowering effect of ginger (21) [23].  As for the mechanisms involved, the authors postulated that ginger could help people lose weight by increasing thermogenesis, increasing lipolysis, suppression of lipogenesis, inhibition of intestinal fat absorption, and controlling appetite.

How Can Ginger Benefit People With Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s?

Although you don’t commonly see ginger used as a treatment option in those with autoimmune conditions, here are three ways in which ginger can benefit people with Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s:

1. Decreasing proinflammatory cytokines and Th17 cells.  Some of the compounds in ginger, including gingerol and shogaol, can inhibit the synthesis of proinflammatory cytokines (22) [24] (23) [2], which are a factor in autoimmune conditions.  An increase in Th17 cells and IL-17 also occurs in autoimmune conditions.  Ginger has been shown to reduce these in autoimmune encephalomyelitis and multiple sclerosis (24) [25] (25) [26].  So while there are no studies showing that ginger can specifically help with Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s, this doesn’t mean that it can’t benefit people with these conditions.

2. Increasing glutathione levels.  I’ve written a few articles discussing the relationship between glutathione and thyroid autoimmunity.  Both Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s involve an increase in oxidative stress, and having healthy glutathione [27]levels can help to reduce oxidative stress.  While nutrients such as selenium and magnesium can increase glutathione levels, ginger can also help with this (26) [28] (27) [29].

3. Improving the health of the gut.  Ginger can help to improve gastrointestinal health (28) [30].  And many people reading this know that you need to have a healthy gut in order to have a healthy immune system.  Obviously I’m not suggesting that ginger alone will be the solution if someone has a leaky gut due to a gut infection [31] or consuming gluten, but it can be one factor that supports gastrointestinal health.

Safety and Contraindications of Ginger

Overall ginger is recognized as being safe, even by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  There are studies in which rats were fed high doses of ginger for 35 days and didn’t experience any mortalities, or abnormalities in behavior, growth, or food and water consumption (29) [32].  Ginger is also considered to be safe in pregnancy, and one study looked at the safety and effectiveness of ginger for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (30) [33].  The results of the study suggested that ginger didn’t appear to increase the rates of major malformations.

It should be noted that any herb can induce an allergic reaction, and this includes ginger.  In addition, ginger has anticoagulant effects, which means that it can reduce blood clotting.  As a result, those taking medications that reduce blood clotting (i.e. warfarin) should be cautious about taking ginger.  That being said, one study I came across looked at the interactions of warfarin with a few different herbs, including ginger, and it showed that evidence is lacking for an interaction of warfarin with ginger (31) [34].

In summary, ginger is a wonderful herb that has many different health benefits.  It can benefit those with Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s by decreasing proinflammatory cytokines and Th17 cells, by increasing glutathione levels, and improving the health of the gut.  Some of the other health conditions ginger can help with include nausea and vomiting, type 2 diabetes, cancer, neurological disorders, and obesity.  Overall ginger is considered to be safe, even in pregnancy, although it’s possible to be allergic to ginger (or any other herb), and those who take warfarin or other medications that reduce blood clotting might be cautious about taking ginger.