Ginger Is a Dietary Supplement Used for Arthritis

Ginger (Zingiber officinale), a spice common in Asian and Caribbean cuisine, may help to relieve pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis OA). A tropical plant with green-purple flowers, ginger's aromatic root has been used for centuries in folk medicine to ease nausea and relieve pain.

Research shows phytochemicals in ginger—including gingerol, shogoal, and zingerone—have anti-inflammatory properties that may bring relief from arthritis symptoms of joint pain and inflammation.

In laboratory studies, these compounds were shown to inhibit several therapeutic targets of anti-arthritis medications, including cyclooxygenase (COX), tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-1-beta (IL-1b), and nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NFkB). 

Ginger capsules, powder, tea, extract, tinctures
 Verywell / Anastasiia Tretiak

How Ginger Helps Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly attacks synovial tissue and fluid in the joints, resulting in inflammation and pain in affected joints. Compounds in ginger have been shown to play a potential therapeutic role in its treatment.

In in vitro studies, ginger extract was found to reduced the inflammatory reactions in synovial cells as well as the corticosteroid Celestone (betamethasone). The research also indicates ginger is potentially more effective at reducing inflammation than ibuprofen.

Ginger appears to reduce RA-related inflammation by altering gene expression. Laboratory studies isolated a compound in ginger known as 1-dehydro-(10) gingerdione, which helps to regulate inflammatory genes.

A 2019 clinical trial found ginger increases the expression of anti-inflammatory genes while decreasing pro-inflammatory gene expression in people with RA.

Further research suggests ginger when paired with turmeric may actually protect against damaged caused by the autoimmune response in RA. In animal studies, the spice combo was found to have a protective effect not only on joints, but also on the heart, lungs, and kidneys—common extra-articular complications in rheumatoid diseases.

How Ginger Helps Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a painful joint condition caused by wear and tear of cartilage, the protective tissue around joints. While this degenerative damage can occur in any joint, it commonly affects joints in your hands, knees, hips, and spine.

Anti-inflammatory phytochemicals in ginger can relieve pain and swelling associated with OA. A three-month clinical trial involving 120 people with knee osteoarthritis found ginger supplements help to decrease proinflammatory cytokines TFN and IL-1b.

Combining ginger with echinacea may boost its pain-relieving properties, according to a small study published in the journal Natural Products Research. The study gave 15 people with chronic OA knee pain who did not respond to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the herbal combo for 30 days. At the end of the study, patients reported significant reductions in pain based on pain rating scales. 

Ginger may also be effective as a topical pain reliever. A 2017 study of 68 people with OA of the knee found ginger oil used in self-massage of the knee helped to relieve pain better than massage oil alone.

Dosage and Preparations

As a dietary supplement, ginger is available as a powder, extract, tincture, capsules, tea, and oils. The recommended dose is up to 2 grams in three divided doses per day, or up to 4 cups of ginger tea daily.

Ginger essential oil can also provide relief when massaged directly into affected joints. Add two to three drops of ginger essential oil into a tablespoon of massage oil and rub on painful joints twice a week.

Side Effects

When used as a spice, ginger is generally regarded as safe. Most people do not experience side effects when ginger is taken in small doses. However, some people may experience:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea

Precautions and Warnings 

Although there are no confirmed drug interactions with ginger, research suggests its mechanism of action may interact with blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin). It is advised to avoid ginger supplements while taking blood thinners.

Do not use ginger supplements if you have gallstones.

Before taking ginger supplements, talk to your doctor to make sure it is right for you. Make sure you tell your doctor about all of the prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements you take.

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