Using Ginger to Ease Arthritis Symptoms

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) may help treat symptoms associated with osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Research shows that phytochemicals in ginger—including gingerol, shogoal, and zingerone—have anti-inflammatory properties that may help relieve arthritis joint pain and inflammation. In fact, lab studies show that these compounds inhibit several of the very same targets as arthritis medications. 

A tropical plant with green-purple flowers, ginger's aromatic root has been used for centuries in folk medicine to relieve pain and ease nausea. The spice is also commonly used in Asian and Caribbean cuisine.

Ginger capsules, powder, tea, extract, tinctures

 Verywell / Anastasiia Tretiak

Benefits for Osteoarthritis (OA)

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 the 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 pro-inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin-1-beta (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 that self-massaging the knee with ginger oil helped relieve pain better than plain massage oil.

Benefits for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

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 that 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 regulate inflammatory genes.

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

Further research suggests ginger paired with turmeric may actually protect against damage 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.

Besides TNF and IL-1b, ginger can have a therapeutic effect on cyclooxygenase (COX) and nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NFkB)—additional inflammation mediators.

Ginger powder

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

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 four cups of ginger tea daily.

If you would like to try applying ginger essential oil directly into affected joints, add two to three drops into a tablespoon of a carrier massage oil and rub it on the area twice a week.

You can benefit from the medicinal properties of ginger by adding it to recipes as well. Some research even suggests it may work better in the whole-food form. However, it's harder to get a consistent therapeutic dose when you use ginger as an ingredient rather than taking it medicinally.

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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