With common colds and influenza rampant, we need all the antiviral help we can get. Ginger root’s antiviral prowess is not just real: It has been proven out in the research.
This comes in addition to ginger’s centuries-long reputation for treating a number of medical conditions.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has also been used in traditional medicines around the world to reduce pain and fever. I discussed research showing that ginger matches NSAIDs for reducing pain.
Now we can add to these the use of ginger for fighting viruses of different kinds, including colds and flu. But how about other viruses such as H1N1, herpes and human respiratory syncytial viruses? Let’s take a quick look at the science.
Ginger inhibits Norwalk virus surrogate
In a 2016 study, researchers from the University of Minnesota tested ginger against a surrogate for the human norovirus, feline calicivirus. This is a surrogate because calicivirus is a type of Norwalk virus.
The researchers tested ginger along with cloves, fenugreek seeds, garlic, onion, and jalapeño peppers. The researchers found that the ginger extract significantly inhibited the calicivirus. They also found that ginger inactivated the calicivirus in a dose-dependent manner. Dose-dependency confirms ginger’s specific antiviral potency.
In addition to the ginger extracts, the clove extracts also inhibited the calicivirus.
Ginger inhibits human respiratory syncytial virus
Human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of the most common contagious virus infections that occur in children. Symptoms include fever, stuffy nose wheezing and runny nose. Many RSV illnesses are confused with the common cold. However a bout of RSV will typically last for longer, and will typically include wheezing. In younger children this can turn fatal.
Medical researchers from the College of Medicine at Kaohsiung Medical University determined that fresh ginger is an effective treatment against human respiratory syncytial virus.
The researchers tested both fresh and dried ginger against RSV-infected human liver and lung cells. They found that the fresh ginger inhibited the attachment of the virus on to the cells. They also found ginger stimulated the INF-beta secretions that help counteract viral infections among the cells of the mucous membranes.
The inhibition of the virus occurred more readily among the alveolar (lung) cells – illustrating the potential for the ginger to inhibit RSV infections of the lungs.
Notably the researchers found that dried ginger did not have the same effectiveness upon the virus as the fresh ginger had. This indicates that some of the antiviral constituents of fresh ginger are lost during drying process.
Ginger fights influenza A
Researchers from Japan’s Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University tested ginger against an influenza A strain in the laboratory. They found that the ginger extract stimulated the production of TNF-alpha expression by the immune system. This provided the means for the ginger to inhibit replication of the virus.
Researchers from India’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences also studied ginger along with other natural compounds for inhibiting H1N1 influenza A. They found ginger’s allicin content helped inhibit the virus by interacting with its binding capacity.
Ginger versus the common cold
As mentioned, ginger has been a go-to remedy among traditional medicine for centuries. This has been supported by modern research as well. In 2015, researchers from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities tested a product called Phytorelief-CC. This contains a combination of Turmeric, Pomegranate and Ginger.
The researchers followed 124 people, half of whom took the combination when they had initial symptoms. The researchers found 27 percent of the group that took things other than the ginger had a full cold episode, while only 8 percent of those who took the ginger combination got colds. This means about a third of the colds.
Researchers from the UK’s Wellcome Research Laboratories tested ginger root against rhinovirus (common cold virus) in the laboratory. They found the ginger extracts inhibited rhinovirus. The most active antiviral components of the ginger extracts according to the researchers were the sesquiterpenes.
Ginger versus herpes
Researchers from Germany’s University of Heidelberg studied essential oils from various herbs against herpes simplex virus type 2. Other than ginger, these included anise, hyssop, thyme, chamomile and sandalwood. The researchers found that the ginger essential oil significantly inhibited the HSV-2 virus replication within RC-37 cells. The researchers found that plaque formation was halted by 90 percent by the ginger essential oils and the thyme oil.
The researchers tested this inhibitory effect at different stages of infection, and concluded that the ginger essential oil somehow interacted with the viral envelope.
Another study from the University of Heidelberg studied herpes simplex-1 against oils of ginger, thyme, hyssop, and sandalwood. The research found that all of these oils inhibited HSV-1 growth. Furthermore, they inhibited the growth of acyclovir-resistant strains of HSV-1. That means ginger can inhibit antiviral-resistant strains of herpes.
A 2014 study tested 102 HIV-positive patients who were taking antiretroviral medication. Most of them were experiencing nausea and vomiting from the therapy. The researchers found that 500 milligrams of ginger twice a day significantly reduced their vomiting and nausea.
Whether this was due to the antiviral potency of ginger or simply its beneficial gastrointestinal effect is not known.
How to consume medicinal ginger
Fresh ginger can be consumed with foods, herbal tea, or blended into a smoothie. If adding to an herbal tea it should be put into the cup last – right before drinking if possible. Ginger can also be squeezed into fresh ginger juice, which may then be blended with water or fruit juice. Ayurvedic traditionalists have often suggested simply chewing fresh ginger root raw when sick.
Mu tea is one of the most famous and easily made cold and flu remedies. Mu tea is made by brewing up some ginger tea (steep ginger root in water after being brought to a boil). Then add some raw honey and fresh-squeezed lemon to the herba cuppa.
The research above indicates that using ginger essential oils is also a good strategy for fighting viral infections. A few drops of ginger essential oil can be used topically and internally. A very small test dose should precede consumption.
It should be noted that the ginger candies are not only made from dried ginger, but are typically blended with sugar which practically counteracts ginger’s benefits – as refined sugar tends to feed pathogens and inhibit immune response.
In addition to the sesquiterpenes found in the rhinovirus research, antiviral components in ginger include allicin, alliin and ajoene. Other research has determined that fresh ginger contains upwards of 477 different constituents. This of course includes many polyphenols and flavonoids that have shown anti-viral properties – many of which are also heat sensitive.
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Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.