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Ginger Powder as a Pain-Killer

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There have been at least eight randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of ginger for pain.

You may recall that I previously researched the use of spinach for athletic performance and recovery, which was attributed to its “anti-inflammatory effects.” However, most athletes don’t use spinach to fight inflammation; They use drugs, typically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, which is used by up to 95 percent of college athletes and three-quarters of kids who play high school football. They use it not only for inflammation, but also prophylactically “before physical activity to prevent pain and inflammation before they develop. However, scientific evidence supporting this approach is currently lacking and athletes should be aware of the potential risks of using NSAIDs as a prophylactic agent, which include gastrointestinal pain and bleeding, kidney damage and liver damage.

There was one study in particular that freaked everyone out: A study of thousands of marathon runners found that those who took over-the-counter pain relievers before the race were five times more likely to experience organ damage. Nine were hospitalized – three with kidney failure after taking ibuprofen, four with gastrointestinal bleeding after taking aspirin and two with heart attacks, also after taking aspirin. In contrast, none of the control group ended up in the hospital. No painkillers, no hospital. Also, the analgesics didn’t even work. “Analysis of pain reported by respondents before and after the race showed no significant identifiable benefits” of taking the medication, so there seemed to be only downsides.

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How about ginger instead? That’s the subject of my video Ground ginger to relieve muscle pain. In this marathon study, as you can see below and at 1:33 in mine Video, the most common side effect of taking the medication was gastrointestinal cramps. Ginger can actually improve gastrointestinal function, unlike aspirin or ibuprofen-type drugs. For example, endurance athletes can experience nausea, and ginger is valued for its anti-nausea properties.

Okay, but does it work for muscle pain?

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There have been at least eight randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of ginger for pain — for everything from osteoarthritis to irritable bowel syndrome to painful periods. I’ve made videos about all of these and their use for migraine headaches. Overall, ginger extracts, like the powdered ginger spice you would get at any grocery store, have been found to be “clinically effective” pain relievers with “a better safety profile than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.” As you can see below and at 2:22 in my VideoGinger worked better in some studies than others, which “may be due, at least in part, to the strong dose-response relationship [was] identified and the wide range of doses used in the analyzed studies (60-2000 mg extract/day).”

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In terms of pain relief, as you can see below and at 2:32 in my Videobest results have been achieved with one and a half or two grams per day, which is equivalent to a full teaspoon of ground ginger.

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The drugs work by suppressing an enzyme in the body called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) that triggers inflammation. The problem is that they also suppress cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1), which does good things like protecting the lining of the stomach and intestines. “Since inhibition of COX-1 is associated with gastrointestinal irritation, selectively inhibiting “COX-2” — the inflammatory enzyme — “should help minimize this side effect” and offer the best of both worlds. And that’s exactly what ginger seems to do. As you can see below and at 3:11 in my VideoTwo ginger compounds had no effect against COX-1, the “good” enzyme, but could drastically reduce COX-2, the pro-inflammatory enzyme.

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Okay, but does ginger help with muscle pain? Apparently not acute. You can’t just take it like a drug. When people were given a teaspoon of ginger before a ride, there was no difference in leg muscle pain over the 30 minutes, as you can see below and at 3:34 in my Video. “However, ginger may attenuate the daily progression of muscle pain.” Taking ginger for five consecutive days appears to “accelerate recovery of maximum strength after high exertion…[weight-lifting] Exercise protocol.” If you pull all the studies together, it appears that “a single dose of ginger has little to no discernible effect on muscle pain,” but if you take a teaspoon or two for a few days or weeks, perhaps in a pumpkin smoothie or something, you may be able to relieve muscle pain and soreness and “speed up muscle strength recovery…”

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Is fresh ginger preferable to powder? Maybe not. As you can see below and at 4:12 in my VideoThere are all sorts of compounds in ginger with creative names like gingerols, gingerdiols, and gingerdione, but perhaps the most powerful anti-inflammatory component is a compound called shogaole.

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Interestingly, dried ginger contains more than fresh ginger, which “justifies the use of dried ginger in traditional medicinal systems to treat various diseases due to oxidative stress and inflammation.” In that case, why not just put the extracted shogaol component in a pill? As you can see below and at 4:41 in my VideoEach of the active ingredients in ginger individually reduces inflammation, some more so than others, but the whole ginger is greater than the sum of its parts.

However, you can increase the shogaol content of whole ginger by drying it, as these are the main gingerol dehydration products. In fact, they are formed when ginger is dried. Heating ginger can increase the shogaol concentration even more, so might heated ginger work better for pain than raw? You don’t know until you put it to the test. One study looked at the effects of a teaspoon of raw ginger on muscle pain for 11 days compared to ginger cooked for three hours. As you can see below and at 5:22 in my Video, there was a significant reduction in muscle soreness one day after iron pumping in the cooked ginger group—and the same benefit was seen with the raw ginger. Anyhow, “daily consumption of raw and heat-treated ginger resulted in a moderate to strong reduction in muscle pain after exertion-induced muscle injury.”

Here is the link to the video I mentioned: Flashback Friday: Foods to Improve Athletic Performance and Recovery.

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