GINGER : ITS ROLE IN XENOBIOTIC METABOLISM
Plant derived products have been used for medicinal
yellow streaked with purple colour. Ginger is cultivated
purposes for centuries. At present, it is estimated that
in areas of abundant rainfall. Even though it is native to
about 80% of the world population relies on botanical
southern Asia, ginger is cultivated in tropical areas also
preparations as medicines to meet their health needs.
such as Jamaica, China, Nigeria and Haiti. It is an
Herbs and spices are generally considered safe and
important spice crop in India. About 9000 metric ton
proved to be effective against certain ailments. They
(MT) of ginger valued at 4.5 crores was exported in 2001.
It is mainly cultivated in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu
are also extensively used, particularly, in many Asian,
and North Eastern states.
African and other countries. In recent years, in view of
their beneficial effects, use of spices/herbs has been
In Sanskrit, ginger is known as Sringavera which
gradually increasing in developed countries also. Spices
has given way to Zingiberi in Greek and to the Latin
and herbs are widely used in phytotherapy, which is
Zingiber. Ginger has been used as medicine from vedic
using plants and their chemical constituents to eliminate
period and is called “maha aushadhi”, means the great
certain health problems. This form of treatment is common
medicine. In traditional medicine, it was used as a
in Europe. Among these, Germany holds the largest share
carminative or antiflatulent. The Greek physician Galen
(49%). Italy, France and UK hold 10% each; Spain,
used ginger as a purificant of body. He used ginger to
Netherlands, Belgium 2% each and remaining 15% rest
treat conditions caused by imbalances in body1.
of Europe. About one third of the US adults use herbal
remedies. In traditional Indian medicine or Ayurveda,
ginger and many other spices have been used as
Fresh ginger contains 80.9% moisture, 2.3% protein,
0.9% fat, 1.2% minerals, 2.4% fibre and 12.3%
carbohydrates. The minerals present in ginger are iron,
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) belongs to Zingiberaceae
calcium and phosphorous. It also contains vitamins such
family. The part of the plant used is rhizome. The plant
as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C. The
produces an orchid like flower with petals that are greenish
composition varies with the type, variety, agronomic
conditions, curing methods, drying and storage
like biscuits, pickles and confectionaries. It is extensively
used in preparation of dietaries for its aroma and flavour.
Dry ginger is used in the manufacture of oil, oleoresin,
essence and processed meat10,11.
In the fresh ginger rhizome, the gingerols were
identified as the major active components and 
gingerol [5-hydroxy-1-(4-hydroxy-3-methoxy phenyl)
Effects on the gastrointestinal tract
decan-3-one is the most abundant constituent in the
gingerol series. The powdered rhizome contains 3-6%
The active components of ginger is reported to
fatty oil, 9% protein, 60-70% carbohydrates, 3-8% crude
stimulate digestion, absorption, relieve constipation and
fiber, about 8% ash, 9-12% water and 2-3% volatile oil.
flatulence by increasing muscular activity in the
The volatile oil consists of mainly mono and sesquiter–
digestive tract. The effectiveness of ginger (940 mg)
penes; camphene, beta-phellandrene, curcumene,
in motion sickness was compared to that of
cineole, geranyl acetate, terphineol, terpenes, borneol,
dimenhydrinate (100 mg) in 18 male and 18 female
geraniol, limonene, linalool, alpha-zingiberene (30-70%),
college students, who were self rated as having extreme
beta-sesquiphellandrene (15-20%), beta-bisabolene (10-
or very high susceptibility to motion sickness12,13. The
15%) and alpha-farmesene. In dried ginger powder,
study concluded that ginger was superior to
shogaol a dehydrated product of gingerol, is a
dimenhydrinate in preventing motion sickness. Ginger
predominant pungent constituent upto biosynthesis3-5.
administration (1g) prior to elective gynaecologic
Oleoresin, which is isolated by acetone and ethanol
laparoscopy was also found to be effective in preventing
extraction, contains 4-7.5% of dried powder, pungent
postoperative nausea and vomiting. The effect of ginger
substances namely gingerol, shogaol, zingerone and
was similar to that observed with 100 mg
paradol. The oleoresin has also been found to contain
metoclopramide. In addition, a double blind study in
zingiberol, the principal aroma contributing component
27 pregnant women suffering from morning sickness
as well as zingiberene, gingediol, diarylheptanoids,
demonstrated that oral administration of 250 mg of
vitamins and phytosterols.
powdered ginger 4 times daily over 4 days significantly
reduced symptoms of nausea and vomiting14-16.
Ginger in Traditional Use
Ginger is an essential ingredient in many traditional
Chinese medicines and has been used since the 4th
Some of the characteristic features of rheumatic
century BC. Africans and West Indians also use ginger
diseases are polyarthritis with inflammation, swelling,
medicinally and the Greeks and Romans use it as spice6.
and pain accompanied by impaired mobility or even
The Chinese take ginger for a wide variety of medical
total loss of function of affected areas17. The condition
problems such as stomachache, diarrhoea, nausea,
cholera, asthma, heart conditions, respiratory disorders,
is treated using medicines like corticosteroids or
toothache and rheumatic complaints7. In Ayurveda,
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs
ginger has been recommended for use as carminative,
sometimes produce undesirable side effects. One of
diaphoretic, antispasmodic, expectorant, peripheral
the features of inflammation is increased oxygenation
circulatory stimulant, astringent, appetite stimulant, anti-
of arachidonic acid which results in the production of
inflammatory agent, diuretic and digestive aid8. In United
prostaglandins and leukotrienes18. In Ayurveda, ginger
States, ginger is recommended to relieve and prevent
is reported to be useful in treating inflammation and
nausea caused by motion sickness and morning
rheumatism. One of the mechanisms by which ginger
exerts its ameliorative effects could be related to inhibition
of prostaglandin and leukotriene biosynthesis19.
Ginger in Foods
A study conducted in Denmark revealed that an
Ginger is an indispensable component of curry
average intake of 5 g of fresh ginger or 0.5 to 1 g
powder, sauces, ginger bread and ginger flavoured
powdered ginger reduced pain, swelling, morning
carbonated drinks. It is also used in some products
stiffness in patients suffering from arthritis. None had
side effects due to ginger intake. In another study,
administration of ginger for at least 3 months in patients
with rheumatoid arthritis (n=28), osteoarthritis (n=18)
The ginger has been listed in “Generally Recognised
and muscular complaints (n=10) produced ameliorative
as Safe” (GRAS) document of the US FDA. A dose of
effect in all with no side effects20.
0.5 – 1.0 g of ginger powder ingested 2-3 times for periods
ranging from 3 months to 2.5 years did not cause any
Ginger has strong antibacterial and to some extent
antifungal properties. In vitro studies have shown that
active constituents of ginger inhibit multiplication of
Both the nutritive and the non nutritive components
colon bacteria. These bacteria ferment undigested
of the diet play a significant role in the inhibition of
carbohydrates causing flatulence. This can be
carcinogenic process. The non-nutritive constituents
counteracted with ginger. It inhibits the growth of
exert their anticarcinogenic effect by various mechanisms
Escherichia coli, Proteus sp, Staphylococci, Strepto–
viz. (i) by virtue of their antioxidant property;
cocci and Salmonella21,22. The ginger extract has
(ii) deactivating the carcinogens; or (iii) enhancing the
antimicrobial action at levels equivalent to 2000 mg/
tissue levels of protective enzymes in the body. Toxic
ml of the spice. Ginger inhibits aspergillus, a fungus
metabolites of harmful drugs and chemicals are
known for production of aflatoxin, a carcinogen23,24.
detoxified by the body’s defense system.
Fresh ginger juice showed inhibitory action against
Phytochemicals in spices like turmeric, mustard and
A .niger, S.cerevisiae, Mycoderma SPP. and
allium vegetables may act in more than one way to
L. acidophilus at 4, 10, 12 and 14% respectively at
confer their beneficial effect38.
Studies conducted at the National Institute of
Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad showed that some of the
Effects on cardiovascular system
spices/vegetables stimulate, specifically, the levels of
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginger is used to
glutathione-s-transferases (GST), a group of enzymes
improve the flow of body fluids. It stimulates blood
which are known as cellular detoxification enzymes.
There is a high correlation between the induction of
circulation throughout the body by powerful stimulatory
these enzymes and inhibition of carcinogenesis.
effect on the heart muscle and by diluting blood26. The
improved circulation is believed to increase the cellular
Since ginger has the potential to inhibit chronic
metabolic activity, thus contributing to the relief of cramps
inflammation and arachidonic acid metabolism coupled
and tension27. A Japanese study showed that active
with antioxidant property, studies were undertaken to
constituents in ginger reduced the blood pressure and
evaluate the stimulation in drug metabolizing enzyme
decreased cardiac workload28. Ginger reduced the
levels in rats, fed ginger through diet.
formation of proinflammatory prostaglandins and
thromboxane thus lowering the clotting ability of the
Wistar/NIN rats aged 8-10 weeks were divided into
blood29. The inhibition of platelet aggregation by ginger
4 groups of six rats per group. Ginger powder was fed
is more than the similar effects observed with garlic
at 0.5, 1 and 5% levels for one month. The fourth group
and onion30-32. Ginger can prevent the increase in
was maintained as control without ginger feeding. The
cholesterol levels following intake of cholesterol-rich
food intake of the animals was recorded every week
diet33. Ginger is also known to possess antioxidant
throughout the study. The body weights of the animals
were recorded at the beginning and end of the
experiment. After one month of feeding, the animals
Use in migraine
were sacrificed and liver, kidney, lung and intestine were
collected, processed and levels of drug metabolising
Ginger powder (500-600 mg) taken at the onset of
enzymes measured. At all levels of ginger feeding (0.5,
migraine aura, followed by 4 hourly intake for 3-4 days,
1 and 5%) stimulation of GST activity was seen in liver
is reported to provide relief from migraine attacks37.
and lungs whereas in intestine and kidney, a significant
increase was observed at 1 and 5% level of ginger
and intestine tissues (Fig. 3). There was almost no
feeding (Figs.1 & 2).
difference in the levels of arylhydrocarbon hydroxylase
(AHH) in treated and control groups of rats showing
thereby that ginger feeding does not stimulate
Values bearing different superscripts are significant (P<0.05)
Duncan’s multiple range test
CDNB: 2-Chloro dinitro benzene
Fig.1. Effect of ginger on GST activity in rat hepatic cytosol.
Fig.3. Effect of ginger on UDPGT activity in rat tissue microsomes
Values bearing different superscripts are significant (P<0.05)
Duncan’s multiple range test
CDNB: 2-Chloro dinitro benzene
Fig.2. Effect of ginger on GST activity in rat tissue cytosol
Fig.4. Effect of ginger on AHH activity in rat tissue microsomes
There was some increase (though statisticalliy non
carcinogen metabolism (Fig.4). Significant stimulation
significant) in the activity of uridine diphospho–
in liver quinone reductase (QR) was noted with 1 and
glucuronyl transferase (UDPGT) in liver, lung, kidney
5% ginger feeding compared to control. In lungs,
significant increase was observed in only 5% ginger
beneficial effects. Fortunately, even long term
fed group (Fig. 5).
consumption of these substances is not known to produce
any side effects.
Ginger has been used extensively in folklore medicine
to treat common ailments. Now scientific evidences in
favour of some of these beneficial properties are emerging
which would support their consumption and use to
ameliorate certain disorders. Observations from studies
on animals suggest that ginger has the ability to stimulate
protective enzymes involved in xenobiotic metabolism.
Thus, diets rich in some of these phytochemicals can
play a major role in providing protection from xenobiotics.
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Fig.5. Effect of ginger on quinone reductase activity in rat tissue
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Kiuchi, F., Shibuya, M. and Sankawa, V. Inhibitors of
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This write-up has been contributed by Dr. Kalpagam
Y. Cardiotonic principle of ginger (Zinigiber officinale
Polasa, Deputy Director and Mrs.K.Nirmala, Technical
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Officer, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad.
Dr. N.K. Ganguly
Dr. N. Medappa
Dr. Padam Singh
Dr. Lalit Kant
Dr. Bela Shah
Dr. V.K. Srivastava
Dr. V. Muthuswamy
Sh. N.C. Saxena
Printed and Published by Shri J.N. Mathur for the Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi
at the ICMR Offset Press, New Delhi-110 029