Health Benefits of Turmeric & Ginger
Pictured: Anti-Inflammatory Golden Tonic
Turmeric and ginger have been consumed for centuries and, over time, they have built up quite the reputation for being super healthy. We have all the details about what they are, their health benefits and how you can start eating more of them today.
What Are Turmeric and Ginger?
Turmeric and ginger have been consumed for thousands of years. According to the National Library of Medicine, ginger has its origins in ancient China and India, where it was used as both a spice and a medicine. It was long considered an herbal remedy for motion sickness, nausea, pain and digestive distress. From there, it spread throughout Asia and on to Europe and is now a household staple for many.
Turmeric has also been historically grown in southeast Asia, with India still being the primary producer. Both foods come from the part of the plant called the rhizome, a stem that grows underground and produces shoots off its sides, similar to a root system. Both plants grow beautiful flowers above the ground when they are ready to be harvested.
Pictured: Soothing Ginger-Lemon Tea
Health Benefits of Turmeric and Ginger
As was hypothesized by traditional Chinese medicine, turmeric and ginger can have pain-relieving effects for a variety of ailments. Curcumin, the superstar anti-inflammatory compound in turmeric, has been found to help relieve the symptoms of painful inflammatory diseases, like arthritis and colitis. For example, according to a 2021 review in Pharmaceutics, ginger seems to have a delayed therapeutic action, so it can be used for chronic pain—but might not be helpful for more acute pain, like from a headache. This same review noted that turmeric was shown to improve the quality of life and decrease pain in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Ginger and turmeric are both excellent sources of protective compounds. The antioxidants found in ginger may help prevent heart disease and cancer, especially when paired with garlic. Turmeric packs even more of an antioxidant punch. One 2017 review in Antioxidants found that turmeric may have close to seven times more antioxidants than ginger. There are several ways to assess antioxidant capacity, and each yields slightly different results. However, both turmeric and ginger are regarded as some of the most antioxidant-rich spices out there. To take it a step further, pair them with some of the top antioxidant-rich foods.
Individually, ginger and turmeric both have impressive anti-inflammatory benefits. The compound in ginger, called gingerol, is responsible for its pungent flavor and many of its protective properties. There are several types of gingerol and other compounds in ginger that have been found to improve inflammatory conditions from a common cold to inflammatory bowel disease. A 2022 study in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that a compound in ginger called 6-shogaol was responsible for inhibiting inflammation in the cells of blood vessels.
Being from the same family of plants, turmeric is no exception. Curcumin is, again, center-stage when it comes to anti-inflammation. A 2021 review in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture cites study after study that shows all the various benefits of curcumin, including its amazing anti-inflammatory properties.
Like many classic food pairings, ginger and turmeric truly are better together. A 2022 study in the journal Molecules goes into depth about how the chemical compounds in both ginger and turmeric work to reduce inflammation in the body. These study authors state that because inflammation is a major contributing factor in many chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, they recommend combining ginger and turmeric for maximal benefits.
Along with protecting your brain and muscles, these tuberous roots can help keep your heart healthy. High blood pressure can occur when plaque and platelets get stuck in your blood vessels. This increases the stress on your heart when it pumps blood, which increases your blood pressure.
Ginger has been found to lower blood pressure, according to a 2019 meta-analysis in Phytotherapy Research. When taken long-term, turmeric can also have blood pressure-lowering effects, per a 2019 review in Pharmacological Research. And both ginger and turmeric may lower cholesterol, as well, according to a 2017 meta-analysis in Nutrition Journal.
Related: Healthy Ginger Recipes
The journal JCO Global Oncology published a 2018 study analyzing which spices may play a role in preventing cancer. Ginger and turmeric quickly came to the top of the list. They both block the formation of the known carcinogens nitroamines and nitroamides. These are the same compounds that caused people to become suspicious of nitrites in cured meats. Turmeric apparently boasts some additional benefits for smokers as well. The root helped cigarette smokers excrete the carcinogenic compounds that were dangerous to their health while also increasing protective compounds, like antioxidants, in the body. In light of all of the research about environmental toxins, fresh herbs and spices are a great protective addition to your plate.
Ginger is a well-known home remedy for nausea, but how does the science stack up? Several studies have looked at why ginger soothes an upset stomach, and the consensus is that, in short, it works. Gingerol, the antioxidant compound in ginger, communicates with the serotonin (aka the "feel good" chemical) receptors in your brain to help relieve discomfort. This can have therapeutic implications for pregnant women and people on chemotherapy. For example, in a 2022 review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that pregnant females who took ginger were 7.5 times less likely to experience nausea compared to those who took a placebo. In this same review, ginger also seemed to lower the likelihood of vomiting for people going through chemotherapy.
Check Out: Healthy Turmeric Recipes
Ginger is often recommended for a common cold, and the science is there to back it up, per a 2020 review in the International Journal of Health Sciences. A 2018 study in International Immunopharmacology found that the same compounds that give turmeric its anti-inflammatory benefits may protect you from influenza and pneumonia. And a 2020 study in the Journal of General Virology used curcumin against a gastrointestinal virus and found that it killed the virus. It may be worth brewing some ginger-turmeric tea the next time you are feeling under the weather.
Pictured: Turmeric-Ginger Tahini Dip
How to Use Turmeric and Ginger
Both turmeric and ginger can be found in many grocery stores, sold as a whole root or powder. The powder has a longer shelf life than the whole roots. If you opt for the whole roots, store them in a dry, dark place, such as a brown paper bag. You can look at their origins to see why their flavors are prominent in several kinds of Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine. In fact, turmeric and ginger are both main ingredients in several kinds of curry powder.
Turmeric and ginger are staple flavors for stir-fries, curries, stews, teas and much more. Both also make flavorful, tangy additions to smoothies and juices. Just make sure to peel them both before using. Turmeric is more brightly colored but milder in flavor than ginger. For this reason, turmeric should be used in larger amounts, and pungent, spicy ginger should be used more sparingly.
Of note, curcumin is difficult for our bodies to absorb on its own. Thankfully, it becomes 2,000 times better absorbed when paired with black pepper, according to a 2017 review in Foods—so be sure to add a dash of pepper to your curries or golden milk.
The Bottom Line
Turmeric and ginger offer numerous benefits. They are yummy on their own but also make a delicious culinary pairing—and may even boast some synergistic health benefits. From supporting immunity to relieving pain, there are several reasons to mix turmeric and ginger into your foods. Just remember to add black pepper to your turmeric-containing dishes to dramatically boost your body's curcumin-absorbing abilities.