Surprising Mental Health Benefits of Ginger

Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC | Written by Deane Alban

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Ginger benefits brain aging and inflammation, memory, attention, anxiety, depression, and more. Learn how to best use ginger as a food or supplement.

Ginger is an herb that’s remarkably versatile, both as a culinary spice and as a natural remedy.

It’s most commonly used as a digestive aid, but offers a number of little-known benefits for the brain as well.

Here’s a look at the many mental health benefits of ginger and how to get the most therapeutic value from this potent herb.

Traditional Uses for Ginger

Ginger is one of the oldest and most widely used culinary spices in the world.

It comes from the rhizome (botanically similar to a root) of a flowering plant native to China (Zingiber officinale), but can be grown anywhere the climate is warm and humid.

Most ginger root now comes from India. (1)

Ginger has been used for over 5,000 years as a medicinal herb in both traditional Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic healing practices. (2)

Its top traditional use is for treating digestive disorders of all kinds, but it is also used to treat colds, arthritis, migraines, and hypertension. (3)

How Ginger Works: An Overview

Science is now beginning to understand how ginger works as a natural remedy.

So far, more than 100 compounds have been identified in ginger. (4)

At least 50 of these are antioxidants. (5)

Antioxidants are particularly important for the brain since it’s highly susceptible to oxidative damage.

Ginger is anti-inflammatory, which makes it a popular remedy for treating the inflammation of arthritis.

" Ginger improves memory and attention, acts as a natural antidepressant, and calms anxiety.

This anti-inflammatory property is also important for brain health and function, since many brain disorders are linked to chronic inflammation of the brain: (6, 7, 8, 9)

  • anxiety
  • Alzheimer’s
  • dementia
  • depression
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • suicidality

Ginger’s anti-inflammatory effects on the brain are attributed mainly to two unique compounds, 10-gingerol and 6-shogaol. (10, 11)

Ginger increases blood flow to the brain. (12)

Adequate blood flow is vital because it delivers nutrients to the brain and removes metabolic waste, toxins, and other debris.

Ginger can improve vagus nerve health and function.

The vagus nerve is the major facilitator of the mind-body connection. (13)

Ginger increases levels of neurotransmitters — chemicals that brain cells use to communicate with one another.

And finally, ginger, like the Indian spice turmeric, contains the compound curcumin.

Curcumin is naturally anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal. (14)

It is a powerful herbal brain supplement ingredient used to treat depression, anxiety, brain aging, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Research has found curcumin to be as effective for depression as the antidepressant Prozac. (15)

7 Brain-Enhancing Properties of Ginger

The ancients who used ginger for healing were on the right track and largely had its benefits right.

Here’s a look at what the latest research shows about ginger’s benefits for brain health and mental wellness.

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1. Ginger Protects the Brain From Damage

Ginger is rich in antioxidants that protect the brain from free radical damage.

Free radicals are unattached oxygen molecules that are a natural byproduct of metabolism.

But overproduction of free radicals leads to inflammation and premature cell aging, and can even damage cells down to the level of their DNA.

The brain is particularly susceptible to free radical (oxidative) damage because it uses a lot of oxygen.

Free radicals are caused by everyday occurrences, such as: (16, 17, 18)

  • stress
  • fried food
  • alcohol
  • tobacco smoke
  • air pollution
  • exposure to toxins
  • mobile phone radiation

The antioxidants in ginger also defend the brain from further damage and improve memory loss after a stroke. (19)

In addition, ginger shields glial cells in the brain from damage. (20)

These specialized brain cells help preserve neurons and remove metabolic debris and toxins in the brain that contribute to Alzheimer’s.

2. Ginger Balances the Brain Chemicals Associated With Depression

Ginger increases the level of two of the most important neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine. (21)

Depression is strongly linked to low levels of both.

Serotonin is known as the “happiness molecule,” critical for sustaining a positive mood.

Dopamine is considered the “motivation molecule” that helps you focus and be productive.

It’s also in charge of your pleasure-reward system.

Additionally, ginger can help depression due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Inflammation is now gaining scientific acceptance as a root cause of depression.

3. Ginger Improves Memory and Attention

Ginger has traditionally been used to treat memory loss and dementia. (22)

Now, research shows that it enhances a wide variety of other cognitive functions besides memory.

When healthy adults were given dried ginger supplements, they showed improvements in working memory, reaction time, and attention. (23)

Ginger may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. (24)

Bioactive compounds found in ginger increase the activity of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in learning and memory. (25)

The best Alzheimer’s drugs currently available are based on a similar mechanism.

Drugs like Aricept work by blocking an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine.

4. Ginger Protects Against “Diabetes of the Brain”

Ginger should be a welcome addition to the diet of anyone with diabetes.

It can help with blood sugar control for those with type 2 diabetes. (26)

Antioxidants found in ginger, known as gingerols, enhance insulin sensitivity and can help prevent diabetic complications, many of which are neurological. (27)

Controlling blood sugar levels is very important for long-term brain health for everyone, but especially for those with diabetes.

It’s now suspected that Alzheimer’s is a type of diabetes that occurs when brain cells become insulin-resistant and are unable to take up blood glucose, the brain’s main energy source. (28)

5. Ginger Combats Adrenal Fatigue

The HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) is a complex network of interactions between the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands that control the stress response.

Chronic stress can lead to dysfunction of the HPA axis system; this is usually referred to as adrenal fatigue.

Overwhelming tiredness is a primary symptom of adrenal fatigue, but other symptoms include brain fog, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and an inability to handle stress. (29)

Michael Lam, MD is an expert on adrenal fatigue syndrome and the author of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome – Reclaim Your Energy and Vitality with Clinically Proven Natural Programs.

He recommends ginger root, along with ginkgo and ginseng, as part of his natural adrenal fatigue treatment protocol.

These adaptogenic herbs increase energy and resilience to stress by strengthening the adrenal glands and modulating the levels of stress hormones.

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6. Ginger Provides an Antidote to Neurotoxic Glutamate

MSG (monosodium glutamate) is ubiquitous in processed foods and thus can cause an excessive level of glutamate in the brain.

Glutamate is an important neurotransmitter but, in excess, becomes neurotoxic and can even cause brain cells to die.

Common reported side effects of MSG include: (3031)

  • asthma
  • migraine headaches
  • brain fog
  • mood swings
  • sweating
  • heart palpitations
  • muscle weakness

MSG is responsible for a cluster of symptoms stereotypically known as Chinese restaurant syndrome. (32)

But ginger is often used in MSG-laden Asian food, a fortuitous combination since ginger shields the brain from the neurotoxic effects of MSG. (33)

MSG is common in processed, salty foods including salty snacks, soy vegetable protein, canned soups, and ramen noodles.

If you are sensitive to MSG, take extra ginger when you start to feel the side effects of MSG.

7. Ginger Reduces the Pain of Migraine Headaches

Ginger effectively reduces the pain of migraine headaches.

Its therapeutic effects compare favorably to the commonly prescribed migraine drug sumatriptan (Imitrex) which works by narrowing blood vessels to the brain. (34, 35)

But sumatriptan is not appropriate for everyone, has numerous side effects, and should not be mixed with antidepressant medications like SSRIs.

Together, SSRIs and sumatriptan can lead to dangerous serotonin syndrome.

Ginger, on the other hand, can relieve headache pain without these side effects.

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How to Consume Ginger: Supplements, Elixirs, Teas

Ginger is available in many forms for use as a food and as a supplement.

Fresh ginger can be found at most well-stocked grocery stores.

Or you can buy one of the many ginger products available.

Ginger People, the number one brand of ginger products, offers a full line of ginger products — jars of minced or grated ginger, ginger juice, pickled ginger, dried ginger, and ginger candies.

You can buy ginger supplements in the form of capsules, loose powder, crystals, essential oils, extracts, and tinctures.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use ginger therapeutically.

Traditional Anti-Anxiety Ginger Root Elixir

A traditional Indian elixir made with ginger is thought to bring balance to an overactive mind.

By increasing energy to the digestive system, it draws excess energy away from the brain.

You can make this traditional anti-anxiety ginger tonic by combining 1 teaspoon minced ginger root with 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon honey.

Take this tonic by the spoonful 3 times per day.

Antidepressant Duo: Ginger and Magnolia Bark

Magnolia bark extract (Magnolia officinalis) is a traditional Chinese herb used to treat depression and anxiety.

When taken together, ginger enhances magnolia bark’s antidepressant properties. (36)

Ginger Tea: For Caffeine-Free Energy

It’s reported that ginger tea can elevate mood and banish negative feelings and that even a whiff of ginger can lift your spirits.

By increasing blood flow to the brain and modulating blood sugar levels, ginger tea can help keep energy levels up during the day.

World-famous biohacker Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, claims that he has personally tried just about everything to boost his mental performance, including most nootropics, smart drugs, and even psychedelics.

He now starts the morning with a brew of ginger and turmeric added to yerba mate or to pu-erh, a prized aged tea — a combination he calls “rocket fuel for the brain.”

He prefers this to coffee since he experiences no caffeine crashes. (37)

You can buy ginger tea bags or make your own ginger tea concoction by adding grated ginger to any drink, hot or cold.

Drinking ginger tea or adding ginger to your favorite beverage are healthy substitutes for highly caffeinated drinks like coffee, soda, or energy drinks.

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Ginger Dosages, Side Effects, and Interactions

A typical dose of ginger is 1 gram.

The easiest way to ingest this is to take 2 ginger capsules since most supplements contain around 500 mg per capsule.

Here are some ginger dosage equivalents: (38)

  • 1 teaspoon of fresh, grated ginger root
  • 2 droppers (2 ml) of liquid ginger extract
  • 4 cups of ginger tea made by steeping 2 teaspoons of grated ginger in 32 ounces of water for 5–10 minutes
  • 2 pieces of crystallized ginger, approximately 1 inch square and 1/4 inch thick each

Ginger consumed as a food, especially fresh ginger, is considered very safe with very few side effects.

Sometimes dried ginger can cause gas, bloating, heartburn, or nausea, but these side effects are rare.

Note: Supplemental ginger is not always safe.

While ginger has been shown to reduce morning sickness in pregnant women, it’s advised that you talk to your doctor before taking ginger supplements if you are pregnant. (39)

According to Drugs.com, supplemental ginger should not be mixed with over 50 drugs. (40)

Some of these are blood thinners since ginger has some blood-thinning properties. (41)

If you take medications for diabetes or high blood pressure, discuss taking supplemental ginger with your doctor since it may require adjustments to your medication.

In the meantime, you can check for interactions between ginger and any medications you are taking in one of these online interaction checkers.

Mental Health Benefits of Ginger: Take the Next Step

Ginger is a versatile natural herbal remedy.

It’s most well-known use is for digestive upset, but it’s surprisingly beneficial for brain health and function as well.

Ginger improves memory and attention, acts as a natural antidepressant, and calms anxiety.

It helps safeguard the brain from free radical damage, inflammation, and the negative effects of MSG found in prepared food.

Ginger tea makes a good coffee substitute since it increases energy and blood flow to the brain, without caffeine.

You can add ginger to food, drink ginger tea, or take ginger supplements.

READ NEXT: Balancing Your Glutamate Neurotransmitter Level Naturally

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