Ginger benefits brain aging and inflammation, memory, attention, diabetes, adrenal fatigue, and more. Learn how to best use ginger as a food or supplement.
Ginger is a traditional herb that’s remarkably versatile both as a culinary spice and as an herbal remedy.
It’s most commonly used as a digestive aid, but offers a number of little-known benefits for the brain as well.
Take a look at the many mental health benefits of ginger and learn 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 (sometimes called the root) of a flowering plant native to China (Zingiber officinale), but can be grown anywhere that it’s warm and humid.
Most ginger root now comes from India. (1)
The Brain-Enhancing Properties of Ginger
Science is now beginning to understand how ginger works.
So far, more than 100 compounds have been identified in ginger. (6)
Over 50 of these are antioxidants.
Antioxidants are particularly important for the brain since it’s highly susceptible to free radical damage.
One of ginger’s most widely regarded uses is as an anti-inflammatory which makes it popular for arthritis. (7)
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Ginger, like the Indian spice turmeric, contains the compound curcumin.
Curcumin is naturally anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal. (12)
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 Prozac. (13)
Ginger increases the activity of several neurotransmitter systems.
Ginger can improve vagus nerve health and function.
The vagus nerve is the major facilitator of the mind-body connection. (15)
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 health benefits, especially for brain and mental health.
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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 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 damage since it uses a lot of oxygen.
The antioxidants in ginger also defend the brain from further damage and improve memory loss after a stroke. (19)
Glial cells help preserve neurons and remove metabolic debris and toxins that contribute to Alzheimer’s.
Ginger Balances the Brain Chemicals Associated with Depression
Ginger increases the level of two of the most important brain chemicals — serotonin and dopamine. (21)
Depression is strongly linked to deficient levels of both.
Serotonin is your “happiness molecule” that is 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.
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)
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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 operate on a similar mechanism.
Drugs like Aricept work by blocking an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine.
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)
For everyone, controlling blood sugar levels is very important for the long-term health of your brain.
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 source of energy. (28)
Ginger Combats Adrenal Fatigue
The HPA axis is a complex network of interactions between the adrenal, hypothalamus, and pituitary glands that control the stress response.
Chronic stress can lead to dysfunction of the HPA axis system, usually referred to as adrenal fatigue.
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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)
These adaptogenic herbs increase energy and resilience to stress by strengthening the adrenal glands and modulating levels of stress hormones.
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Ginger: An Antidote to MSG
MSG is ubiquitous in processed foods and thus can cause brain levels of glutamate to get too high.
Glutamate is an important neurotransmitter but, in excess, becomes neurotoxic and can even cause brain cells to die.
MSG is responsible for a cluster of symptoms known as Chinese restaurant syndrome. (33)
But ginger is often used in MSG-laden Asian food, a fortuitous combination since ginger shields the brain against the neurotoxic effects of MSG. (34)
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 ginger any time you’ve consumed it by mistake or feel the effects of MSG coming on.
Ginger Reduces the Pain of Migraine Headaches
Ginger effectively reduces the pain of migraine headaches.
Its effects compare favorably to the commonly prescribed migraine drug sumatriptan which works by narrowing blood vessels to the brain. (35)
But sumatriptan is not appropriate for everyone, has numerous side effects, and should not be mixed with antidepressant medications like SSRIs — together they can lead to dangerous serotonin syndrome.
Ginger, on the other hand, relieves migraine sufferers of their headache pain with no side effects. (36)
Ginger Tea: For Energy Without Caffeine
It’s said that ginger tea can elevate mood and banish negative feelings and that even a whiff of ginger can lift your spirits. (37)
Ginger increases blood flow to the brain and modulates blood sugar levels, keeping energy levels up during the day.
Adding ginger to your favorite beverage can help take the place of highly caffeinated drinks like coffee, soda, or energy drinks.
World famous biohacker Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, claims that he has tried everything he has learned about to boost his brain power, including most nootropics and smart drugs.
He prefers this to coffee since he experiences no caffeine crashes. (38)
You can buy ginger tea bags or make your own ginger tea concoction by adding grated ginger to any drink, hot or cold, that you currently enjoy.
Ginger is available in many forms for use as a food and as a supplement.
You can buy ginger supplements in the form of capsules, loose powder, crystals, essential oils, extracts, and tinctures.
A typical dose of ginger is 1 gram.
The easiest way to ingest this is by taking 2 ginger capsules since most supplements contain around 500 mg per capsule.
Here are some ginger dosage equivalents: (39)
- 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
Here are two other 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 mind.
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. (40)
Take 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. (41)
Ginger Side Effects and Interactions
Ginger consumed as a food, especially fresh ginger, is considered very safe with very few side effects.
Sometimes it can cause gas, bloating, heartburn, and nausea, but this is almost always from consuming too much powdered ginger, not fresh. (42)
Since ginger acts as a blood thinner, you should avoid it as a supplement if you take a blood-thinning medication like warfarin.
If you take diabetes or high blood pressure medications, discuss taking supplemental ginger with your doctor since it may require adjustments to your medication. (43)
Mental Health Benefits of Ginger: The Bottom Line
Ginger is a uniquely versatile and 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 an anxious mind.
It safeguards the brain from free radical damage, inflammation, and from MSG found in prepared food.
It 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.