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July 20, 2011

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Ginger gets to root of summer ills

GINGER is a warm-energy herb and is especially helpful in summer to treat conditions caused by spending too much time in air-conditioned rooms. Zhang Qian reports.

Eating turnip in winter and ginger in summer to keep the doctor away - that's the traditional Chinese medicine version of "an apple a day" in the West. The saying is widely known and has been passed down through generations.

While ginger has myriad uses all year round and many people wisely eat a few thin slices a day, it is especially useful in summer.

Ginger is a powerful antioxidant and it is famous around the world for soothing the stomach, fighting inflammation, stimulating circulation, thinning the blood, reducing spasms and cramps, easing joint pain and fighting internal infection and external sores.

The spicy, fragrant ginger root is classified as a yang (hot energy) herb in TCM and can relieve summer discomforts and problems caused by what TCM calls "pathogenic" cold and bacteria. These include indigestion, loss of appetite, lack of energy and conditions related to spending hours in air-conditioned rooms in summer.

Adding a few thin slices to food usually improves the digestive system and increases appetite. A small cup of ginger tea can help refresh the mind.

Spending time in air-conditioned rooms and drinking icy beverages are common in summer, but a cool environment, inside and out, also provides opportunities of pathogenic cold to invade the body.

In summer, the yang energy in the universe is strong and the yin (cold energy) is weak, making people vulnerable to ailments related to cold, according to traditional Chinese medicine.

As pores open in the heat, cold energy enters the body, causing common problems like the common cold and aching joints. Too much iced foods and beverages aggravate the energy imbalance inside the body, causing problems for the stomach and spleen, such as diarrhea and indigestion.

Ginger, as a warm herb, helps warm the body, promote sweating and relieve indigestion due to pathogenic cold, according to Dr Xia Xiang, vice president of Shanghai Dietary Therapy Society. Gingerols (related compounds), curcumin (also in turmuric) and capsaicum (also in chili peppers) are major active ingredients.

"Many people may feel hot after eating ginger and sweat more due to accelerated blood circulation. As pores open wider, pathogenic energies can be expelled together with the sweat, which helps rebuild the balance in the body," says Dr Xia.

A strong ginger solution can be applied externally to relieve joint aches caused by pathogenic cold.

Apart from expelling "cold" invasion, ginger can also help defend the body against bacteria since it has antimicrobial properties. Because bacteria reproduce quickly in summer, acute stomach or intestine inflammation is a problem for many people.

Eating some ginger or drinking ginger tea has an antibiotic effect and helps kill salmonella. Serving ginger with seafood is a common practice in China and Japan.

Gargling with a ginger solution can also help relieve bad breath and gum inflammation.

Despite its many benefits, ginger is not for everyone.

"Ginger helps people bothered by pathogenic cold problems, but it can aggravate problems due to pathogenic heat," says Dr Xia.

People with high blood pressure, diabetes, inflammation of lungs, kidneys or gallbladder should be very cautious when eating ginger.

And no one should eat too much. A few slices - around 10 grams - a day are usually enough in summer, says Dr Xia. Otherwise, people can sweat too much, feel frequent thirst or get a sore throat.

The peel of ginger is "cool" in property (yin energy) that can partially neutralize the "warm" ginger itself. Retaining the peel helps reduce "hot" side effects of ginger.

But those who have too much internal cold (yin), are advised to eat ginger without the peel. It is recommended to serve peeled ginger with "cold" dishes such as bitter cucumber and crabs.

Ginger tea

? Add boiling water to a cup containing a few slices of ginger.

? Drink when it cools a little.

Benefits: Helps dispel pathogenic cold. Recommended for those working in cool air-conditioned rooms.

Ginger solution for joint pain (external application)

? Make strong ginger soup, add a little salt and vinegar.

? Soak a towel in the solution, wring and apply to painful joints.

Benefits: Relieves joint pain caused by pathogenic cold and activates blood circulation.

Ginger and brown sugar soup

? Make soup with chopped ginger, sweeten with brown sugar.

? Drink while relatively hot.

Benefits: Helps dispel pathogenic cold and relieve symptoms of common cold and indigestion (vomiting and diarrhea). Helps relieve painful menstruation. Women working with AC offices can drink a cup a day if they frequently feel cold.


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