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Review of Lactogenic Foods - Ginger

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

How to increase milk supply

You may have heard of (or even used!) Ginger to beat morning sickness - but did you know, Ginger has traditionally been used in some parts of Asia as a lactogenic food?

You may now wonder: Can ginger actually help increase my breast milk supply? Is ginger a natural galactagogue?

I explored the evidence behind this, as well as safety aspects and other health claims in part 2 of the series: Review of natural Galactagogues!

1. Background

Common Name: Ginger

Also known as: Ginger root, horned root, gingivere

Botanical Name: Zingiber officinale

Important Phytochemicals: gingeros, shogaols

Nutrition Information:

(per 5 slices [1" diameter] Ginger root, raw)

Calories: 8.68

Protein: 0.2 g

Fat: 0.08 g

Carbohydrate 1.95 g

Fiber 0.2 g

Magnesium 5 mg (1% of RDA*)

Copper 0.025 mg (2% of RDA*)

Manganese 0.025 mg (0.1% of RDA*)

Choline 3.2 mg (0.5% of RDA*)

(*recommended daily intake for breastfeeding moms)

2. Ginger is considered a lactogenic food in Ayurvedic and Chinese Traditional Medicine

Ginger is native to the tropical jungles of Southern Asia and has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese traditional medicine for over 5000 years.

The use of Ginger in the postpartum period and as a galactagogue is not new: In Chinese traditional medicine, Ginger is considered a 'warming food', which was commonly recommended to women in the postpartum period to aide in the healing process and initiate milk flow.

Recipes for various postpartum 'healing' dishes and teas have been handed down in Thailand and China, such as Sheng Hia Tang, which consists, among other things, of fresh ginger root. ​

Culinary uses

In the Western world, Ginger is most commonly known as a spice with its distinct spicy-sweet smell and taste. Several cookies, sweet breads, as well as, supposedly, Ginger Ales use dry, powdered ginger root as an ingredient (although I recently read about a class action lawsuit against a popular Ginger Ale brand for allegedly containing no Ginger at all).

Ginger is also popular as a hot tea, often with honey, especially among pregnant women or those undergoing chemotherapy to relieve nausea. Ginger candies (confectioneries) are made by cooking ginger in sugar until the root is soft.

In Asian cuisine, Ginger is used in curries, vegetable or meat dishes; often prepared ahead of time as a paste (such as ginger garlic masala). Ginger Herb teas are also popular, such as the Masala Chai Tea, a black tea, spiced with ginger and various other Indian spices and herbs.

3. Ginger doesn't have a lot of essential nutrients

You may be surprised to hear, ginger doesn't really contain much in terms of essential nutrients (see Nutrition Information above). When we look at the nutritional content of our food, we always have to consider the serving size:

A teaspoon of powdered ginger (used as a spice) or even a few slices of raw ginger doesn't have a lot of anything. Not a lot of carbs, almost no fat or protein and very very little of any of the essential vitamins or minerals.

Well, ginger just has such a strong aroma, we generally don't use much of it and a few grams added to our dishes here and there won't deliver much in terms of 'essential nutrients'.

4. However, Ginger comes with some powerful Phytonutrients

Where it lacks in essential nutrients, it makes up with some pretty powerful phytonutrients named gingerols. These are the aromatic compounds responsible for ginger's pungent taste and aroma.

These secondary plant compounds are not considered 'essential nutrients' because your body can technically function without them. However, your body sure can benefit from them! In fact, it may be the lack of phytonutrients which is one of the reasons we are getting sicker and sicker over time.

Gingerols have been studied for their anticancer, anti-oxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties, as well as their effect on the central nervous system with promising results (1, 2).

Ginger consumption may protect against cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, skin and brain in recent studies (6, 7).

For diabetics, ginger has shown to be an effective addition to traditional treatment methods for obesity and insulin resistance (diabetes), and it is speculated this is due to Ginger's anti-inflammatory properties, its effect on positively influencing blood lipid levels and the fact that it has shown to improve a cell's sensitivity to insulin (10, 11).

Ginger is very popular in folk medicine for the treatment of an 'upset stomach', indigestion or nausea, and recent studies show it may indeed protect our gastrointestinal tract through yet-to-be-explored mechanisms (12). It has also shown to treat nausea related to chemotherapy (13).

A 2016 systematic review (the highest level of evidence) found that Ginger was helpful in the treatment of mild morning sickness during pregnancy (14).

Herbs for Lactation

5. Even dried Ginger is effective

You may now wonder if the awesome benefits of gingerols convey once ginger has been dehydrated, ground up and put into a spice container - or if we actually have to chug it fresh to reap the benefits.

Gingerols transform into so called shoagols during dry storage or through exposure to excess heat (during the cooking process) (15). Interestingly, research has shown shoagols come with much of the same health benefits as gingerols (15, 16) so, yes, dried ginger seems to be just as effective!

6. Ginger may boost Milk supply, but there is limited evidence

Unfortunately, there isn't much out there in terms of scientific research on the effects of Ginger on human milk production. However, the evidence we have is all positive.

Here are the three main studies:

6.1. A double blind controlled trail shows positive effect

In this 2016 study, a group of researchers from Thailand, where Ginger has traditionally been used as a lactogenic food, released the results of the first randomized, double-blind controlled trial (second highest level of evidence) investigating Ginger as a galactagogue:

63 postpartum women who had delivered healthy term babies were randomly assigned to receive dried ginger or a placebo for 7 days postpartum. They then compared breast milk volume and prolactin levels on the third and seventh day postpartum.

Indeed, they found, women in the Ginger group had higher milk volumes, although prolactin levels were similar. Also positive: no side effects were reported.

The researchers concluded "Ginger is a promising natural galactagogue to improve breast milk volume in the immediate postpartum period without any notable side effect." (15).

6.2. A Japanese herb mixture containing ginger increased milk volume.

A Japanese study investigated a traditional herbal mixture called Xiong-gui-tiao-xue-yin and its effect on lactation (13). The herb mixture contains ginger root as one of the main ingredients.

Indeed, the mixture increased milk volumes and prolactin levels, while oxytocin levels stayed the same.

Unfortunately, the use of this study as evidence is limited because it it did not have a placebo group (no group without intervention to compare the results to) and it investigated several compounds at once, where each one of them could have been responsible.

6.3. A study applying compresses containing ginger made the milk come in faster

A systematic review and meta analysis (14) evaluated whether applying compresses containing various herbs and spices, including ginger, has the intended effect of making the milk 'come in' faster. This is a common traditional practice in some Asian countries.

The researchers concluded it was indeed an effective method since the time between delivery and when the milk came in was shorter in the group who received the compresses compared to the group who did not. Both groups also received postpartum lactation support.

The results, of course, don't necessarily tell us that Ginger alone was responsible, or if Ginger has the same effect when consumed as a food, spice or beverage.

Overall, the evidence on Ginger as a galactagogue is very small, but it looks promising! Hopefully, we'll see more studies on this in the future!

7. Ginger is safe for most People

Ginger has been used for a long time, as a food, herb, spice and 'natural medicine', with only few and insignificant side effects reported.

During my research of the literature, I could not find any reports of adverse side effects of Ginger during lactation, although some point toward its blood thinning effect and caution against ingesting large amounts of ginger around the time of giving birth or when taking blood thinning medications such as warfarin/coumadin.

Ginger is 'generally recognized as safe' by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including during lactation (15).

8. Conclusion

In summary, ginger looks to be a safe and possibly effective way to help with milk production!

Although the evidence for this is still in its infancy, there is one promising study in particular, as well as bits of evidence from its traditional use as a lactogenic food in Asia, to support this claim.

In the end, ginger, consumed in reasonable amounts as a food, tea or added to recipes as a spice, is considered to be safe during pregnancy and lactation. Caution should be take by those with bleeding disorders, those taking certain medications or around the time of childbirth since it may change your blood's clotting ability.

Aside from ginger as a potential safe and effective galactagogue, there is another reason I would consider ginger a great addition to a breastfeeding mom's diet:

There is strong evidence ginger's phytonutrients have positive effects on overall health, including reducing inflammation, cancer protection, and improving digestion. As far as we know, phytonutrients transfer into breast milk (16), making these health benefits available to your baby as well!

Got some interesting information from this article? Shares are much appreciated!

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