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Ginger, like its relative turmeric, has gained a wide following due to its numerous health benefits. In fact, its ranks among the top 10 top-selling herbal supplements in the United States.

While ginger is best known as a calming remedy for indigestion, nausea, and upset stomach, this spicy, aromatic root may also be used to relieve headaches and migraine.

Keep reading to find out how ginger can be used to alleviate headache symptoms, and what’s the most effective form to use.

Ginger contains a naturally occurring oil that’s responsible for both its flavor and health benefits. The chemical compounds in this oil — which include gingerols and shogaols — have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. These compounds are also effective at treating nausea and vomiting, two symptoms associated with migraine attacks.

Ginger extracts may also increase serotonin, a chemical messenger involved with migraine attacks. Increasing the serotonin levels in your brain may help stop migraine by reducing inflammation and restricting blood vessels. A class of prescription medications called triptans treat migraine in a similar way.

Several clinical studies have tested the effects of ginger in people with migraine. A 2018 study found that taking a 400-mg ginger extract supplement with ketoprofen — a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug — decreased migraine symptoms better than taking ketoprofen alone.

A 2014 study found that 250 mg of a ginger powder supplement decreased migraine symptoms about as well as the prescription drug sumatriptan.

Other research shows that placing a gel containing ginger and the herb feverfew under the tongue when a migraine first starts can reduce symptom strength and duration.

Ginger comes in many forms, including:

  • capsules
  • gels
  • powders
  • essential oil
  • tea
  • beverages
  • lozenges

So far, only ginger capsules and a gel have been studied and shown to be helpful for people with migraine. Other forms haven’t been studied but may be worth trying.

The type of ginger you take may also depend on your condition. For example, if your migraine symptoms include nausea and vomiting, you may not feel like taking a ginger capsule by mouth. Instead, you might try applying the essential oil to your temples or sucking on a ginger lozenge.

Read on to learn about the different ways ginger can be used to relieve headache symptoms.

Most of the promising research on the beneficial effects of ginger for migraine used supplements that contain ginger extract or dried ginger powder. Therefore, ginger supplements are the most likely form of ginger to alleviate symptoms of headaches and migraines.

A typical dose is a 550 mg capsule at the first sign of a headache. This dose may be repeated once or twice. You can look for ginger supplements in pharmacies, food stores, and online.

Although it’s not common, some people who take ginger supplements can have mild side effects, including:

  • heartburn
  • gas
  • irritation of the throat or mouth
  • diarrhea
  • flushed skin
  • rash

These side effects are more likely when higher doses are taken.

Massaging ginger oil into the skin decreases pain in people with arthritis and back pain, and may also help to reduce pain from headaches.

For a migraine attack or tension headache, try massaging a few drops of the diluted ginger oil into your temples, forehead, and back of the neck once or twice daily.

The aroma from the oil may also reduce nausea that commonly occurs with migraine. Try placing a drop of ginger oil on a tissue, gauze pad, or cotton ball and inhaling. You might also try adding one to two drops of oil into a warm bath or steam diffuser.

Pure essential ginger oil can be found in pharmacies, grocery stores, or purchased online. Steer clear of perfumed or ginger-scented oils. Before applying to your skin, dilute the oil by placing one to two drops of ginger oil into a tablespoon of a carrier oil. Learn more about carrier oils.

Essential oil side effects and risks

Never apply ginger oil to the skin without first diluting it. Using undiluted oil can cause skin irritation. In some cases, skin irritation can be severe.

Some people may also experience a skin reaction when using ginger oil, even when diluted. Be sure to do a patch test with the oil if you’ve had a reaction to an essential oil in the past. Also, if you’re allergic to ginger spice, you may also be allergic to ginger oil.

How to do an essential oil patch test

To do a patch test, follow these steps:

  1. Put 1 to 2 drops of diluted oil on your inner forearm. Never use undiluted oil.
  2. Apply a bandage over the area and wait.
  3. If you feel any irritation, remove the bandage immediately and gently wash the area with soap and water.
  4. If no reaction occurs after 48 hours, the diluted oil is likely safe for you to use.

Ginger lozenges typically contain small amounts of ginger powder or ginger extracts. Research shows that ginger can reduce symptoms of nausea after surgery or due to pregnancy or other causes. It may also stave off symptoms of nausea caused by migraine.

Ginger lozenges are an especially good choice when you don’t feel like taking pills or drinking tea or other liquids. Try sucking on a ginger lozenge when your migraine attack first starts to make you feel nauseated.

One to two lozenges are typically taken two to three times daily to ease stomach upset. But be sure to follow the dosing instruction on the product packaging.

You can find ginger lozenges in pharmacies, grocery stores, and online.

Ginger lozenge side effects and risks

Most people who use ginger lozenges don’t have any side effects, but some people can get an upset stomach or have irritation, burning, or numbness of the mouth or tongue.

Rarely, people may be allergic to ginger and have an allergic reaction. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to ginger in the past, don’t use ginger lozenges.

If you’re having a headache or migraine attack, try sipping ginger ale. It may reduce your headache pain and help calm a migraine-related upset stomach. Drink one or two cups per day.

You can purchase ginger ale but read labels carefully. Many store-bought brands contain a lot of sugar and little ginger. You can also make ginger ale at home. There are many ways to make it. Here’s one way:

  1. Boil 2 to 4 cups of water in a saucepan.
  2. Add ¼ to 1 cup of chopped or grated ginger along with a sweetener such as sugar or honey, to taste.
  3. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, then strain.
  4. Mix the ginger solution with carbonated water. You can add additional flavor with mint or juice from fresh limes or lemons.

Ginger ale side effects and risks

Most people who drink ginger ale don’t have side effects. But some people, particularly if they consume a lot of ginger ale, may have mild side effects. These include:

  • heartburn
  • belching
  • irritation or burning sensation in the mouth and throat
  • diarrhea
  • flushed skin
  • rash

Sipping ginger tea is another tasty way to help sooth headache pain or reduce the nausea caused by a migraine attack. Try drinking the tea when your headache first starts. If needed, drink another cup one or two hours later.

Ready-to-brew tea bags are available in food stores and online. You can also prepare it at home:

  1. Add sliced or chopped ginger to 4 cups of boiling water.
  2. Steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Steeping longer will give it a stronger flavor.
  3. Remove from heat and flavor with lemon juice, honey, or sugar. It can be consumed either hot or cold.

Possible side effects and risks

Like ginger ale, drinking ginger tea doesn’t usually cause side effects, but some side effects are possible, including:

  • heartburn
  • gas
  • irritation or burning sensation in the mouth and throat
  • diarrhea
  • flushed skin
  • rash

These side effects are more likely if your tea has a stronger flavor or if you consume it in large quantities.

Adding ginger to a meal is another way you may benefit from the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects of ginger. You can add fresh ginger or dried ginger powder to flavor food dishes, but keep in mind that their flavors are slightly different.

Interestingly, the chemical makeup of fresh and dried ginger is also slightly different, but both contain the compounds that reduce inflammation and nausea.

Try adding fresh ginger to your salads or mixing it in a garlic shrimp stir fry. Ginger can also be a tasty addition to chicken soup, grilled salmon, and even some kinds of cookies — think ginger snaps — or cakes.

You can also try these eight tips for starting your morning with ginger.

Fresh ginger side effects and risks

Eating ginger rarely causes side effects unless you eat too much. If you do, you might get an upset stomach with symptoms of heartburn and gas. Some people may also have a burning sensation in the mouth.

If you have migraine-related nausea, you might find that eating worsens your symptoms. Other options such as sipping ginger ale or a ginger lozenge may be a better choice.

Research on ginger for headaches is limited but promising. The best evidence is for ginger supplements, but other forms may also help reduce headache pain and migraine-related nausea.

When it comes to ginger, taking more isn’t necessarily better. Taking too much increases your chance of mild side effects like heartburn and upset stomach.

If you notice your headaches becoming more frequent or more severe, be sure to see your doctor. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and recommend the most effective treatment.

Also, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking ginger to be sure that that it doesn’t interact with any other medications you may be taking. Ginger may thin your blood and increase your risk of bleeding if taken with other blood thinners.