People with osteoarthritis of the knee may be able to reduce symptoms of the disease by consuming highly concentrated ginger extract, according to preliminary study findings.

Osteoarthritis is a progressive deterioration in the cartilage of certain joints, including the knee and vertebrae. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease, osteoarthritis results from overuse of joints and can be a byproduct of strenuous sports, obesity or aging.

Currently, there is no cure for osteoarthritis and treatment largely focuses on the reduction of symptoms.

In the study, published in the November issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, 247 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who were experiencing moderate to severe pain were split into two groups. One group took purified, concentrated ginger extract while the other group was given an inactive placebo pill. 63% of patients taking ginger reported a reduction in knee pain while standing, compared with 50% of those who took the placebo. Those taking ginger also reported less pain after walking 50 feet.

“This study showed that a highly purified ginger extract has demonstrated a statistical effect of reducing pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee,” Dr. R.D. Altman of the Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Florida and Dr. K.C. Marcussen of Narayana Research in Winter, Wisconsin, report. “This effect was moderate,” the researchers note.

While there were no serious side effects reported in patients who took the ginger extract, 70% of them reported mild gastrointestinal discomfort, including burping, stomach upset and heartburn, the report indicates. In an accompanying editorial, Drs. Donald M. Marcus and Maria E. Suarez-Almazor commend the current study for evaluating the efficacy of a popular herbal preparation but caution that more study is needed.

“We believe that ginger should not be recommended at present for treatment of arthritis because of the limited efficacy shown in this study, its lack of clear efficacy in a previous trial, and the lack of meaningful information about its safety,” the editorialists write. “Alternative therapies should meet the same standards for efficacy and safety as conventional therapies, and ginger has not yet met those standards,” Marcus and Suarez-Almazor conclude.