Galangal Root: Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects
Galangal root is a spice native to Southern Asia. Itâ€™s closely related to ginger and turmeric and has been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries (1).
The word galangal refers to the root of several plants of the Zingiberaceae family. Lesser galangal, or Alpinia officinarum, is most commonly used.
Similarly to ginger and turmeric, galangal can be eaten fresh or cooked and is a popular addition to many Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Thai dishes (2).
This spice is also used to improve certain ailments, as itâ€™s believed to help treat infections, reduce inflammation, boost male fertility, and even fight different types of cancer.
This article reviews the benefits and safety of galangal root and compares it with ginger and turmeric.
Galangal root has been employed in traditional medicine as a remedy for various ailments, and an increasing number of scientific studies support these uses.
Rich in antioxidants
Galangal root is a rich source of antioxidants, which are beneficial plant compounds that help fight disease and protect your cells from damaging free radicals.
Itâ€™s especially rich in polyphenols, a group of antioxidants linked to health benefits, such as improved memory and lower blood sugar and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (3, 4, 5, 6).
Polyphenols are also thought to protect against mental decline, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Both ginger and turmeric â€” two close relatives of galangal root â€” are also rich in polyphenols and have been linked to these benefits (7, 8, 9, 10, 11).
However, no studies have directly linked galangal root to these effects, so more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.
May protect against certain cancers
Galangal root may help protect your body against certain types of cancer.
Test-tube studies suggest that the active compound in galangal root, known as galangin, may kill cancer cells or prevent them from spreading (12, 13, 14, 15, 16).
More specifically, one study highlighted the spiceâ€™s ability to kill two strains of human colon cancer cells. Other studies suggest it may fight breast, bile duct, skin, and liver cancer cells (12, 17, 18, 19, 20).
That said, test-tube findings do not necessarily apply to humans. While study results have been promising, more research in humans is needed.
May boost male fertility
Emerging evidence suggests that galangal root may boost male fertility.
In one animal study, sperm count and motility increased in rats given galangal root extract (21).
Additionally, in a 3-month study in 66 men with low sperm quality, taking a daily supplement containing galangal root and pomegranate fruit extract experienced a 62% increase in sperm motility, compared with a 20% increase in those in the placebo group (22).
Although this finding is interesting, itâ€™s unclear whether the effect was due to galangal root or pomegranate fruit extract.
More human research is needed to determine galangal rootâ€™s effects on male fertility.
May fight inflammation and pain
Galangal root may reduce disease-causing inflammation, as it contains HMP, a naturally occurring phytochemical that test-tube and animal studies have suggested boasts potent anti-inflammatory properties (23, 24, 25, 26).
In fact, plants of the Zingiberaceae family, including galangal, appear to mildly reduce pain, a common symptom of inflammation (27).
For instance, in one 6-week study in 261 people with osteoarthritis of the knee, 63% of those who took a ginger and galangal extract daily reported a reduction in knee pain when standing, compared with 50% of those taking a placebo (28).
However, more studies on the pain-reducing effects of galangal root specifically are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
May protect against infections
Essential oils extracted from galangal root may fight a range of microorganisms.
As such, galangal root may prolong the shelf life of certain foods. Also, adding fresh galangal root to your recipes may reduce your risk of vibriosis, an infection caused by eating undercooked shellfish (29, 30).
Furthermore, test-tube studies suggest that galangal root may kill harmful bacteria, including E. coli, Staphyloccocus aureus, and Salmonella Typhi, although its effectiveness appears to vary between studies (4, 31, 32).
Finally, some research suggests that galangal root may protect against fungi, yeasts, and parasites. However, not all studies agree (4, 33).
Galangal root is rich in antioxidants and may boost male fertility and reduce inflammation and pain. It may even protect against infections and certain types of cancer, but more research is needed.
How does it compare with ginger and turmeric?
Galangal is closely related to ginger and turmeric, and all three roots can be used fresh or dried to add flavor to your dishes.
Ginger offers a fresh, sweet-yet-spicy taste, while galangalâ€™s flavor is sharper, spicier, and slightly more peppery. Turmeric has the most pungent and bitter flavor of the three.
Research links all three spices to similar health benefits. Like galangal root, ginger and turmeric are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce joint stiffness and pain (28, 34, 35, 36).
Whatâ€™s more, all three spices contain compounds that may prevent or combat different forms of cancer (37, 38).
Nevertheless, galangal root is the only one of the three that has been shown to potentially boost male fertility. Conversely, gingerâ€™s anti-nausea and stomach- emptying abilities have yet to be matched by either galangal root or turmeric (21, 22, 39, 40, 41).
Ginger and turmeric have been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the prevention of memory loss, and protection against age-related losses in brain function (7, 8, 9, 10, 11).
Due to their similarities, galangal root may offer comparable benefits.
Galangal root is closely related to ginger and turmeric. All three can be used to flavor foods and may offer similar health benefits. Yet, more studies have analyzed the effects of ginger and turmeric than those of galangal root.
Precautions and side effects
Galangal root has been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and is likely safe when consumed in the amounts typically found in foods (1).
That said, thereâ€™s limited information regarding a safe dosage or the potential side effects of consuming it in larger amounts, such as those found in supplements.
One animal study observed that doses of 909 mg per pound (2,000 mg per kg) of body weight resulted in serious side effects, including a drop in energy levels, lack of appetite, excessive urination, diarrhea, coma, and even death (42).
These side effects were absent at significantly smaller dosages of 136 mg per pound (300 mg per kg) of body weight (42).
Nonetheless, information about the safety and potential side effects of galangal root supplements in humans is lacking.
Galangal root is likely safe when consumed in the amounts typically found in foods. Yet, thereâ€™s currently scant research on the safety or potential side effects of larger doses, such as those found in supplements.
The bottom line
Galangal root is a spice closely related to ginger and turmeric and a popularly employed remedy in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine.
It can add flavor, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds to your dishes and may provide a slew of health benefits. These include boosting male fertility and protecting you from infections and potentially even certain forms of cancer.
Although youâ€™ll likely need to visit an Asian or specialty market to get your hands on fresh galangal root, dried slices and ground powder are widely available, including online.
All in all, this spice is well worth adding to your recipes.
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