Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ginger: Spicy, or Anti-Inflammatory?

By Laurel Blomquist

Fresh Baby Ginger
     Welcome to another article in our anti-cancer series. Today’s focus is on the tropical rhizome, ginger. Don’t forget, these anti-cancer foods also combat neurological, immunological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and metabolic disorders, as well as the process of aging. 
     Ginger has not yet been studied by Richard Beliveau and Denis Gingras, authors of Foods to Fight Cancer. However, they do include it in their appendix as a flavor you should include in your anti-cancer meals, particularly any of an Asian flair. They say, “One of the principal molecules present in this spicy root, known as gingerol, has often been put forward as a powerful potential anticancer agent, for its anti-inflammatory properties as well as its inhibiting activity on cancerous cells.” (p. 179)
     David Servan-Schreiber also mentions ginger in Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life. He calls out ginger’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and protective effects. He cites three studies that demonstrate this, as well as ginger’s ability to reduce the creation of new blood vessels. He recommends ginger to alleviate nausea brought on by chemotherapy or radiation, and suggests making a simple tea by slicing an inch of ginger and steeping in boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes. (p. 134)
     Ginger has been found effective at inhibiting liver cancer, a particularly fast-growing cancer that spreads rapidly. Researchers in China found that ginger reduced serum liver cancer markers and liver tissue growth factors. Ginger was also found to inhibit inflammation and promote apoptosis (ritual cell death) using three of its compounds: geraniol, pinostrobin and clavatol. 6-shogaol and 6-gingerol, two of ginger’s active ingredients, also prohibited metastasis, or the spread of liver cancer to other parts of the body. (Zhou et al. 2016)
Close-up: ginger in greenhouse
     I found a laundry list of benefits from ginger in the book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, by Jonny Bowden (p. 284-285). For those of you who practice Ayurveda, India’s 5000-year old “Science of Life,” you may already know that ginger is known as the universal remedy. Bowden reiterates ginger’s ability to stave off nausea and vomiting, and adds that since ginger doesn’t have side effects, it may be particularly of interest to pregnant women experiencing morning sickness. He lists several active ingredients, including shogaol and zingerone, which are anti-inflammatory and could be used by those suffering from arthritis or fibromyalgia. He cites a study suggesting that gingerols may inhibit the growth of human colorectal cancer cells. Other studies show that ginger has positive effects on the gastrointestinal tract, the cardiovascular system, pain, and fever. 
     In mice and other animal studies, ginger was shown to lower cholesterol, slow the development of atherosclerosis (arterial plaque build-up), boost the immune system, slow the growth of tumors, and work as an antimicrobial and antiviral agent. Ginger can also improve circulation for those with perpetually cold hands and feet. However, precautions should be taken by those who take prescription medications that thin the blood, such as Coumadin or aspirin, since the effects will be amplified by ginger. Ginger also increases bile acid secretion, which is great for those with Fatty Liver Disease, but not so good for people with gallstones or gallbladder disease. An increase in bile helps the body process and absorb fats, which is necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, E, D, and K. 
Ginger in the greenhouse
     The most exciting article I read about ginger cited a recent study that showed 6-shogaol (a compound found in dried or cooked ginger) is 10,000 times more effective than chemotherapy drugs at destroying cancer stem cells! The study was done on breast cancer stem cells, but the research suggests it could be used for any cancer. What is a cancer stem cell? It is the “mother” cell that regenerates to produce new cancer cells, forming tumors and offshoots. Chemotherapy does not kill off these cells, even at very high doses. Chemo also does not differentiate between healthy cells and cancer cells, which is why it typically makes the patient feel sicker in the short term. Killing cancer stem cells is very important for the long-term fight of any patient against cancer. Doctors may be able to remove cancerous cells and tumors, but unless they kill off the stem cells, cancer may return in the future. For more information on this study, and a link to the study itself, visit:
     I used to eat ginger a few times a week, but now I think I’m going to try to incorporate it into my meals or drinks every day. With its distinct flavor and potent anti-cancer compounds, ginger can’t be beat!

Beliveau, Richard, and Denis Gingras. Foods to Fight Cancer. 2007. 
Bowden, Jonny, PhD, CNS. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. 2007.
Ji, Sayer. “Ginger: 10,000 times stronger than Chemo in Cancer Research Model”. [Green Med Info], Oct. 19, 2015. 
Servan-Schreiber, David. Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life. 2009. 
Zhou Y, Li Y, Zhou T, Zheng J, Li S, Li H-B. March 10, 2016. Dietary Natural Products for Prevention and Treatment of Liver Cancer. Nutrients. 8(3): 156.

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