Here’s a story about some medical research that starts, not in a petri dish or primate lab, but a farmer’s market.
That’s where researchers in Georgia found a supply of ginger – the knobby root used in many cultures to flavor kimchi, sushi, soup, salad, noodles and chai, and also as a natural medicine taken for nausea, arthritic pain and other ailments.
They had an idea that ginger delivered in microscopic particles could be useful in treating inflammatory bowel disorders, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
As it turned out, they were right.
According to findings published in the journal Biomaterials, scientists from the Georgia State Institute for Biomedical Sciences and the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Decatur, Ga., found that ginger sliced to a small fraction of the width of a human hair efficiently targeted the colons of mice. Further, the treatment didn’t harm the rodents.
“Nanoparticles derived from edible ginger represent a novel, natural delivery mechanism for improving (inflammatory bowel disease) prevention and treatment,” they wrote.
Ginger as a nanoparticle
The Georgia researchers started the way you might, if you brought ginger home from the market. They chopped it in a blender.
But then they put it in a centrifuge that broke it down to a size so small that 300 of the ginger particles could fit in the width of a hair. And then they fed them to mice.
They found that the nano-sized ginger particles were absorbed by cells in the lining of the mice’s intestines, reducing acute colitis and preventing chronic and cancer-causing colitis. They said they also helped reduce inflammation by raising the levels of proteins that fight it and reducing the levels of proteins that cause it.
Benefits of a natural drug
The researchers noted that ginger has the added benefits of being nontoxic and abundant. Its production as a medicine wouldn’t be limited, as is the case with many synthetic drugs, they said.
Ginger has long been touted as a natural treatment for a variety of ailments. Advocates say it helps:
- Calm nausea and vomiting, including that resulting from chemotherapy
- Protect the gastrointestinal tract
- Relieve pain of migraine headaches
- Protect against damage caused by ultraviolet rays
- Treat muscle aches
- Reduce pain caused by arthritis
- Improve absorption of essential nutrients
- Limit the release of certain chemicals that can damage the brain
You can learn more about the scientific research on ginger here. Government health agencies are more cautious about the benefits of alternative supplements such as ginger. They caution that users should make certain that supplements don’t interfere with any prescription medications they take.
More on ginger
The study, “Edible ginger-derived nanoparticles: A novel therapeutic approach for the prevention and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and colitis-associated cancer,” was published in Biomaterials.
The Veterans Affairs Research Communications office wrote an article describing the study.
The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements has produced a page called “Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know.” The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has a page on ginger, which notes that few side effects are linked to ginger when it’s taken in small doses.
The Providence Health Library also offers an overview of the uses of ginger.
Talk to your health care provider about whether and how to take ginger as a health supplement. You can find a Providence provider here.