We all know that ginger is a healthy addition to any meal, and that it can reduce nausea and inflammation in the human body. It’s a food with curative powers that have been highly regarded for centuries, though science is still unlocking its secrets. Coincidentally, three researchers from the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology in India may have just stumbled upon one of those secrets, and it will likely have far-reaching implications for the cancer treatment field.
They’ve found that there is a chemical in ginger called 6-shogaol , which has an impressive effect against breast cancer cells. It also targets cancer stem cells in particular, which are largely responsible for spreading cancer throughout the body, as well spurring the growth of tumors that have been previously treated with chemo or surgery. And best of all, it is effective at doses that aren’t harmful to noncancerous cells, unlike chemotherapy.
In fact, the researchers decided to see how 6-shogaol would stack up against a traditional chemotherapy drug known as taxol. While taxol is known to inhibit ordinary cancer cells (and cause a host of awful side effects ) it still struggles to eliminate cancer stem cells. The researchers tested the taxol at a concentration that was 10,000 times higher than their 6-shogaol samples, and it still wasn’t as effective at destroying cancer stem cells as the ginger chemical.
As for how 6-shogaol works in the human body, the researchers found 6 different ways that it can inhibit cancer growth.
- It reduces the expression of CD44/CD24 cancer stem cell surface markers in breast cancer spheroids (3-dimensional cultures of cells modeling stem cell like cancer)
- It significantly affects the cell cycle, resulting in increased cancer cell death
- It induces programmed cell death primarily through the induction of autophagy, with apoptosis a secondary inducer
- It inhibits breast cancer spheroid formation by altering Notch signaling pathway through γ-secretase inhibition.
- It exhibits cytotoxicity (cell killing properties) against monolayer (1-dimensional cancer model) and spheroid cells (3-dimensional cancer model)
While the study investigated the effects 6-shogaol in the lab, it’s hard to say how well it will proliferate in the human body, if at all. Although previous studies have found that feeding ginger to mice  can inhibit cancer, so there’s a good chance that you can receive 6-shogaol by consuming ginger. However, you have to find dried ginger, since it is produced by gingerol chemicals that are dehydrated.
Although the study doesn’t definitively prove how effective ginger would be in the real world, or how useful it would be against other forms of cancer, it certainly is promising. It has provided another perfect example of how mother nature has solutions to health problems that we’ve been struggling to treat with pharmaceuticals for decades. Hopefully, future research will prove that something as simple and affordable as ginger can prevent and treat some of our most devastating diseases.
If you’re interested, you can read the study in its entirety at plosone.org .