Ginger has a long and rich history when it comes to improving our wellbeing. Its medical use can be traced back thousands of years as a natural remedy for things like diarrhea and upset stomachs, but still today the thick, knotted root continues to reveal some hidden talents. Researchers have taken fresh ginger and converted it into a nanoparticle that exhibits real potential to treat these kinds of symptoms in one of their more chronic forms, inflammatory bowel disease, and might even help fight cancer, too.
The discovery was the result of a collaboration between researchers at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Georgia State University. Based on previous research highlighting the anti-inflammatory properties of the plant, the team set out to further explore the potential for ginger to treat conditions relating to the digestive tract.
The research began with a fresh ginger root purchased at a farmer's market, which the team ground up in a typical kitchen blender. But the process was a little more complicated from that point, with the team using super-high-speed centrifugation and ultrasonic dispersion to break the ginger apart into tiny particles, each measuring around 230 nanometers across.
These particles were administered orally to lab mice, where they were drawn to the colon and soaked up by cells in the lining of the intestines. This is the region where inflammatory bowel disease occurs, and the researchers observed that the particles reduced both short-term and long-term inflammation, and even prevented cancer that arises as a result.
Furthermore, the researchers found that the ginger-derived nanoparticles, or GDNPs, improved intestinal repair by increasing the survival and spread of cells making up the colon lining. At the same time, they hampered the production of proteins that give rise to inflammation and boosted those that fight it.
The team believes that these therapeutic effects come from the high amounts of fatty molecules, or lipids, in the particles, which are a consequence of the natural lipids found in the ginger plant. One of these lipids is phosphatidic acid, which plays an important role in the construction of cell membranes, but the researchers say that their particles also retain other important ginger compounds called 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol, which have been shown to fight oxidation, inflammation, and cancer.
The particles appeared to be non-toxic in the mice and the researchers say that in humans they may provide a more targeted treatment of the colon than simply delivering ginger as a herb or supplement. This more precise approach means it could be delivered in lower doses and therefore avoid unnecessary or unwanted side effects.
Among the challenges in turning these GDNPs into a drug, Didier Merlin, leader of the research team explains, is the need to pinpoint the precise mechanisms by which they produce these effects.
"To find the natural components that are responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects of GDNPs, this will be an important step to develop GDNPs into a drug," he tells New Atlas.
The research was published in the journal Biomaterials.