Whether you stand on the conventional side of medicine or the functional side of medicine, we all love research that supports what we already believe and do. There can be a risk of confirmation bias from only acknowledging study findings that we like, but as studies uncover the actual mechanisms of a supplement’s actions, we can feel more and more confident in recommending it. Research that demonstrates the actual pathway by which a supplement or a drug exerts its primary effect leaves little room for disagreement. In this case, ginger, a common supplement, was studied for its anti-inflammatory effect and such a pathway for its efficacy was uncovered.
Ginger is best known for its use as a spice in various cuisines (and for ostensibly flavoring of ginger ale), but its antinausea benefits and anti-inflammatory benefits are greatly appreciated in the natural medicine world. Many pregnant women or individuals going through cancer therapy find the anti-nausea benefits quite helpful. In the focus study, researchers wanted to understand how ginger might exert its anti-inflammatory effect. They narrowed down their research to see how ginger would affect a white blood cell called a neutrophil which is involved in a number of immune defense functions as well as potentially contributing to autoimmune diseases and their resulting inflammation.
They found that ginger made these neutrophils less likely to trigger a process called NETosis. NETosis refers to a tangle (net) of microscopic fibrils produced by neutrophils in inflammatory situations that drives further inflammation and blood clotting. These NETs appear to play a role in multiple autoimmune diseases and other illnesses. Logically, lowering the presence or reactivity of these NET’s could lower the inflammation and the damage caused by these diseases.
In the study, 20mg of ginger’s active ingredient, gingerol, when given to healthy individuals for 1 week, boosted an intracellular chemical called cAMP (cycle adenosine mono-phosphate) and thereby lowered the extent of NET production. Other prior studies suggested that ginger had a true anti-inflammatory effect, but identifying this mechanism goes a long way in encouraging those providers caring directly for patients to consider ginger as another option for their autoimmune disease patients. Many providers hesitate to recommend natural products because they don’t know the mechanism of action, even when they prescribe many artificial medications with equally obscure mechanisms.
This 20mg of gingerol is approximately 1 capsule of common brands of ginger supplements. Looking at one unnamed brand, the bottle stated 500mg of ginger that contained 5% gingerols per one capsule. Therefore, about 25mg of gingerol is included in each capsule. One capsule per day of this brand would have provided a similar dose as in the study.
I appreciate the effort by these University of Colorado researchers in the field of rheumatology who were willing to look at this inexpensive supplement as an alternative to medications or at least a helpful addition. Helping patients with autoimmune conditions to live healthier more abundant lives sometimes requires medications, but always requires using all the tools of medicine that God provides, including supplements and lifestyle. Adding something like ginger with clearly elucidated mechanisms could be a safe and effective way to lower medications dose or possibly avoid medications. From there, lifestyle changes where those with autoimmune disease learn to lower their exposure to inflammatory toxins and foods can further decrease the need for more expensive and risky meds. No reason to withhold any of these therapies from our patients.
Ramadan A. Ali, Valerie C. Minarchick, Miela Zahavi, Christine E. Rysenga, Kristin A. Sturm, Claire K. Hoy, Cyrus Sarosh, Jason S. Knight, M. Kristen Demoruelle. Ginger intake suppresses neutrophil extracellular trap formation in autoimmune mice and healthy humans. JCI Insight, 2023; 8 (18) DOI: 10.1172/jci.insight.172011
Thanks to Science Daily:
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “New research adds evidence to the benefits of ginger supplements for treating autoimmune diseases.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 September 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/09/230922141250.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.