In spite of the fact that there have been a lot of advancements in cancer research in recent decades, the reality is that cancer remains the fourth leading cause of death in the United States — and around the world. It takes the lives of 7.6 million people a year. Although there are more treatment options than there used to be, most plans of care still revolve around some combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery. However, from nausea and vomiting to burns to the risk for post-surgical infections, all of these treatments come with the possibility of unwanted side effects.
However, the good news is that research is underway to look at more natural forms of cancer treatment — and recent research out of India which looked at the effects of ginger compounds on breast cancer stem cells found that ginger might hold the key to treatments that kill off cancer cells without doing harm to healthy tissue.
What the New Research on Ginger Found
This new study was funded by the Indian government’s Woman Scientist Scheme and in it, researchers looked at 6-shogal, a gingerol derivative which is found in dried ginger. This compound has been studied in the past on other forms of cancer, but scientists wanted to see what sort of effects it would have on breast cancer stem cells, which play an important role in the development of this disease.
In this study, cancer cells grown in the lab were exposed to extracts of 6-shogal. In comparison, stem cells were also exposed to curcumin derivatives (the active ingredient found in turmeric) and to Taxol, a common chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of breast cancer. What the researchers found was that of the three compounds, the action of 6-shogal was found to be the most effective for inhibiting cancer growth and inducing the death of cancer cells (called apotosis).
Researchers also noted that, while this compound was the most effective against cancer cells, it also did the least amount of damage to surrounding healthy tissues. This makes it superior to traditional methods of cancer treatment like chemotherapy which can do significant harm to non-cancerous cells and negatively impact a cancer survivor’s future quality of life.
What We Learn from the Study
This is not the first study that has looked at the anti-cancer benefits of ginger compounds. Researchers working on this recent project noted that shogal-6 has been the focus of similar research in the past in which it has proven effective against the viability of stomach cancer cells and increased the rates of cell death in colon cancer cells. It has also been used, in conjunction with chemotherapy, to help not only kill off cancer cells but to reduce the intensity of nausea and vomiting that chemo can cause as a side effect.
These are all parts of a growing body of evidence that ginger can truly be effective against cancer development. Animal studies have come up with similar findings: for instance, one recently published piece of research found that the use of ginger on laboratory mice with prostate cancer was able to shrink these cancerous tumors by 56%, while another study found that it was also effective at treating oral cancer in hamsters.
People who have been diagnosed with cancer should consider increasing the amount of ginger in their diets and also discussing, with a herbalist, the possibility of ginger supplementation. However, patients should also be aware that they should not try to replace their current treatment plan with ginger and should also discuss the addition of ginger to their diet with their doctor or oncologist. However, this study and others like it have raised the hope that new anti-cancer treatments can be developed that are both more effective against tumors and less damaging to healthy cells than what is currently available.
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