What’s All The Fuss About Ginger?

A small study has found ginger supplements reduce markers of inflammation in the colon tissue of 30 healthy volunteers..

  • Does this mean eating more ginger or taking ginger supplements will reduce colon cancer risk?  We don’t know, and this study doesn’t ask or answer that question?
  • Does ginger actually reduce inflammation in the colon? Or just cut back  some inflammatory markers that it might be temporarily present?  We don’t know.
  • Will ginger have similar side effects as other agents that we know do reduce inflammation like aspirin? We don’t know. For the short time volunteers were taking ginger there didn’t seem to be any difference in side effects, but what may happen long-term . . . We Just Don’t Know!

There is a lot we don’t know. Yet, ginger is being touted by the media as preventing or fighting colon cancer. True, many headlines are hedging bets with words like “may” but the implication is still there.

TV, newspapers, and the Internet have been full of ginger stories this week.  Some actual headlines were:

  • Daily dose of ginger may cut cancer risk
  • Eat ginger daily to ward off cancer
  • Ginger May Help Prevent Colon Cancer
  • Ginger May Have Cancer-Fighting Qualities
  • Reduction in risk of colorectal cancer by ginger
  • Ginger Root Consumption A Way of Preventing Colon Cancer, says Study

Come on! It’s important to do science right and tell people what it really says.

What the Study Did

Thirty healthy volunteers were randomly assigned to get a placebo (dummy pill) or a capsule with 2 grams of ground ginger. That’s about 2 teaspoons full or the equivalent of 20 grams of raw ginger, considerably more than is part of most diets.

They had a flexible sigmoidoscopy before they started taking the ginger to obtain a biopsy of colon tissue and another one 28 days later.

What the Study Showed

At the end of 4 weeks, two markers of COX inhibition associated with inflammation were statistically reduced in volunteers who were taking the ground ginger.  There was a trend, but not a statistical reduction, in two other markers.

COX (cyclooxygenase) is an enzyme that converts fatty acids in the body to chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.  Blocking COX action makes drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and Celebrex® work.

Ginger appeared to be tolerable and safe with no more side effects in the people taking the supplements than in those who got placebos.

What the Study Means for Individuals

Does this mean that you should start eating more ginger or taking ginger supplements?  Not unless you want a little ginger to spice up something you are cooking.

There is not enough information yet to connect the dots between potential markers of inflammation, inflammation itself, and colon or rectal cancer, especially in healthy people.

Twenty-eight days was too short a time to find out if ginger as a COX inhibitor might have some of the same adverse events as other COX inhibitors including bleeding and increased cardiovascular events.  While it appears safe in this short trial, daily use of ginger root supplements needs further study.

Bottom line — we don’t know how safe daily ginger supplements are or if they are truly effective in preventing colon or rectal cancer.  But more study is justified, perhaps in people with higher risk of colorectal cancer.  This is a first step.

Lead study author Suzanna Vick emphasized,

If you want to add ginger to part of a healthy diet, that’s great. But you can’t make any conclusions about definite health benefits based on the study findings.

We need to apply the same rigor to the sorts of questions about the effect of ginger root that we apply to other clinical trial research. Interest in this is only going to increase as people look for ways to prevent cancer that are nontoxic, and improve their quality of life in a cost-effective way.

SOURCE: Zick et al., Cancer Prevention Research, Published Online First October 11, 2011.


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