Can You Use Ginger to Fight Cancer?

Chopping ginger on a board

There are many different diseases that affect humans but out of all of these, cancer is one of the scariest. A key reason for this is that there is simply so much that we still don’t know about cancer.

Additionally, even with what we do know, the disease seems extremely unpredictable and is very difficult to fight.

To make matters even more complicated, cancer isn’t a single disease. Instead, there is a range of different types of cancer, including colon, lung and pancreatic cancer. While many things are the same across the different types of cancer, there are also key differences. Those differences  can make it even more difficult to find effective ways to combat cancer.

But, here’s a question that’s been floating around online: Does ginger kill cancer cells?

That association between ginger and cancer isn’t as strange as it first sounds. There has been a decent amount of research into natural compounds and their implications for preventing and even treating cancer.

Likewise, there is actually a range of health benefits associated with ginger, which means that there is a good chance that some of the compounds in ginger can actually offer an advantage.

One fairly recent study (Akimoto et al., 2015) looked into this topic and the authors tried to find whether a connection between ginger and cancer does truly exist. The outcomes of the study were pretty interesting – and that’s what we’re going to discuss today.

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The Study Itself

Girl smelling ginger

The research study focused on the fact that key compounds in ginger (particularly [6]-gingerol and [6]-shogaol) have been found to play a role in preventing the growth of cancer cells. The authors were interested in finding out whether similar effects were present for ginger extract as a whole in relation to pancreatic cancer.

The study used both an in vitro and an in vivo approach to look at these outcomes.

The term in vitro basically means ‘in glass’. In this case, the term means that the authors were looking at the effect that ginger had on human cancer when the cells were not in the human body.

In contrast, the term in vivo refers to within an organism or a natural setting. In this case, the in vivo component of the study was conducted in mice.

In both approaches, the authors found that the use of ginger extract contributed to a decrease in tumor growth and the viability of tumor cells. The key mechanism behind this was the ginger extract promoting a specific form of cell death, which is known as autosis.

Strengths and Limitations

One reason that our knowledge about cancer is so limited is that the topic is inherently difficult to research. For example, it certainly isn’t feasible (or ethical) to try every compound to figure out whether or not it actually has an impact on cancer.

Because of this, most research into treating cancer has to rely on animal studies and other types of models to figure out what impact a given compound has on cancer. By doing this, researchers hope to figure out whether the compound or product (ginger extract in this case) is likely to have an effect on cancer in humans.

Man peeling ginger

As already discussed, this study was no exception to the rule and did use a model-based approach.

Specifically, the authors looked at the effect that ginger extract had on cancer cell lines. While this approach was essential, it is also a limitation of the study. In short, this means that the answer to the question ‘does ginger kill cancer cells’ is yes, in theory, but more research is needed before we know whether this action is effective in the human body.

After all, there are many more factors present in the human body than there are in a test tube, including a large number of interrelated biological processes. Likewise, ginger extract would probably be used in conjunction with other cancer treatments, so this would also have to be taken into account.

However, one key strength of this study was that the authors did find a mechanism behind the action of ginger on cancer cells.

Determining a mechanism is an important component of this type of research because the mechanism provides strong evidence that the ginger extract actually does fight cancer.

A second strength is the fact that the authors used an in vitro and an in vivo model for their research. This helps to support the observed outcomes and suggests that similar outcomes would be found in humans.

If research continues to show that ginger has potential as a cancer-fighting approach, it is likely that researchers will start looking at developing synthetic compounds that have improved levels of action. Alternatively, the cancer-fighting components of ginger may be extracted and used as part of an overall cancer strategy.

Does Ginger Kill Cancer Cells?

In general, the outcomes of this research suggest that yes, ginger does kill cancer cells to some degree. Specifically, ginger does this by promoting a specific type of cell death called autosis.

Like most studies into cancer, this research was fairly theoretical in nature. As such, the authors did find a connection between ginger and cancer, but it’s likely that much more research is needed to apply this information to the treatment of cancer.

Likewise, the outcomes of this research don’t mean much for actually including ginger in your diet – especially as the authors considered ginger extract rather than ginger itself.

Nevertheless, the outcomes of the research do support the idea that ginger contains some powerful compounds that could help fight cancer.

Ginger isn't the only plant with cancer-fighting potential either. For example, the site Natural Living Ideas highlights 19 herbs and spices that may help fight cancer.

Additionally, the site Mother Earth Living talks about exactly how some plants are relevant to cancer. 

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Ginger is one of those ingredients that some people love and others hate. How do you find it?

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