Ginger is spicing up the search for a cure for inflammatory bowel disease, according to research published in Biomaterials. Delivered in the form of nanoparticles, researchers believe ginger could offer a targeted and effective remedy for this potentially debilitating condition.

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Ginger is thought to offer wide-ranging health benefits.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers a group of disorders in which the intestines become inflamed. The cause of IBD is unknown, but scientists believe it could be an autoimmune condition, in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks itself. The two main forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

People with IBD often experience diarrhea and pain – which can be severe – and they may lose blood through the rectum. They are also more prone to complications such as anemia, as their intestines do not absorb nutrients effectively.

Scientists have been looking at nanotechnology as a way of delivering drugs, including drugs aimed at the digestive system.

The advantage of nanotechnology is that it can deliver low doses of drugs to specific areas, thus avoiding unwanted effects on the rest of the body.

Ginger has long been known for its therapeutic effects. It has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for a range of health issues, including colds, nausea, arthritis, migraines, and hypertension.

It is used in a fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallized, candied, and powdered or ground form, in sweets and savory foods, and as a drink.

Ginger tea is said to aid digestion. Ginger supplements are available from health food stores in the form of chews, or mixed with honey as a digestive aid.

However, the new remedy will not be achieved through teas or chews. Researchers from the Atlanta Veterans Association have used super-high-speed centrifuging to obtain ginger-derived nanoparticles (GDNPs).

The team, led by Dr. Didier Merlin and the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University, started by juicing fresh ginger root from the local farmers’ market in a kitchen blender.

Fast facts about IBD
  • Between 1-1.3 million people in the U.S. live with IBD
  • Crohn’s disease is believed to affect 201 people in every 100,000
  • 238 people in every 100,000 have ulcerative colitis.

Learn about Crohn’s disease

Next, they used a super-high-speed centrifuge to achieve ultrasonic dispersion of the ginger juice and create pellets.

Each nanoparticle was about 230 nanometers in diameter, and over 300 of them could fit across the width of a human hair.

Findings from mouse studies indicate that the particles can reduce acute colitis and prevent chronic colitis and colitis-associated cancer.

The particles appear to help in intestinal repair by encouraging the survival and proliferation of cells in the lining of the colon. They also appear to lower the production of proteins that promote inflammation and to raise the levels of proteins that fight inflammation.

The particles can efficiently target the colon, as they are absorbed mainly by cells in the lining of the intestines, where IBD occurs.

They also appear to be nontoxic.

As a result, the researchers suggest that the particles could be used to treat the two main forms of IBD as well as cancer linked to colitis.

The authors say that the high levels of lipids, or fatty molecules, in the particles is key to their therapeutic effect.The ginger plant contains natural lipids, including phosphatidic acid. These are important for building cell membranes.

Other key active substances that naturally occur in ginger are 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol. Previous research has indicated that these compounds can help prevent oxidation, inflammation, and cancer.

It is these constituents that also make ginger effective against nausea and other digestive problems.

Delivering these compounds in a nanoparticle could be a more effective way of targeting colon tissue than consuming natural ginger as a food or supplement.

Ginger could be a cost-effective source of medicine.

Merlin’s team is also considering other plants, as potential “nanofactories for the fabrication of medical nanoparticles.”

Merlin and his co-authors have described plants as a “bio-renewable, sustainable, diversified platform for the production of therapeutic nanoparticles.”

Find out how nanoparticles are being used in medicine to destroy blood clots.