A recent study in rodents suggests that ginger might help treat people with lupus and those vulnerable to forming dangerous blood clots.

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Ginger is a popular food ingredient throughout much of the world, but it might also harbor anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Researchers at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor recently looked at whether ginger might help reduce symptoms of lupus. Specifically, they investigated the main bioactive compound of ginger root: 6-gingerol.

They published their findings in JCI Insight.

In lupus, as the body’s immune system turns on itself, inflammation can cause permanent damage to tissues. White blood cells called neutrophils play a key role in this runaway inflammatory reaction.

The authors of the study set out to “determine the extent to which ginger-derived compounds might function as a natural suppressor of aberrant neutrophil hyperactivity.”

To investigate, the scientists assessed the effects of 6-gingerol on mice with lupus.

They also included mice with antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), which is often associated with lupus. APS is an autoimmune disease that causes blood clots to form in the body’s blood vessels.

The team found that, in both groups of mice, 6-gingerol prevented the release of neutrophil extracellular traps. Lead author Ramadan Ali, Ph.D., explains:

“Neutrophil extracellular traps, or NETs, come from white blood cells called neutrophils. These sticky spiderweb-like structures are formed when autoantibodies interact with receptors on the neutrophil’s surface.”

NETs drive lupus and boost the formation of blood clots. Alongside the reduction of NETs, 6-gingerol also produced a drop in blood clot formation.

It also seemed to inhibit phosphodiesterases, which are neutrophil enzymes. This inhibition led to a reduction in neutrophil activation.

Overall, the findings suggest that the ginger compound’s anti-inflammatory activity directly affects autoantibodies related to illnesses such as lupus and APS.

Importantly, regardless of whether the mice had APS or lupus, there was a reduction in autoantibodies. This result indicates that the ginger compound might break the cycle of inflammation and potentially work as a treatment.

Overall, the authors conclude:

[T]his study is the first to demonstrate a protective role for ginger-derived compounds in the context of lupus and importantly provides a potential mechanism for these effects via phosphodiesterase inhibition and attenuation of neutrophil hyperactivity.

This preclinical study has laid an exciting foundation for the team. If researchers can replicate the results in humans, this will raise the possibility that people could use ginger-based supplements to ease blood clotting issues or lupus symptoms.

For some members of the research team, the experiment was particularly eye-opening. Study author and rheumatologist Dr. Jason Knight admitted that he did not know much about supplements. “Through my years of medical training, I wasn’t taught much about supplements, but it’s something that so many patients ask me about.”

Knight continues: “When Ramadan brought the concept to me, I was enthusiastic to pursue it in my lab, as I knew it would matter to them. Sometimes, our patients give us really good ideas!”

Ali and his team are interested in the potential of the 6-gingerol compound to help people who have lupus or are at increased risk of harmful blood clots. The next, and most important, stage will be human trials.

While they are optimistic about this next stage, the researchers understand that the results might not be promising for everyone. “[O]ne size does not fit all,” says Knight. “But, I wonder if there is a subgroup of autoimmune patients with hyperactive neutrophils who might benefit from increased intake of 6-gingerol.”