April 2007. Now why am I NOT surprised??? I found not one but TWO studies on ginger and MM. A substance called 1′-acetoxychavicol acetate (ACA), found in the seeds and rhizomes of Languas galangal, a member of the ginger family, has been shown to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in MM cells. Languas galangal is also known as Alpinia galangal, named after the 16th-17th century Italian botanist Prospero Alpino (I just love to find these Italian connections!). Like curcumin, this compound is a NF-kappaB inhibitor. The first study is titled 1′-Acetoxychavicol Acetate Is a Novel Nuclear Factor B Inhibitor with Significant Activity against Multiple Myeloma In vitro and In vivo. For the first time, a group of researchers showed that ACA inhibits the growth of, and then kills, human MM cells both in vitro and in vivo (mice, again): http://tinyurl.com/2xzffz The same research team published a second study, 1′-Acetoxychavicol acetate induces apoptosis of myeloma cells via induction of TRAIL, in 2005. The abstract can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/ypx8ke
Ginger and osteoclastogenesis. Osteoclasts are cells responsible for bone breakdown. The word osteo-clast is, in fact, a combination of the Greek words for bone and broken. Now, MM induces osteoclastogenesis and depends on the activity of osteoclasts. If this process can be inhibited, well, it would almost be too good to be true! We may be closer than we think: a 2006 study examined the role of ACA in the prevention of osteoclast formation and treatment of cancer-caused bone loss. ACA was also found to inhibit NF-kappaB. In any event, the most important finding, as far as MM is concerned, is that ACA managed to block MM cells from forming osteoclasts. The implications are extraordinary: ACA could possibly prevent bone destruction, which is a HUGE problem for MM patients. The full study can be read at: http://tinyurl.com/2633rb
General ginger facts. Ginger mainly controls inflammation (bingo!) and eases nausea. Indeed, its possible preventive effect on nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy is currently under study; see the ginger clinical trial at: http://tinyurl.com/284xcq . Herbalists use ginger to treat bronchitis, arthritis and ulcerative colitis. Apparently, it can relieve cold and flu symptoms, and also sore throats. For general information on ginger, see http://tinyurl.com/ys3frq and http://tinyurl.com/2abqh2 (the latter link is to a University of Maryland fact sheet that tells us how to take ginger, and provides dosages). I keep fresh ginger in my freezer, and cut off and peel pieces to add to my juices. It adds a lot of pizzazz to them. By the way, should you decide to chew on a piece of ginger, be prepared for some spiciness. Wow.
Ginger and other cancers. Studies at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have shown its use against ovarian cancer that becomes resistant to standard chemotherapy. Researchers noted two effects when they added ginger to ovarian cancer cell cultures: 1. it induced apoptosis (which, by the way, has become one of my favourite words in the English language), and 2. these cells digested or attacked themselves in a process called autophagy. Another great word. See http://tinyurl.com/2xfc9u for more information on this study. Another interesting titbit is that these researchers are also looking at resveratrol and curcumin. Need I say more? In 1996, ACA was found to inhibit oral cancer in rats: http://tinyurl.com/2fdzgk The above-mentioned apoptotic effects of ACA have been observed in human myeloid leukemic cells, and the following study, published in Clinical Cancer Research in 2004, suggests that it be used in the treatment of myeloid leukemia: http://tinyurl.com/2czdng. The anti-cancer effect of gingerol, a ginger extract, was tested also on colorectal carcinomas, with positive effects. See the BBC news report: http://tinyurl.com/2qae2u.
Conclusions. I have only scratched the surface of the anti-cancer effects of ginger. I will try to follow any progress made in this field, and report it here. However, perhaps the most significant discovery I made in doing research for this post is the osteoclast inhibition by ACA. I don’t mean to recommend that we start eating a ton of ginger (as I recall, 4 grams is the maximum tolerated daily dose), but my research strongly suggests that we incorporate some fresh ginger into our diet. It certainly can’t hurt, and it can also add flavour to what we eat. Add some sliced ginger to any meat dish, for instance, and give it some zing!
UPDATE February 5 2009: A ginger extract also inhibits IL-1 beta, involved in the progression from SMM to MM. See http://tinyurl.com/cqv9f7