The ginger plant or root has varied uses as an herbal medicine, used to treat conditions affecting the nervous, respiratory, digestive, and immune systems
Like many other herbal medicines, the ginger plant root (Zingiber officinale) has a long history of use as a culinary ingredient. Powdered ginger is a common spice for both savory and sweet dishes throughout the world.
Fresh, sliced, peeled ginger root is used like a vegetable to lend a sharp, peppery taste to Asian stir fry dishes. Pickled ginger is a traditional condiment for Japanese sushi. Dried, candied ginger is a common sweet treat throughout Asia.
However, the ginger plant has even more varied uses as an herbal medicine. Within traditional Asian herbal medicine, ginger root has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including those affecting the nervous, respiratory, digestive, respiratory, and immune systems.1,2 Treating conditions affecting the immune system, such as autoimmune disorders, can be particularly difficult, as many symptoms may appear to fit into some of the other disease categories that ginger root often treats.
Fortunately, recent animal research into using ginger root to treat lupus, a common autoimmune disorder, may be an important step toward effective treatment of such disorders in humans. Read further to discover how ginger root can help break the inflammation cycle that is often the hallmark of autoimmune disorders.
Mechanism of autoimmune disorders
Before we get into how the ginger plant and root can help treat autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, we must first understand the actual mechanism behind how such disorders actually attack the body.
Under normal circumstances, the body’s immune system activates only for a short period of time to fight off harmful antigens, such as viruses or bacteria, or protect against an injury such as a cut to the skin. White blood cells produce antibody proteins to protect the body via acute inflammation to seal off affected tissue from the rest of the body. When the body is no longer in danger, the immune system stops the inflammation process and no longer produces antibodies.
In the case of autoimmune disorders the immune system fails to stop producing antibodies, as it cannot differentiate between diseased and healthy tissue. As a result the acute inflammation process becomes chronic, causing swelling, pain, and tissue damage throughout the body. This chronic inflammation can affect many areas of the body, including the skin, joints, lungs, kidneys, and heart, or a combination of these.
The ginger plant and the inflammation process
An article from February in the journal JCI Insight reported on the results of a study to test the effects of 6-gingerol, the main bioactive compound in the ginger plant root, on lab mice with either lupus or antiphospholipid syndrome, a similar autoimmune condition.3
Specifically, the researchers were interested in the connection between 6 gingerol and neutrophil extracellular traps, which come from a type of white blood cell known as a neutrophil. These extracellular traps are associated with lupus and antiphospholipid syndrome progression, as well as large-vein thrombosis and antibody formation.
The researchers found that 6-gingerol lowered neutrophil extracellular trap levels, reduced the tendency for blood to clot, and slowed antibody formation.3 They speculated: “Future studies might administer ginger supplements to individuals at high risk for autoimmune conditions and/or cardiovascular disease (for example, individuals with autoantibodies who have yet to have clinical events or patients with cardiovascular risk factors). In such scenarios, its antineutrophil properties might prove protective against disease emergence.”3
Diagnosing autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, can be particularly tricky, as symptoms can often seem to be associated with other conditions or may flare and recede. Although the next step in this research will require human testing, it may represent a major breakthrough in treating patients with autoimmune disorders.
- Khodaie L, Sadeghpoor O. Ginger from ancient times to the new outlook. Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products. 2015;10(1):e18402. Published 2015 Jan 17. doi:10.17795/jjnpp-18402
- Mashhadi NS, Ghiasvand R, Askari G, et al. Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger in health and physical activity: Review of current evidence. International Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013;4(Suppl 1):S36-S42.
- Ali RA, Gandhi AA, Dai L, et al. Antineutrophil properties of natural gingerols in models of lupus. JCI Insight. 2021 Feb 8;6(3):138385.