Ginger sharpens immune cells

The substance that gives ginger its pungent taste also appears to affect white blood cells. LianeM/iStock

On the trail of the medicinal potential of the spice tuber: Apparently, our immune cells also "taste" the pungent substance of the ginger and are put on increased alertness, according to a study. The concentration of the so-called [6]-Gingerols in the body, which is necessary for this effect, can also be achieved in a practical way, the scientists report: Tests show that consuming about one liter of ginger tea can provide them.

It gives food a fine aroma and a hot, warming component. In addition to these culinary aspects, ginger also has the reputation of being able to develop healing powers. In Asian medicine, the tuber has long been used for various health problems. However, the reported effects have so far only been partially scientifically proven. However, both taste and effect have probably contributed to the career of the tuber: According to the Federal Statistical Office, the import volume in Germany has almost quadrupled within the last ten years and now reaches 31,600 tons per year.

But what is actually true about the alleged healing power of the tuber? Specifically, the question arises as to what extent normal consumption quantities are sufficient to achieve health effects. And if so, which ingredients and molecular mechanisms could play a role. Lead author Gaby Andersen from the Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology in Freising has been investigating these questions for some time.

Ginger tea ensures relevant concentrations of active ingredients

The basis of the current study was an investigation into the extent to which the consumption of ginger can detect its potentially effective substances in the blood. Test subjects drank a liter of ginger tea within 20 minutes on an empty stomach. The tea was made from 100 grams of freshly crushed tubers. The subsequent blood analyzes showed that the consumption of the tea had led to a surprisingly significant accumulation of so-called gingerols in the plasma. That was by far the strongest [6]-Gingerol represented - with a concentration of 7 to 17 micrograms per liter.

This substance is known to cause a taste sensation of pungency. There was also information about the mechanism: Das [6]-Gingerol binds to the so-called TRPV1 receptor. It is an ion channel that sits on the surface of nerve cells and reacts to heat and pain stimuli as well as to pungent substances in food. There was also evidence that other cells in the body also have the receptor. The research team therefore investigated the extent to which immune cells also responded [6]-Gingerol govern and whether an appropriate stimulus might affect their activity.

Hot stuff stimulates the body police

By analyzing gene activity associated with the formation of the TRPV1 receptor, the team first succeeded in demonstrating this “sense of taste for [6]-gingerol" in the so-called neutrophilic granulocytes. These cells make up the majority of our body police: they make up about two-thirds of the white blood cells. The scientists then carried out laboratory experiments with these immune cells and various concentrations of the active ingredient in ginger.

Using certain markers, it was shown that even a very low concentration of just under 15 micrograms [6]-Gingerol per liter of culture medium is sufficient to put the cells on increased alert. Specifically, the cells stimulated in this way reacted about 30 percent more intensively to a substance that occurs during infections than control cells. As further confirmation, it turned out that when the researchers added an inhibitor to the medium that blocks the TRPV1 receptor, that also disappeared [6]-Gingerol-induced effect.

“Our study shows that, at least in the test, very low [6]-Gingerol concentrations are sufficient to influence the activity of immune cells via the TRPV1 receptor. Such concentrations in the blood could theoretically be achieved by consuming a good one liter of ginger tea,” summarizes Andersen. Senior author Veronika Somoza from the Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology says: "Our results thus support the assumption that the consumption of normal amounts of ginger can be sufficient to modulate cellular responses of the immune system". However, the researcher points out that it is now necessary to clarify what exactly this means: "There are still many unanswered questions at the molecular, epidemiological and medical levels that need to be clarified with the help of modern food and health research," so Somoza.

Source: Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology, original publication: Mol Nutr Food Res, doi: 10.1002/mnfr.202200434.

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