Ginger. It’s hot, it’s delicious and it may just open new and important frontiers in treating that common and dangerous ailment: asthma.
Asthma presents itself with a tightening of the airways due to inflammation of surrounding tissue, mucus production and phlegm.
While asthma attacks can be eased with current aerosol treatments, few advancements have been made in asthma treatments in the past few years despite asthma being a serious, and potentially fatal, health complaint.
Now, though, researchers at Columbia University have found that adding components derived from ginger (6-gingerol, 8-gingerol or 6-shogaol) to a common asthma medication (β-agonist isoproterenol) could make the medication more effective.
Why? Because the components allow contracted airway smooth muscle (ASM) tissue to relax to a greater degree than when the asthma medication on its own. Of the compounds, 6-shogaol was the most effective.
“Asthma has become more prevalent in recent years, but despite an improved understanding of what causes asthma and how it develops, during the past 40 years few new treatment agents have been approved for targeting asthma symptoms,” lead author Elizabeth Townsend, PhD, post-doctoral research fellow in the Columbia University Department of Anesthesiology, is quoted as saying.
“In our study, we demonstrated that purified components of ginger can work synergistically with β-agonists to relax ASM.”
Once the researchers realized that the components taken from ginger were able to markedly improve the asthma treatment’s effectiveness, they wished to discover exactly why this was happening. To do this, they explored a number of ideas grounded in existing work on the topic.
Previous studies had shown that an enzyme found in the lungs (phosphodiesterase4D or PDE4D) can prevent the body’s usual processes that would help ASM relax from working to lessen inflammation and therein ease asthma symptoms.
The researchers found that all three ginger components had a significant power to inhibit PDE4D and therefore allow the body’s coping mechanism to work properly.
Past research has also shown protein structures that also play their part in constriction of ASM (F-actin filaments) were quickly dissolved by one of the ginger components, 6-shogaol.
These findings are important because they allow researchers to devise a platform for future research.
“By understanding the mechanisms by which these ginger compounds affect the airway, we can explore the use of these therapeutics in alleviating asthma symptoms,” Dr. Townsend is quoted as saying.
Specifically, the research team aims to gather information so they can have a better understanding of the body’s own ASM relaxation methods.
They also wish to explore whether aerosol delivery of the purified ginger constituents will be a viable way of delivering more effective asthma relief and wider relief for those who suffer from other airway-restricting diseases.
These findings were presented at the American Thoracic Society 2013 conference in Philadelphia this past week.
Recent research has also shown that Vitamin D derived from sunlight may help control symptoms for severe asthma sufferers, something that further randomized trials are looking to explore in more detail.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 18.9 million people among America’s general public have asthma, while 7.1 million children are thought to suffer from the breathing disorder.
Those numbers continue to rise year on year in the U.S., as does the number of reported asthma attacks.
There is no one cause for this increase. An interplay of environmental factors such as poor air quality, lifestyle choices such as a tendency toward obesity, and a failure to properly educate people on how to prevent asthma attacks, have all been blamed.
It is estimated that in 2007, asthma cost the U.S. about $56 billion in medical costs, lost school and work days.
Image credit: Thinkstock.
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