Ginger may make asthma treatments more effective

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 22nd May 2013

Adding ginger to asthma medications may improve their effectiveness, according to new US research. A new study from New York’s Columbia University found that components of the peppery root spice ginger may have properties that help asthma patients breathe more easily.

Asthma is characterized by bronchoconstriction, which is a tightening of the bronchial tubes that carry air into and out of the lungs. Among the most common types of asthma medications are beta-agonists, which work by relaxing the airway smooth muscle (ASM) tissues. The latest study looked at whether specific components of ginger could help enhance the relaxing effects of these medications.

Study method

Researchers took human ASM tissue samples and caused the samples to contract by exposing them to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitting compound that causes bronchoconstriction. Then three separate components of ginger, 6-gingerol, 8-gingerol or 6 shogaol, were mixed with a beta-agonist medication. The contracted tissue was then exposed to each of these three mixtures, as well a plain beta-agonist sample.

The researchers found that the tissues treated with the combination of purified ginger components and the asthma medication exhibited significantly greater relaxation than those treated with only the medication. Of the three ginger components, 6-shogaol appeared to be the most effective in enhancing the relaxing effects of the medication.

How it works

Researchers then looked at exactly how the ginger components increased the effects of the medication.

Previous studies had shown that an enzyme called phosphoiesterase4D (PDE4D), which is found in the lungs, inhibits a process that otherwise helps relax ASM and lessens inflammation. Using a technique called fluorescent polarisation, the researchers in the current study found that all three ginger components significantly inhibited PDE4D.

Previous research had also shown that F-actin filaments, a protein structure, plays a role in the constriction of ASM. The latest Columbia University study found that 6-shogaol was effective in speedily dissolving these filaments.

“Taken together, these data show that ginger constituents 6-gingerol, 8-gingerol and 6-shogaol act synergistically with the beta-agonist in relaxing ASM, indicating that these compounds may provide additions relief of asthma symptoms when used in combination with beta-agonists,” said the study’s lead author Elizabeth Townsend, a post-doctoral research fellow at Columbia University.

“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 said.

“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,” Dr Townsend added.

Dr Townsend and her colleague, Dr Charles Emala, said they hope future studies will enable them to gain a better understanding of the cellular mechanisms that facilitate ASM relaxation and to determine whether aerosol delivery of these purified ginger compounds may have therapeutic benefits for sufferers of asthma.

The study was presented at the American Thoracic Society 2013 International Conference, which was held in Pennsylvania 17-22 May 2013.

Vitamin D may also reduce asthma symptoms

Meanwhile, researchers at King’s College London have discovered that Vitamin D may significantly reduce the symptoms of asthma.

The study, led by Professor Catherine Hawrylowicz from the MRC and Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma at King’s College, was published 20 May 2013 in the Journal of Allegy and Clinical Immunology.

Researchers identified a mechanism through which Vitamin D can reduce the production of a natural chemical in the body that exacerbates asthma and reduces responsiveness to steroid treatments.

The chemical, IL-17A, helps to defend the body against infection, and is present in much higher levels in patients with asthma. Patients with steroid-resistant asthma had the highest levels of IL17A.

The latest study showed that while steroids were unable to lower the production of IL-17A in cells from patients with asthma, Vitamin D significantly reduced the production of the chemical in all patients studied. Researchers said the results demonstrate that Vitamin D could provide an effective add-on treatment for all asthma suffers, and reduce the amount of steroid-based medications necessary in treatment.

“These findings are very exciting as they show that Vitamin D could one day be used not only to treat people with steroid resistant asthma but also to reduce the doses of steroids in other asthma patients, reducing the risk of harmful side effects,” Professor Hawrylowicz said.

The results of the study are so positive that researchers are testing the treatment in a clinical trial in steroid-resistant asthma patients.