Ginger for long been a solution to treat nausea, and research at the University of Sydney has discovered it may also reduce pain and inflammation.Former studies have shown that the active ingredients in ginger called gingerols,have a similar structure to capsaicin, the active ingredient of chilli peppers and capsicum, a known pain reliever.
Capsaicin acts on a specific receptor in the body called the vanilloid receptor, which sits on pain sensory nerve endings. Vallinoid receptors normally react to heat and acidity. The 'hot' sensation experienced when eating chilli arises from the capsaicin in the chilli reacting with those pain receptors.
But the problem with capsaicin is that it subsides pain receptors only after triggering them off. "Capsaicin initially causes pain, but eventually it can block the sensation of pain," explained Professor Roufogalis."By using ginger molecules that are less pungent than capsicum, we are hoping to achieve the same effect but without the initial painful response," he said. "It would be used as an alternative to capsaicin."
The most likely way to administer ginger as a painkiller would be in the form of a tea taken several times a day, but more work needs to be done on the amount of ginger powder needed per dose to take effect, and the time required between doses."That's the nice thing about ginger, it affects the pain pathways directly but also relieves the inflammation which in itself causes pain."
In test-tube trials, his group has found that gingerols inhibit an enzyme that causes inflammation, cyclooxygenase (or COX for short). It has two forms: COX-1, which is always present in the body, and COX-2, which is produced during inflammation.Newer anti-inflammatory drugs, such as celecoxib (trade name Celebrex) and rofecoxib (Vioxx), work selectively against COX-2. "But they are very expensive, and currently a very significant contributor to the PBS," explained Professor Roufogalis.
According to Professor Roufogalis, gingerols prevent the aggregation of platelets, so as well as reducing inflammation, they can help to thin the blood. And unlike aspirin, he says, ginger has a calming effect on the intestinal tract. The team is seeking funding for a trial with 20 to 30 patients using ginger to treat inflammation and pain. The results would be available within about a year, said Professor Roufogalis.