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Aug 30, 2011

Whole Plant Medicines: Anti-Cancer Benefits of Ginger

Plant-based medicines have been utilized in cultures across the world for centuries.  Only in the last several decades has there been such a push to isolate single constituents from plants in order to formulate patentable synthetic drugs.  When single active constituents are isolated from plants, much of the wisdom of that plant is lost forever.  Many herbal medicine practitioners find that whole plant medicines tend to be superior to their isolated counterparts since nature has a way of packaging constituents together that work synergistically.  

In a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, scientists have been looking at the anti-cancer properties of ginger in its whole form extract.  In her lab, Associate Professor of Biology, Ritu Aneja, made the discovery that ginger has the ability to stop cancer cell growth and induce cell death in prostate cancer cells.  Animal studies showed evidence that the extract had no significant toxicity to normal tissues like bone marrow, and tumor regression was impressive (up to 60%).  Analysis of data indicates that humans may receive benefit by taking only 3.5 ounces of whole ginger extract daily.  

In their quest to find solutions to cancer that are gentler and without the major side effects of most drugs available, Aneja and her team are taking a more holistic approach.  They are interested in multiple molecules found within the whole extract as opposed to single chemical components.  According to Aneja, “…The compounds we are seeking to identify may be low in abundance, but they may be very important and cannot be disregarded."  

This brings up a good question.  With so much medical research today focusing in on single isolated plant compounds, how much of our potential knowledge and understanding of whole plant medicine (from a western scientific perspective) is being discarded?  Thanks to scientists like Aneja and her team, a more holistic approach will surely give us a more thorough understanding, at least when it comes to whole ginger extract and its promising effects in prostate cancer.  

Dr. Shana McQueen