Ginger and Chilies: Nutritional Dynamite!

April 06, 2006

Ginger and Chilies:  Nutritional Dynamite! 

 Competency :  # 5, 14    What you Should Eat AND Superfoods          Reference: American Association for Cancer Research Meeting.  Rebecca Liu, MD, Dept of Ob Gyn and U of Michigan  April 4, 2006;  Holistic Reference:  Andrew Weil has always recommended ginger and turmeric as the two supplements one should take beyond a multivitamin every day.  (This is the type of evidence he has cited.) 

 You may have heard spread all over the news last week about ginger and how it kills off ovarian cancer.  It was released at the American Association of Cancer Research with a study out of the University of Michigan.  So, this is unpublished data.  The researchers did the study by taking cancer cells growing in a Petri dish and pouring a solution of ginger over them.  The cancer cells died at a rate that exceeded the standard chemotherapy rates: from cis-platinum.  

The mechanism of cell death was unique.  Instead of being a poison that killed certain processes in the cell, the standard method of chemotherapy, it caused the cells to go through two processes that happen in normal cells:  apoptosis and autophagy.  These are fancy terms for what your cells do normally in normal conditions.  Apoptosis is the natural cell death that occurs when a cell runs out its natural life course.  Autophagy is the digestion of itself that occurs when apoptosis happens. 

 Near and dear to my heart, chilies do the same thing to pancreas cancer cells in mice.  Capciacin causes apotosis of cancer cells without any harm to normal pancreas cells that usually die off when they complete their life cycle.  The mice had their pancreas cancers shrink in size significantly in response to capsiasin, the compound in chilies that make them hot and spicy.  That makes two spicy foods that work their magic through a whole new means of manipulating cancer cells. This is unique for cancer therapy.  It is a new strategy.  It makes the cancer cells act like normal cells.  

That is contrary to a fundamental premise of cancer.  Cancer cells grow uncontrollably and never die off.   They just keep multiplying and spreading. Chemotherapy drugs might slow them down for a while, but after a while the cancer becomes resistant to the chemotherapy.  Now we have a new strategy to explore.  And if it’s good for you AFTER you get the cancer, it might also be good for you before you get the cancer.  

Does it prevent cancer?  No proof.  No trials. What this means is that the foods we eat may have very powerful effects on our bodies that we haven’t learned how to measure yet, but which may be strategies for some very dangerous cancers.  Pancreatic and ovarian cancers are unique in that they are very hard to find before they become incurable.  Pancreatic cancer kills 31,000 Americans a year.  Ovarian cancer, 16,000.  The researchers did note that the ginger seemed to also reduce the inflammation that was associated with the development of the cancer, but could not elaborate any further on the mechanisms.  They have found very early suggestions that curcumin (the spice in turmeric) and revasterol (red wine) may have similar effects.  Apoptosis: programmed cell death.  AKA: cellular dynamite.

 WWW: What will work for me.  This sounds like Thai food to me: or Chinese, or Indian.  Ginger and chilies are intrinsic parts of many ethnic foods.  This is a great reason to make more stir-fry at home.  Learn to make curry and stir fry Chinese.  Use more ginger.  You can buy candied ginger now too.  I'm not so good at buying supplements.

This column is written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)