Pungent ginger compounds stimulates immune response

March 07, 2023 | Histopathology

Ginger has a reputation for activating the immune system. As a medicinal plant, questions about whether normal consumption levels of this fruity-hot root are adequate enough to achieve health effects have arisen. And if so, which specific compounds and molecular mechanisms play a role.

A team led by Veronika Somoza from the Leibniz Institute of Freising in Germany performed extensive research to support this thesis, which was inspired by Gaby Andersen’s earlier pilot study. The study presented the process involved when small amounts of pungent ginger constituents stimulate white blood cells on alert. It includes a receptor that is a key player in the perception of heat stimuli and the sensation of spiciness in food.

The pungent compound exerts its effect on TRPV1 receptor, an ion channel that reacts to pungent compounds from chili and ginger. Previous research studies have suggested that white blood cells also possess this receptor. This led the team to test whether ginger compounds influence activity of immune cells.

Odoo text and image block
Odoo text and image block

In their experiments, the team was able to detect the presence of the receptor on neutrophil granulocytes, which make up about two-thirds of white blood cells that combat invading bacteria. It revealed that even low concentrations of about 15 micrograms of [6]-gingerol per liter is adequate to put these cells on high alert. The stimulated cells, versus control cells, reacted 30% more strongly to a peptide that simulates a bacterial infection. Moreover, the application of a TRPV1 receptor-specific inhibitor reversed [6]-gingerol’s induced effect, confirming results.

Thus, findings support the presumption that intake of common amounts of ginger can modulate immune system responses. Nevertheless, Somoza emphasized how there are still questions at the molecular, epidemiological, and medical levels that are waiting to be addressed with the help of modern food and health research.   

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