Some like it hot…at least when it comes to their cuisine. Chili peppers are a popular item these days because they pack a spicy punch and can add a lot of flavor to a dish. Ginger, on the other hand, may not be hot and spicy but offers an earthy, slightly sweet flavor with plenty of zest that many people adore. Unless you’re an aficionado of Asian cooking, however, you may not typically mix ginger and chili peppers when creating a dish. But perhaps you should since new research suggests that when used together, the compounds that give ginger and chili peppers their unique tastes may help ward off cancer.
The study, which took place at Pharmacy College of Henan University in China, found that a combination of the active compounds in chili peppers and ginger may offer a natural way to lower the risk of developing cancer.1 Geng, Shengnan; et al. “Gingerol Reverses the Cancer-Promoting Effect of Capsaicin by Increased TRPV1 Level in a Urethane-Induced Lung Carcinogenic Model.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 20 July 2016. Accessed 10 September 2016. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jafc.6b02480. Rather than recruiting human subjects, this investigation put mice to work in a lab. The scientists were interested in testing the effects of capsaicin in chili peppers and 6-gingerol in ginger—the nutrients responsible for their respectively potent flavors—on cancer.
Using mice that were bred to be disposed to lung cancer, the researchers fed them special diets for several weeks. With their mouse food, one group received only capsaicin, a second group was fed only 6-gingerol, and a third group was provided both capsaicin and 6-gingerol. By the end of the study period, every single one of the mice given only capsaicin developed lung carcinomas. In contrast, just 50 percent of the mice given only 6-gingerol ended up with lung carcinomas. And even better, only 20 percent of the mice that received a combination of capsaicin and 6-gingerol developed tumors.
Before we get too excited over the possible implications of this news, we do have to keep in mind that these were the results in mice, not humans. While certain effects might be similar in people, the bodily systems of mice are still profoundly different than ours and therefore we cannot simply expect that these results would translate in the same way. As Jon Barron has repeatedly pointed out, only about 4-20% of mouse studies statistically translate to humans.
That being said, this is still a promising finding. Any natural ways to help prevent cancer are obviously worth exploring. And these results, to a certain degree at least, jibe with those of earlier research. In addition to a range of other health benefits, ginger was shown in a 2011 study at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor to help prevent colon cancer.2 Zick, Suzanna M.; et al. “Phase II Study of the Effects of Ginger Root Extract on Eicosanoids in Colon Mucosa in People at Normal Risk for Colorectal Cancer.” Cancer Prevention Research. 11 October 2011. Accessed 11 September 2016. http://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/4/11/1929.full?sid=34ecbe94-52a4-438d-98ea-dafc9661119e. But the reviews on chili peppers are decidedly more mixed. Some, such as a 2002 study at Seoul National University in South Korea offer evidence of capsaicin’s ability to inhibit cancer.3 Surh, Young-Joon; et al. “More Than Spice: Capsaicin in Hot Chili Peppers Makes Tumor Cells Commit Suicide.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 4 September 2002. Accessed 11 September 2016. http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/94/17/1263.full. Others, however, such as a 1994 study at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut found that capsaicin consumption may be linked to stomach cancer.4 Lopez-Carnilo, Lizbeth; et al. “Chili Pepper Consumption and Gastric Cancer in Mexico: A Case-Control Study.” American Journal of Epidemiology. 1 February 1994. Accessed 11 September 2016. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/139/3/263.short.
Interestingly, both 6-gingerol and capsaicin bind to the same receptor in cells, and this receptor is associated with the growth of tumors. So it’s not entirely clear how the two compounds might work in concert to be a more effective tumor suppressant than either may be on its own, but it certainly seems to be worth more research.
In the meantime, you can incorporate more ginger into your diet, and try to combine chili peppers and ginger too, if you can handle the heat. Buy fresh ginger and chop or grate it to add it to vegetables or seafood dishes. And consider trying your hand at cuisines of various Asian countries such as India and Thailand. They traditionally use lots of both chili peppers and ginger to add flavor to meals. But focus on cooking these foods at home rather than eating them in restaurants. You may get some delicious meals that offer both chili peppers and ginger when you dine out, but chances are good you will also end up with a lot of extra calories and less-than-healthy ingredients. When you prepare the food yourself, you have much better control.
|↑1||Geng, Shengnan; et al. “Gingerol Reverses the Cancer-Promoting Effect of Capsaicin by Increased TRPV1 Level in a Urethane-Induced Lung Carcinogenic Model.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 20 July 2016. Accessed 10 September 2016. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jafc.6b02480.|
|↑2||Zick, Suzanna M.; et al. “Phase II Study of the Effects of Ginger Root Extract on Eicosanoids in Colon Mucosa in People at Normal Risk for Colorectal Cancer.” Cancer Prevention Research. 11 October 2011. Accessed 11 September 2016. http://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/4/11/1929.full?sid=34ecbe94-52a4-438d-98ea-dafc9661119e.|
|↑3||Surh, Young-Joon; et al. “More Than Spice: Capsaicin in Hot Chili Peppers Makes Tumor Cells Commit Suicide.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 4 September 2002. Accessed 11 September 2016. http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/94/17/1263.full.|
|↑4||Lopez-Carnilo, Lizbeth; et al. “Chili Pepper Consumption and Gastric Cancer in Mexico: A Case-Control Study.” American Journal of Epidemiology. 1 February 1994. Accessed 11 September 2016. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/139/3/263.short.|