How does ginger fight cancer?

A ginger root and chopped ginger in a small bowl on a bamboo mat. With a closeup view.
Scientists are hoping that ginger might prove helpful in the fight against ovarian cancer.
iStockphoto/James Driscoll

When you were young, ginger ale may have been a popular choice for quelling your upset stomach on a day home from school. For years, ginger has been used to combat nausea -- but did you know it's now also being looked at to combat cancer?

In research on tumor-bearing mice, scientists discovered that ginger can kill cancerous cells in two different ways. In the first way, apoptosis, the ginger causes the cancer cells to "commit suicide" by destroying themselves while leaving the surrounding healthy cells untouched. The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger prevent precancerous tumors from creating the perfect breeding ground and climate for growth [source: Rossiter]. In the second way, autophagy, ginger tricks the cancerous cells into eating themselves [source: Heubeck].


Research is now looking into one of the toughest cancers to fight -- ovarian cancer. Repeated chemotherapy can actually lose its effectiveness over time as the cancer builds a resistance to the repetitive treatment. Because ginger can work two ways, researchers are hoping that it would help deter resistance from the cancer [source: Heubeck].

In another study of mice, those that were given ginger had distinctly impeded human cancer growth [source: DeNoon]. The bad news is that such promising research has only been conducted on mice. The good news, however, is that it would seem that humans might be able to get the same benefit just by eating products with ginger and ginger root in them, and it doesn't take much to get to the equivalent levels used in previous studies.

Cancer prevention and fighting abilities aren't the only potential benefits you may get from adding a bit more ginger to your diet. Read on to discover a few other unexpected benefits you might gain from that extra glass of ginger ale.


Ginger Health Benefits

Sipping on that ginger ale when your stomach was upset as a child wasn't just a placebo -- numerous studies and research, including the Mayo Clinic's strict grading system, agree that ginger has some sort of anti-nausea properties.

Some believe that ginger works well against postoperative, or after-surgery nausea, while others swear by it to reduce motion sickness. The Mayo Clinic, however, advises the use of ginger only to reduce nausea -- and vomiting -- during pregnancy. While more research needs to be done, early studies are very promising, especially in that short doses don't seem to do any harm to the mother or baby [source: Mayo Clinic]. Longer doses may cause problems, so, as with any medication or supplement, you should seek medical advice before beginning treatment.


Other health benefits from ginger exist as well. The anti-inflammatory properties that may keep cancer from multiplying may also offer relief against rheumatoid arthritis [source: Rossiter]. Some suggest that ginger can help alleviate menstrual cramps and quell a cough associated with the common cold [source: Tyler}. Another benefit of ginger is that it seems to have no real side effects, which is one of the main reasons it appears to be safe during pregnancy.

No matter your treatment, you should always consult a doctor before starting, even with something like ginger that seems to have little to no side effects.

To learn more, visit the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • The Age. "Ginger, tea may fight cancer." October 29, 2003 (Accessed 3/14/09)
  • BBC News. "Ginger 'may fight ovarian cancer.'" April 16, 2006. (Accessed 3/14/09)
  • Bob. "Ginger for Nausea, Motion Sickness, and Health." HubPages. (Accessed 3/14/09)
  • Chinese Medicine News. "Ginger inhibits ovarian cancer cell growth." (Accessed 3/14/09)
  • DeNoon, Daniel. "Some Herbs May Fight Cancer." WebMD. October 26, 2003. (Accessed 3/14/09)
  • Heubeck, Elizabeth. "Six Foods That Fight Cancer." Fox News. April 27, 2006. (Accessed 3/14/09),2933,193441,00.html
  • Mayo Clinic. "Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe)." (Accessed 3/14/09)
  • Rossiter, Kelly. "Cook with Foods that Fight Cancer: Turmeric and Ginger." Planet Green. March 23, 2008. (Accessed 3/14/09)
  • Tyler, Varro E. "Spotlight on ginger." Prevention; Feb98, Vol. 50 Issue 2 (accessed 3/23/09 via Health Source Database)
  • UK Daily Mail. "Ginger joins cancer fight." (Accessed 3/14/09)
  • Vimala, S. et al. "Ginger and turmeric fight cancer." Healing Cancer Naturally. April 1999. (Accessed 3/14/09)