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Ginger may benefit asthma sufferers

Asthma sufferers may benefit from the addition of ginger to their usual medications, a new study suggests.

Asthma is a condition that affects the bronchial tubes which carry air to and from the lungs. In asthma sufferers, the bronchial tubes can become irritated and begin to constrict, making it difficult to breathe. Asthma triggers (such as environmental pollutants) can also create inflammation, causing a build up of mucous in the bronchial tubes. The numbers of asthma sufferers in the UK appears to be on the increase, and worryingly the UK has the highest prevalence of childhood asthma worldwide.

Despite the growing number of asthma sufferers in the UK, there have been few new treatment agents approved for asthma symptoms. Normally, medicines called beta-agonists are used, which work by relaxing the airways, opening them up and helping patients to breathe. In the recent study, however, scientists from Columba University found that certain compounds in ginger help to relax muscle in the airways, increasing the effectiveness of these prescribed medications.

The link between diet and asthma has a solid evidence base, and indeed dietary factors could explain the rising incidence of asthma in the UK. Previous population studies have suggested beneficial effects linked with fresh fruit and vegetables (2), oily fish (3) and full fat dairy products (4). Foods such as margarine and salt, on the other hand, have been linked with an increased risk of asthma and allergy (5-6). Alongside prescribed medications, it would certainly seem sensible for asthma sufferers to consider an anti-inflammatory diet as a supportive health measure.

There is a direct link between ginger and asthma
The link between diet and asthma has a solid evidence base

This particular study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University, tested the effects of ginger on human tissue samples from the airways. The researchers caused the tissue samples to constrict by exposing them to acetylcholine, a compound known to cause constriction in the airways. They then tested the effects of asthma medication isoproterenol alone, and then together with three components of ginger – 6-gingerol, 8-ginerol and 6-shogoal. The tissue responses were then recorded and compared.

The results showed that combining ginger with the isoproterenol rendered the treatment significantly more effective than using isoproterenol alone. Lead author Elizabeth Townsend, PhD, concluded that the ginger compounds “act synergistically with the beta-agonist in relaxing (the airways), indicating that these compounds may provide additional relief of asthma symptoms when used in combination with beta-agonists.”

Although this study shows promise, it is likely to be some time before ginger is approved as an agent in the treatment of asthma. Nevertheless, ginger is a great addition to the diet, and is often used for nausea and digestive support, as well as its anti-inflammatory benefits. Incorporating ginger tea is an easy way of adding this spice into your daily diet. Fresh ginger root works well in stir-fries and vegetable soups. It also freezes well for later use – simply store it in the freezer and grate it from frozen.

References

1. Townsend AE et al (2013) Active Constituents Of Ginger Potentiate β-Agonist-Induced Relaxation Of Airway Smooth Muscle. ATS International Conference. May 2013.

2. Farchi S, Forastiere F, Agabiti N. et al Dietary factors associated with wheezing and allergic rhinitis in children. Eur Respir J 2003. 22772–780.780

3. Hodge L, Salome C, Peat J. et al Consumption of oily fish and childhood asthma risk. Med J Aust 1996. 164137–140.140

4. Wijga A H, Smit H A, Kerkhof M. et al Association of consumption of products containing milk fat with reduced asthma risk in pre‐school children: the PIAMA birth cohort study. Thorax 2003. 58567–572.572.

5. Bolte G, Frye C, Hoelscher B. et al Margarine consumption and allergy in children. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2001. 163277–279.279.

6. Pistelli R, Forastiere F, Corbo G. et al Respiratory symptoms and bronchial responsiveness are related to dietary salt intake and urinary potassium excretion in male children. Eur Respir J 1993. 6517–522.522.

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