Researchers at Columbia University in New York have demonstrated for the first time that using components of ginger with regular asthma medication may be far more effective than using the medication on its own.
Using human and guinea pig tissue samples, the research team discovered that by combining an asthma reliever drug – the short-acting beta-agonist isoproterenol – with certain components of ginger, relaxation of the airway smooth muscle was three to five times greater than when treating with the reliever medication alone.
“We have shown that these naturally derived chemicals use similar pathways to known asthma therapies and augment beta-agonists, the most widely used asthma medication during an emergency,” said Elizabeth Townsend, lead study author and post-doctoral research fellow at the Columbia University Medical Center.
Three ginger components appeared to have more than one role in providing airway relaxation. They enhanced the relaxation achieved from beta-agonists, reduced the amount of medication required to achieve the same outcome, suppressed the activation of molecules that lead to inflammation and inhibited an enzyme that also brings on inflammation.
Townsend told Allergic Living that this study, which was presented at May’s annual meeting of the American Thoracic Society, helps to explain patients’ reports of herbal remedies such as ginger being effective. She hopes that this research will lead to new asthma drugs that involve ginger.
Research published last year by the Columbia group and British colleagues found that certain purified components of ginger had a relaxing effect on airway muscles in guinea pig and human tissue. The components deemed to be useful were -gingerol, -gingerol and -shogaol. (Another component of ginger, -gingerol, had little beneficial effect.)
In the current study, combining the beta-agonist medication with -gingerol or -gingerol was shown to relax the airway three times more than using the medication alone. One component, -shogaol, had an even stronger effect: using it with the medication resulted in five times more smooth muscle relaxation.
The study notes that as many as 40 percent of asthmatics use herbal remedies to self-treat their symptoms. These results give some credence to the use of herbal remedies, and suggest that asthma medications can be made to be more effective.
Townsend says the next step for this research is studies with mice to see how the treatment works in a living creature, as opposed to tissue samples. If that goes well, her team will be one step closer to finding a novel treatment.