Zingiber officinale

Growing up with a Chinese mother, one of the worst parts about getting sick wasn’t just the symptoms, but the ingestion of traditional Chinese remedies. The ginger root was (and still is) the worst one in my opinion however at the same time it was the most effective. Whenever I get sick, my mom will either make me eat solid cut up ginger root or she would put it in into Coca-Cola for me to drink and for some reason it is surprisingly effective. This got me wondering, what chemical process lies behind this home remedy and how does it work?

The ginger (Zingiber officinale) root, or rhizome, has been used as herbal medicine in its native Asian continent for thousands of years. It has been known to mainly help cure ailments such as a common cold and those involving the stomach, such as: stomach aches, motion sickness, morning sickness, diarrhea and nausea to name a few. However, it has also been known to be a pain reliever, relieving chest pain, low back pain, arthritis and muscle soreness, nature’s very own analgesic if you will.[1][2] Doctor’s also prescribe ginger pre-surgery to alleviate post-surgery nausea and it is also used post-chemotherapy operations for similar reasons. [1]


Figure 1: Foster, S. Zingiber Officinale

Surprisingly enough, even though this natural remedy has been in use for thousands of years, scientists still don’t have a clear idea on how it acts on our body on the micro level. What is known is that the active ingredients in the ginger root are non-volatile pungent components oleoresin, grouped into gingerols and shogaols. Gingerols are a series of homologues with varied unbranched alkyl chain length, whereas shogaols are a series of homologues derived from gingerols with dehydration at the C-5 and C-4. The most active gingerols and shogaols are the 6-, 8- and 10-, gingerols and 6- shogoal.[5]

Gingerols & shogoals

Figure 2:

Diagrams of 6-, 8-, 10- gingerols & 6- shogaols compared to internal standard PAV

Part of a study conducted by Yanke Yu. et,al took twenty high-risk subjects developing colorectal cancer and randomly placed them in half. Half of them would receive 250mg ginger extract and half of them would receive a placebo. The study found that 6- gingerols in particular was found in high-concentrations in the colon among high-risk sample subjects that ingested dried powdered ginger. This lead to the assumption that 6- gingerols were a necessary factor in the health of the colon and thus is being investigated as a possible treatment for patients with colon cancer.

However, despite all of the positive (albeit vague) effects that ginger has on the body, there also possible side-effects of ingesting ginger. MedlinePlus suggests that ginger affects fetal sex hormones and thus it is advised that pregnant women avoid eating ginger. Breast-feeding women, people with various bleeding disorders (hemophilia), diabetics and people with heart conditions should stay away from eating ginger. The effects of ginger interacting with prescribed medication have also raised some questions for people with similar cases as previously stated. Ginger shouldn’t be used with anti-coagulative / anti-platelet drugs as ginger “might” slow blood clotting, such medications include ibuprofen and aspirin. Medications for diabetes and high blood pressure should also not be ingested with ginger as ginger might reduce blood sugar concentration.

What vexes me most about this investigation is how vague my sources are. I find that although my question has been answered on mainly a macro level. I still do not know how the 6-, 8-, 10- gingerols and 6- shogaols interacts with various bacteria and other pathogens. However, I do observe that the structures of the gingerols and shogaols do contain an alcohol hydroxyl functional group. Drawing upon my everyday experiences and previous knowledge, I know that alcohols do have anti-septic properties and this functional group might play a role in how gingerols and shogaols interact with various bacteria and pathogens in the human body. Also, the gingerols and shogaols have a non-polar structure, I assume that this allows them to pass through blood-membrane barriers more easily than other polar substances, however this is pure speculation.

The implications of this lack of knowledge is that, until we know more about how gingerols and shogaols found in ginger interact with our bodies’ systems, we will be putting more people with colorectal cancer at risk. It has been found in the study previously stated that the gingerols and shogaols found in ginger are necessary in our bodies gastro-intestinal tract (specifically in the colon) and could play a vital role in aiding people with colorectal cancer. Also, if we know how the gingerols and shogaols interact with various pathogens and with our body in general, it could be possible to create more effective medical solutions for common day sicknesses and reduce the risk of additional side effects with other medications.

Reference list:

[1] University of Maryland Medical Center. (2013). Ginger. Retrieved from: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/ginger

[2] United States National Library of Medicine. (2013). Ginger. Retrieved from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/961.html

[3] National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2013). Herbs at a glance: Ginger. Retrieved from: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ginger

[4] Medicine.net Inc. (2013) ginger (zingiber officinale) – oral. Retrieved from: http://www.medicinenet.com/ginger_zingiber_officinale-oral/page2.htm

[5]Yu, Yangke., Zick, Susanna., Li, Xiaoqin., Peng, Zhou., Wright, Benjamin., Sun, Duxin., (2011). Examination of the Pharmacokinetics of Active Ingredients of Ginger in Humans. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3160151/#!po=2.50000

[6] National Library of Medicine. (2013). Diagram of structures of 6-, 8-, 10- gingerols and 6- shogoal compared to standard internal PAV. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/core/lw/2.0/html/tileshop_pmc/tileshop_pmc_inline.html?title=Click%20on%20image%20to%20zoom&p=PMC3&id=3160151_12248_2011_9286_Fig1_HTML.jpg (picture)

[7] Sabina, E.P., Pragasam, S.J., Kumar, S., Rasool, M., (2011). 6- gingerol, an active ingredient of ginger, protects acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity in mice. Retrived from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22088594

2 thoughts on “Zingiber officinale

  1. Oh, Bother.

    While reading Nathan’s post on the possible healing properties of ginger, I was reminded of a ginger-and-honey-based remedy my mother sometimes makes for me when I get ill, especially for colds. When I was younger, I thought that all of the healing properties lay in that ginger and that the honey was mainly to sweeten it and make it more consumable (I didn’t think that sweet things could be at all healthy), like the ginger-and-coca-cola combination Nathan mentioned. However, I have heard tidbits regarding the healing properties of honey itself, so after this reminder I decided to pursue this further.
    Before delving in, however, I thought it would be helpful to develop a general understanding of honey’s composition, since this will likely directly relate to its antimicrobial properties. I found that raw honey is about 95% sugar and is created when bees convert it from nectar, which can be anywhere between 4% and 80% sugar. The majority of these sugars are either the monosaccharaides glucose (dextrose) and fructose (levulose) or the disaccharaides sucrose and maltose. There are many different types of honey, and each’s color, aroma, pH (which, by the way, is acidic, with a pH of between 3.2 and 4.5) is determined by a combination of these sugars and various other types of chemicals, some of which also help preserve and/or ripen honey. Among these chemicals are 22 different types of minerals (0.1 -1.5% od the total honey composition), including potassium and iron, organic free acids and amino acids (each 0.2-2.0%), trace amounts of a multitude of vitamins, esters, ketones, aldehydes, alcohols, lipids, beeswax, and microscopic particles, and some enzymes, including glucose oxidase (Matej, 2004).

    Figure 1: Crystallized honey. The inset shows a close-up of the honey, showing the individual glucose grains in the fructose mixture. (Wikipedia, 2012)

    According to Viuda-Martos et. al., most of honey’s biological activities stem from phenolic compounds (see Figures 2 & 3), such as flavonoids (2008), which is different from that of penicillin-based antibiotics, which have the beta-lactum ring as their active group (Brown & Ford, 2009). As we learned during the food chemistry unit, phenols are composed of a benzene ring and at least one hydroxyl group and act as natural antioxidants (Gómez-Caravaca, Gómez-Romero, Arráez-Román, Segura-Carretero, & Fernández-Gutiérrez, 2006) (and indeed honey does display some characteristics of antioxidants (Estevinho, Pereira, Moreira, Dias, & Pereira, 2008)).

    Figure 2: Phenol, the simplest phenolic compound (American Phytopathological Society, 2008)

    Figure 3 (example of a flavonoid): Molecular structure of the flavone backbone (2-phenyl-1,4-benzopyrone) (Wikipedia, 2008)

    While I, like Nathan in his research, was unsuccessful in finding detailed interactions between my major active substance and microorganisms, I did manage to find something else of interest: an experiment by Estivinho et. al. involved extracting phenolic compounds from both dark and clear Portugese honeys on three varieties of gram-positive bacteria and three varieties of gram-negative bacteria (note: essentially, gram-negative bacteria are more resistant to antibodies than gram-positive bacteria because of their stronger cell wall (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 2012)) and found that antimicrobial action occurred at various degrees in each, with one variety of bacteria (P. aeruginosa) experiencing, “…no microbial activity…(2008).” Pimental et. al. further support and add to this, noting in their own testing how, out of five different types of honey samples, two had the, “…greatest antimicrobial activity…(Pimentel, da Costa, Albuquerque, & Junior, 2013),” and that too on different types of bacteria (i.e. one type of honey inhibited the growth of certain types of bacteria, and the others a different set) (2013).
    Although research on the antimicrobial properties of honey is still in its early stages, it seems to parallel antibiotics in that different types are required for different bacteria. According to Pimentel et. al., “Honey has been identified as a potential alternative to the widespread use of antibiotics (2013).” I acknowledge that my research was limited in that I don’t know how exactly honey reacts with microbes (specifically bacteria here, though flavonoids exhibit antiviral properties as well (Viuda-Martos, Ruiz-Navajas, Fernández-López, & Pérez-Alvarez, 2008)), but if honey does parallel synthesized antibiotics in this way, then it could potentially suffer the same fate, i.e. after a certain amount of time, bacteria may evolve to resist honey-based compounds as well. “Honey has been used since ancient times as part of traditional medicine (Vidua et. al, 2008),” and, I, for whatever it’s worth, can attest to its effectiveness as an antimicrobial as well. However, while it could possibly overtake antibiotics sometime in the future after further research is done, I don’t think it will be the ‘be-all-end-all’ of the antimicrobial world. But it is worth a shot.

    American Phytopathological Society. (2008). [Image] Phenol, the simplest
    phenolic compound. Retrieved from http://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/intropp/topics/Article%20Images/defensesfig17.jpg

    Brown, C. & Ford, M. (2009). Medicines and Drugs Option. Higher Level Chemistry
    Developed Specifically for the IB Diploma. (pg. 645 & pg. 653).

    Estevinho, L., Pereira, A. P., Moreira, L., Dias, L. G., & Pereira, E. (4 October,
    2008). Antioxidant and antimicrobial effects of phenolic compounds extracts of Northeast Portugal honey [Abstract]. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18940227

    Gómez-Caravaca, A.M., Gómez-Romero, M., Arráez-Román, D., Segura-Carretero,
    A., & Fernández-Gutiérrez, A. (18 April, 2006). Advances in the analysis of phenolic compounds in products derived from bees [Abstract]. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16621403

    Matej, L. A. (1 May, 2004). Honey composition, sources, and marketable forms.
    Retrieved from

    National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (30 April, 2012).
    Antimicrobial (Drug) Resistance. Retrieved from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/antimicrobialresistance/examples/gramnegative/Pages/default.aspx

    Pimentel, R. B., da Costa, C. A., Albuquerque, P. M., & Junior, S. D. (1 July, 2013).
    Antimicrobial activity and rutin identification of honey produced by the stingless bee Melipona compressipes manaosensis and commercial honey [Abstract]. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
    Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23815879

    Viuda-Martos, M., Ruiz-Navajas, Y., Fernández-López, J., & Pérez-Alvarez, J. A.
    (November, 2008). Functional properties of honey, propolis, and royal jelly [Abstract]. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
    Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18940227

    Wikipedia. (3 April, 2012). [Image] Crystallized honey. The inset shows a close-up
    of the honey, showing the individual glucose grains in the fructose mixture. Retrieved from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Crystallized_honey_with_close-up.jpg

    Wikipedia. (8 April, 2008). [Image] Molecular structure of the flavone backbone
    (2-phenyl-1,4-benzopyrone). Retrieved from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c6/Flavon.svg

  2. My experience with ginseng can relate to Nathan’s with ginger. Since when I was in eleventh grade, my mother gave me ginseng liquid to help me “think better and reduce stress.” Well, according to her, at least. I never liked the bitter taste of ginseng, so my mother would often add some honey in it. However, even then, I would always be hesitant about drinking it because it would still have a strong smell. Thus for this blog post, I decided to do some research to answer my question: what are the health benefits of ginseng and what causes it to work?

    Thousands of years ago in China, ginseng symbolized divine harmony. There is a Chinese legend that says early emperors used ginseng to cure all illnesses, not only by consuming but also using it in soaps, lotions, and creams. (Nordqvist, 2013)
    The name “ginseng” was derived from its Chinese term “ren shen” meaning “man root.” There are two main types of ginseng: Asian and American. Both types are shaped like human bodies with “stringy shoots for arms and legs,” and have the same active ingredient called ginsenosides. (Ehrlich, 2011) Ginseng is thought to be an adaptogen, which according to Natural Therapy Pages-Australia, helps the body in restoring health and working with no side effects, and according to University of Maryland Medical Center, helps the body to cope with mental and physical stress.

    Before further looking at the chemistry behind ginseng, I decided to look for the reasons behind people consuming ginseng. There were several reasons, all of which happened to be the benefits of consuming ginseng. Ginseng provides energy while preventing fatigue, as it “stimulates physical and mental activity” of weak and tired people. It also has anti-inflammatory effects which is caused by ginsenosides. Ginseng improves cognitive function, which improves thinking ability and cognition. From this, I learned that my mother did not lie to me when she said vaguely that consuming ginseng would help me “think better.” (Nordqvist, 2013)

    Some other health benefits of Asian ginseng included reduced risk of catching a cold or flu as ginseng boosts the immune system. Ginseng also decreases “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels, and lessens the chance of free radicals harming DNA and causing heart disease, diabetes, etc. In addition, Ginseng is known to help the body deal with physical/mental stress, hence is sometimes named an “adaptogen.” This is mainly cased by ginseng restoring normal functioning of the main stress response system in the body, called the HPA axis. This causes the “nutritive, restorative, and normalizing effects” that increase homeostasis (the state of equilibrium internally while dealing with external adjustments (Biology Online, 2014)) and thwart negative effects of stressors. (Jade, 2014) This also related to my mother’s claim that ginseng “reduces stress.” (Ehrlich, 2011)

    These benefits were all supported by studies and evidence. For example, to see if ginseng caused reduction of catching a cold/flue, some people (unknown identity) carried out a placebo-controlled experiment on 323 people, and it turned out that among those who consumed 400 mg of ginseng everyday for four months, there were less people who caught a cold. From this, it could be seen that ginseng had an actual effect on the immune system. (Ehrlich, 2011) One of the largest experiments on ginseng’s anti-fatigue effects published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute mentioned how researchers did a placebo-controlled trial on 364 fatigued cancer patients or survivors in 40 clinics. After eight weeks, those who took ginseng had significant improvements starting at four weeks instead of eight, and had overall significant difference when compared to those who took the placebo. (Ehrlich, 2011) To gain wider range of resources on ginseng, I went on the Korean search engine, Naver, and did some more research on ginseng. On one website, it mentioned that in 2008 Beijing Olympics, Korean weightlifters benefitted greatly from ginseng as it reduced stress. It also mentioned that the immune cells in AIDS patients were significantly affected by ginseng consumption.

    So how is all of these benefits made possible? The answer is the two main components in ginseng: ginsenosides and polysaccharides. Ginsenosides have controlling effects on the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, immune system, reproductive system, and others. Ginsenosides are therefore able to help reduce stress and catching of cold/flu. As I mentioned earlier, both American and Asian ginsengs have ginsenosides. However, they differ in that they have different therapeutic effects. Polysaccharides, on the other hand, act as antioxidants that control the immune system. As we learned in the food chemistry topic, polysaccharides are composed of monosaccharides, and they are general soluble in water. This explains how the solid ginseng transforms into liquid form, or pastes for me to consume.

    After doing this research, I realized that what my mother told me about ginseng was factual, and not something she made up in order to convince me to consume ginseng. I felt that doing this research allowed me to broaden my perspective as a food consumer and a student, especially because of the wide variety of resources that was available. Amusingly, my linguistic and cultural understandings also came into use when I was doing this science blogpost, and I realized that this is something I need to be thankful for. Now, to maintain a healthy immune system, I think that drinking the liquid ginseng my mother gives me everyday is a good idea. And perhaps tomorrow, I won’t be hesitant about drinking my liquid ginseng.


    Ehrlich, S. (n.d.). Asian ginseng. University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved from

    Health benefits of Ginseng. (n.d.). Natural Therapy Pages. Retrieved from

    Jade, K. (n.d.). Remarkable Ginseng Research Backs Herb’s Reputation. Mother Health News .
    Retrieved from http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/rginseng-benefits-research-

    Nordqvist, J. (n.d.). What is ginseng? What is ginseng used for? Medical News Today. Retrieved from

    장인손길 작은 노트 : 네이버 블로그. (n.d.).
    Retrieved from http://netcast2050.blog.me/140204431620

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