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. Doctor’s also prescribe ginger pre-surgery to alleviate post-surgery nausea and it is also used post-chemotherapy operations for similar reasons. 
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.
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.
 University of Maryland Medical Center. (2013). Ginger. Retrieved from: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/ginger
 United States National Library of Medicine. (2013). Ginger. Retrieved from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/961.html
 National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2013). Herbs at a glance: Ginger. Retrieved from: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ginger
 Medicine.net Inc. (2013) ginger (zingiber officinale) – oral. Retrieved from: http://www.medicinenet.com/ginger_zingiber_officinale-oral/page2.htm
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
 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)
 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