A new study published in PLoS reveals that ginger contains a pungent compound, known as 6-shogaol which could be up to 10,000 times more effective than conventional chemotherapy in targeting the root cause of breast cancer malignancy: namely, the breast cancer stem cells.

Cancer stem cells are at the root of a wide range of cancers, not just breast cancer, and are sometimes referred to as “mother cells” because they are responsible for producing all the different “daughter” cell types that make up the tumor colony. While cancer stem cells only constitute between .2 and 1% of the cells within any given tumor, they have the seeming “immortal” ability to self-renew, are capable of continuous differentiation, are resistant to conventional chemotherapeutic agents, and are tumorigenic, i.e. are capable of “splitting off” to create new tumor colonies. Clearly, the cancer stem cells within a tumor must be destroyed if cancer treatment is to affect a lasting cure.

The new study titled, “6-Shogaol Inhibits Breast Cancer Cells and Stem Cell-Like Spheroids by Modulation of Notch Signaling Pathway and Induction of Autophagic Cell Death,” identified powerful anti-cancer stem cell activity in 6-shogaol, a compound of ginger produced when the root is either dried or cooked. The study also found that the cancer-destroying effects occurred at concentrations that were non-toxic to non-cancerous cells – a crucial difference from conventional cancer treatments that do not exhibit this kind of selective cytotoxicity.

The researchers identified a variety of ways by which 6-shagoal targets breast cancer:

  • It reduces the expression of CD44/CD24 cancer stem cell surface markers in breast cancer spheroids (3-dimensional cultures of cells modeling stem cell like cancer)
  • It significantly affects the cell cycle, resulting in increased cancer cell death
  • It induces programmed cell death primarily through the induction of autophagy, with apoptosis a secondary inducer
  • It inhibits breast cancer spheroid formation by altering Notch signaling pathway through γ-secretase inhibition.
  • It exhibits cytotoxicity (cell killing properties) against monolayer (1-dimensional cancer model) and spheroid cells (3-dimensional cancer model)

It was in evaluating the last mode of 6-shagoal’s chemotherapeutic activity and comparing it to the activity of the conventional chemotherapeutic agent taxol that the researchers discovered an astounding difference. Whereas taxol exhibited clear cytotoxicity in the one-dimensional (flat) monolayer experimental model, it had virtually no effect on the spheroid model, which is a more “real world” model reflecting the 3-dimensionality of tumors and their stem cell sub-populations.

This is a highly significant finding, as it affirms a common theme in cancer research that acknowledges the primary role of cancer stem cells: while conventional techniques like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are effective at reducing a tumor’s size, sometimes to the point where it is “poisoned” out of the body, the appearance of “beating cancer” often comes at a steep price. Ultimately, the cancer stem cell population may regrow the tumors, which now exhibit an increased vengeance.

In their concluding remarks, the authors point out a hugely important distinction between natural anti-cancer agents and conventional ones that have only been introduced in the past half century or so. Unlike modern synthetically-produced and patented chemicals, ginger, curcumin, green tea, and hundreds of other compounds naturally found in the human diet, have been “time-tested” as acceptable to the human body in the largest and longest running “clinical trials” known: the tens of thousands of years of direct human experience, spanning thousands of different cultures from around the world, that constitute human prehistory.

Ultimately, this new study adds to a growing body of research indicating that cancer stem cell targeting approaches using natural substances present in the human diet for thousands of years are far superior chemotherapy and radiation, both of which actually increase the relative populations of cancer stem cells versus non-tumorigenic ones.