The spicy root ginger has long been known for adding flavor to your favorite foods and calming an ailing stomach. Now researchers at Columbia University in New York City suspect some compounds derived from ginger root can also help address asthma symptoms.

How Asthma Affects Patients

During an asthma attack, the airways can tighten and spasm, making it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. Many people living with asthma rely on fast-acting relief inhalers with bronchodilators to relax the smooth muscles lining the airways and reverse the effects of an asthma attack.

Measuring Ginger's Impact

For some people, complementary medicines, including herbal supplements such as ginger, can help relieve asthma symptoms. Yet not much research on these supplements exists. To better understand how ginger acts on the airways, the Columbia scientists experimented with different compounds contained in ginger.

The results, according to study author Elizabeth A. Townsend, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Columbia University's Department of Anesthesiology, reveal that some compounds in purified ginger can magnify the bronchodilating effect of the fast-acting relief inhaler, making it more effective.

Interpreting the Findings

"Given our recent data, we hope that this may result in a decreased reliance on rescue inhalers when the purified [ginger] components are used in combination with these therapies," Townsend says. "By better understanding the mechanisms through which purified components of ginger exert their effects on the airway, we can explore the use of these naturally derived phytotherapeutics [plant extracts] in alleviating asthma symptoms," she says. "No new classes of drugs have been approved for acute relief of asthma symptoms in many years. We hope that our research will contribute to the availability of new asthma therapies in the future."

What This Means

Before you try incorporating ginger root into your diet to prevent or treat your asthma, Townsend stresses that it's important to understand that no clinical studies on human subjects have been performed, though hopefully this will be the next step. In the meantime, you'll need to check with your doctor and also continue your asthma medications.

Since ginger is made up of many different compounds, if you do decide to add it to your diet, it's important to start off slowly, as you would with any new food or spice. This will help ensure you don't experience any allergies or side effects.

Elizabeth A. Townsend, PhD, reviewed this article.


Elizabeth A. Townsend, PhD, Columbia University Department of Anesthesiology. Email interview, 12 July 2013.
"Ginger Compounds May Be Effective in Treating Asthma Symptoms." American Thoracic Society. Web. 19 May 2013. Page accessed 27 August 2013.