Shengmin Sang, PhD, associate professor and lead scientist in functional food for NC A&T State University’s Center for Excellence in Post Harvest Technologies (CEPHT) at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, has published four peer-reviewed articles this year that further the understanding of the chemopreventive potential of ginger.
Sang’s most recent findings concentrate on shogaol metabolites and lung and colon cancer prevention. Shogaols are the dehydrated products of gingerols. Gingerols are the major components in fresh ginger, the root of the plant Zingiber officinale. Gingerols and shogaols have long been recognized as two of the bioactive compounds in ginger responsible for the spice’s ability to ease digestive upsets. Scientific evidence is mounting that links ginger phytochemicals with the capacity to prevent heart disease, arthritis, cancer and other ailments.
“Our research goal is to identify bioactive natural products from functional foods or herbal medicine that can be used to prevent chronic disease focusing on cancer and metabolic syndrome related diseases such as obesity and diabetic complications,” Sang explained. “We want to understand the chemical profiles of compounds in our food, how our body metabolizes them and whether they are bioactive. We want to know how much we need to eat to get the most benefits or what kind of formulation we need to make them therapeutically beneficial. We’re talking about personal nutrition.”
Sang’s research group developed techniques to synthesize and purify ginger metabolites from mouse urine and fecal samples during research funded by the National Institutes of Health to study ginger as a cancer preventative agent. His findings in vitro studies show -shogaol to be “metabolized extensively in mammalian species” and that specific metabolites inhibit cancer cell growth and induce apoptosis or cell death.1
His research group also found that along with shogaols being metabolized extensively in mice and humans, the regulation of the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) seems to play a key role in the cancer-preventive activity of ginger.2 In addition, Sang’s research demonstrated that -shogaol is metabolized in cancer cells and that most of the metabolites “had measurable activities” against human colon and lung cancer cells in terms of inhibiting cancer cell growth and inducing apoptosis with little to no toxicity.3
In Sang’s most recent paper4, he commented, “Basically we found when the shogaol is extensively metabolized in humans, in mice or in cancer cells, the metabolite remained bioactive. We found that the metabolites of shogaols served like carriers (and) are less toxic. Our in vivo data shows the metabolite is more active than the parent -shogaol.”
Sang has also found that not only do the metabolites remain bioactive inside cancer cells, they attack multiple targets including the P53 pathway that is related to apoptosis or cell death and Nrf2-Keap1, the oxidative stress pathway. This data will be submitted for publications this summer. Part of Sang’s recently funded project from Qatar National Research Fund will study whether bioactive ginger components can prevent diabetic complications in cells and in mice.
Sang is also part of a research collaboration with TinChung Leung, PhD, a scientist with the North Carolina Central University Nutrition Research Program at the NCRC. They published findings that showed -gingerol is effective in preventing anemia caused by chemotherapy and renal disease.5 More recently, they found that the major metabolites of -gingerol in zebrafish and in human, -gingerdiols, show similar hematopoietic effect in zebrafish embryos.6
In addition to studying ginger, Sang is also studying the chemopreventative properties of whole grains and working to identify new dietary exposure markers to measure whole grain consumption as well as researching the effects of dietary flavonoids on diabetes and metabolic disorders. He recently filed provisional patents for two of his discoveries, one of which is a novel combination of dietary phytochemicals and aspirin for the prevention of colon cancer that received grant support from the NC Biotechnology Center and the National Cancer Institute. Once additional funding is secured, he’ll continue his research into the chemopreventative potential of ginger.
Learn more about the research of the NC A&T State University Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies.
1. Metabolism of ginger component -shogaol in liver microsomes from mouse, rat, dog, monkey, and human. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. January 2013.
2. Characterization of thiol-conjugated metabolites of ginger components shogaols in mouse and human urine and modulation of the glutathione levels in cancer cells by -shogaol. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, January 2013.
4. Cysteine-Conjugated Metabolite of Ginger Component -Shogaol Serves as a Carrier of -Shogaol in Cancer Cells and in Mice. Chemical Research in Toxicology, May 2013.
5. Ginger stimulates hematopoiesis via Bmp pathway in zebrafish, PLoS One, June 2012.
6. -Gingerdiols as the Major Metabolites of -Gingerol in Zebrafish Embryos and in Humans and Their Hematopoietic Effects in Zebrafish Embryos. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, May 2013.