Misleading claims about ginger and cancer

21 March 2023
What was claimed

A study shows that ginger kills 91% of leukaemia cells and shrinks tumours in mice.

Our verdict

The study looked at a substance from ginger, not ginger itself. The actual reduction in cancer cells was less than 91% in most of the experiments. Tumours in mice grew less quickly when treated with the substance. They didn’t shrink.

A Facebook post misrepresents a study looking at the effect on cancer of a substance found in ginger.

The post includes a photograph of a piece of ginger with the text “Scientists Find Ginger Kills 91% Of Leukemia Cells And Shrinks Tumors In Vivo”.

In fact the study, which was published 10 years ago and is summarised in an article cited by the caption on the post, investigates the effects of a substance in ginger, not ginger itself. Researchers looked at 6-shogaol (6S), a substance derived from ginger, rather than the food. They conducted both in vitro (in a test tube or petri dish) and in vivo (in a living organism) experiments.

They did find that leukaemia cells treated with 6S died at a greater rate than those not treated. The 91% figure isn’t actually noted in the paper, but one value on one of the charts appears to be approximately 91%. Even so, this only applied to one of several cancer lines tested in different ways, and this was in vitro, not in vivo. The reduction rate was lower in other groups of cells.

It also didn’t find that the substance “shrinks” tumours. The tumour experiment was in vivo, using fourteen mice, and the researchers reported that tumours treated with 6S grew less quickly than tumours that were not treated. 

Medications are usually extensively trialled in vitro and then in vivo before any human trial would begin.

As the article says, this study “does not mean that ginger is considered a proven anti-cancer medicine. That would require many more studies – including human trials.”

Ginger may be useful for treating nausea and vomiting, but there is no evidence that it can be used to treat or cure cancer.

Bad information about possible cancer treatments can cause harm if people use it to make decisions about their health. We have written several times about false claims in this area. As Cancer Research UK says, alternative therapies “may be harmful or could interact with other treatments you're having” and “You could harm your health if you stop your cancer treatment for an unproven treatment.”


Image courtesy of Karolina Grabowska

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