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HEALTH: GINGER / ASTHMA

Ginger - whether it's fresh, powdered or pickled - adds zest to all sorts of dishes. The spicy root can also help asthma sufferers breathe a bit easier.

Many common drugs used to relieve the effects - medications known as beta-agonists - work by relaxing the smooth muscles constricting the bronchial tubes, enabling air to flow in and out of the lungs more easily. Researchers at Columbia University, working with human bronchial tissue samples, found that purified components of ginger can significantly increase the relaxing effects of such medicines.

In a presentation to the International Conference of the American Thoracic Society, Elizabeth Townsend explained that the ginger components inhibit an enzyme and a protein structure which play a role in constricting the smooth bronchial muscles. "By understanding the mechanisms by which these ginger compounds affect the airway," Townsend notes, "we can explore the use of these therapeutics in alleviating asthma symptoms."

The researchers say they plan to study whether an aerosol spray to deliver these ginger compounds might be helpful in treating asthma attacks.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health estimates that 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma.

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