Inflammation is one of the body's defenses, but it's not always a good thing. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn's disease and psoriasis are the product of runaway inflammation that can affect the joints, digestion and skin — among other body systems.

There are around 80 different autoimmune disorders. All occur when a person's immune system mistakenly attacks their own body, particularly its white blood cells. When your immune system attacks the white blood cells that fight infection, the body becomes vulnerable to infection.

Ginger supplements may play an important role in controlling inflammation for people living with autoimmune diseases.

For people with these diseases, controlling inflammation is the key to easing their autoimmune symptoms. A recent study looked at the effect ginger supplements had on neutrophils, white blood cells that physician and novelist Abraham Verghese has characterized as “rogue mercenaries” because of their often over-zealous reactions when fighting infection.

Ginger supplements appear to influence neutrophil extracellular trap (NET) formation, also known as NETosis. NETs are microscopic, spider web-like structures. Normally, neutrophil extracellular traps protect against infection, especially by large pathogens, but they are also implicated in a growing number of immune-mediated conditions.

Ginger consumption by healthy individuals made their neutrophils more resistant to NETosis, and ultimately, inflammation, researchers at the University of Colorado and University of Michigan found.

“There are a lot of diseases where neutrophils are abnormally overactive. We found that ginger can help to restrain NETosis, and this is important because it is a natural supplement that may be helpful to treat inflammation and symptoms for people with several different autoimmune diseases,” said senior co-author, Kristen Demoruelle, associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

When healthy volunteers took a ginger supplement of 20 mg of gingerols daily for seven days, it boosted a chemical inside the neutrophil called cAMP. The researchers found these high levels of cAMP reduced NETosis occurring in response to various stimuli related to disease.

“Our research, for the first time, provides evidence for the biological mechanism that underlies ginger's apparent anti-inflammatory properties in people,” senior co-author, Jason Knight, associate professor in the Division of Rheumatology at the University of Michigan, said.

People with inflammatory conditions may be inspired to ask their health care providers whether natural supplements could be helpful for them, or they may already take supplements, like ginger, to help manage symptoms. Unfortunately, the precise impact on disease is often unknown, the researchers say.

“There are not a lot of natural supplements, or prescription medications for that matter, that are known to fight overactive neutrophils. We, therefore, think ginger may have a real ability to complement treatment programs that are already underway. The goal is to be more strategic and personalized in terms of helping to relieve people's symptoms,” Knight added.

The study is published in JCI Insight.