In addition to its zingy flavor, ginger has long been known for its effectiveness in alleviating nausea as well as pain and discomfort in the stomach. So it comes as no surprise that researchers have turned to the herb for help in treating inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and colitis. But what is surprising is the new method they have found to administer the ginger — using tiny nanoparticles that directly target the colon to reduce inflammation while avoiding unnecessary side effects.

The new developments come from a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs in Atlanta and the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University. To create the nanoparticles, the team took fresh ginger — straight from the farmers' market — and mashed it in a blender before using a high-speed centrifuge and ultrasonic dispersion to break the ginger juice down into single pellets.

If you're not familiar with the term, a nanoparticle is a teeny-tiny object that still retains the properties of the larger unit. So these molecules of ginger are extremely small, but they still contain the same level of lipids, especially phosphatidic acid, which give ginger its therapeutic properties.

How small are they? In the case of a ginger nanoparticle, you could line up around 300 of them along the width of a human hair.

After creating the microscopic ginger nanoparticles, the research team tested them on cells and lab mice to get a better idea of how they might affect a living system. Their results, published recently in the journal Biomaterials, showed that the ginger nanoparticles appeared to target the colon tissue, absorbing into the lining of the intestines where they helped to speed up tissue repair. In the colon, they worked to reduce the production of the proteins that cause inflammation while increasing the production of proteins that fight it. The ginger nanoparticles also helped to reduce the risk of colitis-related cancer.

Researchers are hoping the availability and non-toxicity of ginger will make it a good ingredient to work with going forward in their search for an effective and inexpensive treatment for inflammatory bowel disease.