What Is 6-gingerol? It Might One Day Cure Bad Breath

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Ginger roots are on display during the opening day of the 'Fruit Logistica' trade fair in Berlin on February 8, 2017. TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

Do you suffer from bad breath? If so, a pungent compound found in ginger could be the answer to your problems.

The substance, known as 6-gingerol, stimulates an enzyme in saliva that can break down foul-smelling compounds, ensuring better breath—according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

For the research, scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Leibniz-Institute for Food Systems Biology analyzed the effects of certain food components on molecules dissolved in saliva.

Many of these components, like 6-gingerol, contribute directly to the particular taste of foods and beverages. But they also indirectly influence our sense of taste in other ways via biological mechanisms that have largely not been identified—an area the researchers wanted to explore.

In their experiments, the scientists applied 6-gingerol to the saliva of human participants, finding that it increased levels of an enzyme known as sulfhydryl oxidase by a factor of 16 within just a few seconds. This enzyme breaks down foul-smelling compounds that contain sulfur, which has the effect of reducing the long-lasting aftertaste of many products, like coffee, and also leads to better breath.

These findings could lead to the development of new oral hygiene products including, perhaps, a fix for bad breath, according to the researchers.

The scientists also looked at another compound, citric acid, finding that it influences our perception of taste via a different mechanism. They found that the sodium ion level in saliva rose by a factor of 11 after being exposed to citric acid, making the participants less sensitive to table salt.

"Table salt is nothing other than sodium chloride, and sodium ions play a key role in the taste of salt," Thomas Hofmann, lead author of the study and chair of Food Chemistry and Molecular Sensory Science at TUM, said in a statement. "If saliva already contains higher concentrations of sodium ions, samples tasted must have a significantly higher salt content in order to taste comparatively salty."

He noted that more research needs to be conducted into the complex interactions between the molecules in food that are responsible for taste, the biochemical processes that occur in our saliva, and our perception of taste.

6-gingerol is the major pharmacologically-active component of ginger. It is known to have a variety of beneficial characteristics including anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.