Chitharathai, also called Galangal (Alpinia officinarum and Alpinia galangal) is a member of the Zingiberaceae family. This perennial herb is indigenous to southeast China and Indonesia and grows in the plains of West Bengal, Assam, and Eastern Himalayas in India.
Ayurveda and traditional Chinese and European medicine have used different parts of chitharathai to treat cold, stomach ache, inflammation, diabetes, ulcers, nausea, diarrhea, eczema, and various acute and chronic conditions.
The seed of chitharathai is used as a mouth freshener, dental cleanser, digestive aid, and laxative. The flowers and tender shoots are used as a spice or vegetable. The root or rhizome is used as a spice and source of essential oil (like ginger).
As it looks, tastes, and feels like ginger, chitharathai is also called the ‘mild ginger’ (Liang-tiang) in Chinese. Like ginger, chitharathai contains flavonoids, polyphenols, terpenes, and essential oils.
According to a 2015 animal study, methanolic extracts of chitharathai showed antidiabetic potential. Aerial parts of galangal could stimulate the regeneration of insulin-secreting beta-cells in the pancreas. Administering chitharathai extracts to diabetic rats lowered cholesterol and triglyceride levels, improving lipid metabolism and preventing diabetic complications.
Chitharathai extract was found to inhibit carbohydrate metabolism, minimizing the post-meal blood glucose spikes. The glucose-controlling activity was on par with synthetic antidiabetic drugs.
Due to its antioxidant activity, this herbal medicine can protect your liver and pancreas from oxidative stress and damage. The polyphenols, alkaloids, triterpenes, steroids, and carbohydrates in chitharathai are proposed to be responsible for this activity.
However, more research is required in this area to understand these benefits on humans.
The aqueous extract of Alpinia chitharathai can inhibit the proliferation of human gastric tumor cell lines. The chitharathai rhizome (root) contains two cytotoxic compounds, namely, acetoxychavicolacetate and p-coumaryl alcohol-O-methyl ether, that are known to act against cancer cells.
Chitharathai extracts showed anticancer effects on melanoma (skin) cells, preventing skin cancer.
The cytotoxic compounds in this Chinese herb can induce glutathione-S-transferase (GST) activity in the liver cells. GST eliminates mutagenic compounds and free radicals, thus preventing cancerous changes.
However, more research is needed to understand the molecular mechanisms and anticancer effects of this medicinal root.
Chitharathai rhizomes contain flavonoids, tannins, saponins, glycosides, and several phenolic compounds. These phytochemicals showed potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects in animal studies.
Chitharathai down-regulates the expression of genes that produce pro-inflammatory compounds like cytokines and interleukins.
As chitharathai extracts may inhibit COX-1 and 2 and lipoxygenase pathways, they could be used to manage arthritis, edema, inflammatory bowel disease, and other inflammatory disorders.
Researchers claim that the essential oils from dried and fresh chitharathai rhizomes can eliminate bacteria, yeast, fungi, and parasites. Terpinen-4-ol, one of the monoterpenes in the essential oil derived from fresh chitharathai rhizome, possesses antimicrobial activity against Trichophyton mentagrophytes.
Acetoxychavicol acetate (ACA), a compound isolated from the extract of dried rhizomes, is active against certain dermatophyte (skin-infesting) bacterial species. Among turmeric and ginger, chitharathai has the most potent inhibitory effect against Staphylococcus aureus.
Alpinia galanga is also a broad-spectrum fungicide. It can inhibit fungi and yeast, such as Aspergillus niger, Trichophyton longifusus, Colletotrichum musae, Fusarium oxysporum, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Trichophyton rubrum, and Rhizopus stolonifer.
Unlike other aphrodisiacs or fertility supplements, chitharathai is safe and non-toxic. Rat studies showed that 56 days of treatment with chitharathai rhizome improved spermatogenesis and related parameters.
The sperm count and mobility increased after this treatment. The increase in sperm density and motility in cauda epididymis (the storage site for mature sperm) can affect fertilization.
Chitharathai influences the protein production via expression of related genes involved in spermatogenesis. It could, hence, be used in drugs to promote male fertility. Clinical data can elucidate the safety of this herbal extract in the future.
Galangal has been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. This root is typically safe when it is consumed in the amounts likely found in foods.
Animal studies found that doses of 2,000 mg per kg of body weight resulted in serious side effects, including coma, diarrhea, excessive urination, lack of appetite, a drop in energy levels, and death.
These side effects were absent at considerably smaller dosages of 300 mg per kg of body weight.