Nausea is a major problem for people who undergo chemotherapy and has been a challenge to scientists and doctors to understand how to control it. There are effective drugs to control vomitting, but the nausea is often worse because it lingers.
Ginger has long been touted for stomach upsets, ranging from motion sickness to morning sickness during pregnancy. But now scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Centre have also found that it can be used to ease the nausea that plagues people undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
According to a new study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, people that take ginger several days before a chemo infusion have fewer and less severe bouts of nausea afterward than others who are given dummy capsules.
The study found that the use of one-quarter of a tea spoon of fresh or dry ginger a day lowers chemotherapy-related nausea by 40 per cent especially when used several days prior to the chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy drugs are associated with a variety of side effects. Perhaps the most common is nausea. While it may seem like a minor side effect, nausea can be debilitating to a cancer patient. It often triggers a cascade of other side effects such as poor appetite, vomitting, dehydration, inadequate nutrient intake, and severe weight loss. These side effects have serious consequences, and in some cases, may result in non-compliance to their treatments.
The largest randomised study to demonstrate the effectiveness of ginger supplements to ease the nausea included 644 cancer patients who would receive at least three chemotherapy treatments. They were divided into four arms that received placebos, 0.5 gram of ginger, 1 gram of ginger, or 1.5 grams of ginger along with anti-vomiting drugs.
Ginger has long been touted for stomach upsets, ranging from motion sickness to morning sickness during pregnancy. However, the lead author of the study, Dr. Julie Ryan of the University of Rochester in New York, said that it was not exactly clear how ginger helps relieve nausea in these patients.
Some scientists are of the opinion that ginger may alleviate nausea by promoting secretion of saliva and digestive juices, neutralising stomach acid and increasing movement in the intestines.
Since the study was done using a pharmaceutical-grade ginger root extract, she said that it was not known if people could get these benefits from ginger teas or powdered ginger.
The prospect of using ginger as a natural remedy that can be used in conjunction with anti-nausea medications is attractive to many patients. Its side effects are rare, but if taken in excessive doses such as those found in supplements, ginger may cause heartburn or interfere with blood clotting. This concern is greatest for people who already have problems with platelet function and are taking an anticoagulant, commonly referred to as a “blood thinner,” such as warfarin or are about to have surgery.