Over 5000 years ago, Chinese sailors used ginger to ward off seasickness and other ailments. There are references to the medicinal benefits of ginger in the Koran, and in ancient Sanskrit texts. The herb found its way to ancient Rome, where it became a medical staple so popular that the government taxed it. And in the modern developed world, the alternative health community has continued to use ginger as a healing aid. But like the last link in the chain in a game of telephone, the mainstream medical community only recently seems interested in exploring what ginger has to offer.
Thus, a new study of 644 subjects has “discovered” that ginger eases nausea — specifically, the nausea associated with chemotherapy. “We were slightly beside ourselves [to see how much it helped],” said Julie Ryan, the study leader and assistant professor of Dermatology and Radiation Oncology at the University of Rochester in New York. Apparently, her colleagues at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO), where she presented her results, also were new to the idea of using ginger to control nausea. “It was just a different way of thinking to treat nausea, to try and pre-empt it,” Ryan said. Different for the medical community, perhaps, but certainly not for the alternative health community.
The subjects, mostly breast cancer patients, took concentrated ginger capsules at amounts ranging from half a gram to 1.5 grams daily (the equivalent of ¼ teaspoon to half a teaspoon of purified ginger extract) for three days prior to chemotherapy treatment, and for three days after. The benefits were significant. All of the subjects taking ginger reported more improvement in nausea symptoms on their first day post-treatment than those taking placebos. And, according to Dr. Ryan, “If we can reduce nausea on day one, then patients tend to have reduced nausea throughout treatment.” Interestingly, the patients on the lower dose of ginger had the best results, reducing to their nausea to an average of one or two on the seven-point scale.
To assess the effects of ginger, chemotherapy patients rated their post-treatment nausea on a seven-point scale. The average nausea reported by ginger-taking subjects was two points below that of the subjects taking placebos, a 40-percent reduction in nausea symptoms. Given that 70-percent of chemo patients report experiencing nausea and vomiting, this is significant. Dr. Ryan notes that the reason for ginger’s effectiveness probably has to do with its ability to reduce inflammation. “We have not identified the exact mechanism of action, but other research shows that it acts as a potent anti-inflammatory agent in the gut,” she said. It should also be noted that the researchers say they can’t promise that ginger in any form other than the pills would work, although they concede that theoretically, ¼ to ½ teaspoon of fresh or dry ginger might do the trick.
While chemotherapy patients typically take anti-vomiting drugs like Zofran, Kytril, and Novaban, these drugs only stop the heaving — they do nothing to combat nausea. Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that these drugs carry side effects such as blurred vision, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue, headache, anxiety, difficulty breathing, difficulty urinating, dizziness, drowsiness, female reproductive disorders, fever headache, itching, low blood pressure, shivers, and slow heartbeat. But of course, naturally, at least some in the medical establishment are pushing back, unwilling to admit that something natural and cheap (typically $6 to $30 per 100 capsules) might actually provide better/safer results than what their friends in the pharmaceutical industry provide. Dr. Ted Gansler, for instance, director of medical content for the American Cancer Society, says complementary therapies such as ginger capsules don’t provide any answer. “Most oncologists would not recommend counting on [such therapies] as alternatives–especially for those receiving chemotherapy drugs known to cause the most severe nausea and vomiting.”
So what does that tell you about most oncologists according to Dr. Gansler?
Here we have a cheap herb that has worked for thousands of years to help people combat nausea, with almost no side effects (other than thinning blood), an herb that a clinical study following the rules of the medical establishment has found to be exceptionally effective where no pharmaceutical in existence works — and Dr. Gansler says that most oncologists would steer clear of it? Sounds like a good reason to steer clear of most oncologists. If you must seek treatment from an oncologist, at least find one open-minded enough to put your need to avoid nausea over their need to put alternative therapies “in their place.”
Ginger has powerful healing properties. And maybe someday, the medical community will get around to incorporating ginger as a regular part of therapies used to control nausea — although we may have to wait until Dr. Gansler and his colleagues have passed on.
By the way, ginger is a key ingredient in my liver detox program, specifically to prevent nausea. And despite what Dr, Gansler says, it works — although Dr. Gansler would probably have a hard time with the concept of the liver detox itself, let alone ginger. In addition, ginger has lots of clinically proven medicinal properties beyond fighting nausea. It’s been used as a healing agent for conditions including arthritis, inflammation, colic, diarrhea, clotting disorders, high cholesterol, and heart conditions.