Ginger May Relieve Chemotherapy-Associated Nausea in People With Cancer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
In the largest study to date evaluating the benefits of ginger for patients undergoing chemotherapy, as little as one-quarter of a teaspoon of ginger cut symptoms of nausea by 40%.
Despite the use of traditional anti-nausea drugs, about 70% of people who undergo chemotherapy experience nausea and vomiting, according to researcher Julie Ryan, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology and radiation oncology at the University of Rochester.
Ryan discussed the findings today at a news briefing sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
"Patients undergoing chemotherapy often ask if there is anything more they can do," says ASCO incoming President Douglas Blayney, MD, of the University of Michigan.
"Here's a simple intervention that can be used along with standard [nausea drugs]," he tells WebMD. Blayney did not work on the study.
Ginger Taken Before Chemo to Improve Absorption
Previous, smaller studies assessing the benefit of ginger for chemotherapy-related nausea had inconsistent results. They also did not look at ginger supplementation before initiating chemotherapy, which allows for earlier absorption by the body, Ryan says.
The new National Cancer Institute-funded study involved 644 people who had experienced nausea after one cycle of chemotherapy and had at least three more cycles to go. Most were women, and two-thirds had breast cancer.
Participants were randomly assigned to receive a placebo or 0.5 grams, 1.0 grams, or 1.5 grams of ginger in capsule form once a day for six days, starting three days before the first day of a chemotherapy cycle.
Participants rated their nausea on a 7-point scale -- where 1 equals no nausea and 7 equals the worst possible nausea -- four times a day for the first four days of chemotherapy.
Ginger Relieves Nausea
By the end of the first day, patients who took the two lower doses of ginger -- which Ryan says contains the equivalent of one-quarter and one-half teaspoon of fresh or dry ginger -- rated their nausea as 1 or 2 points, meaning they had no or very slight nausea.
In contrast, those who took a placebo rated their nausea as 4 to 5 points, meaning they had a lot of nausea.
The higher dose of ginger also worked, though not as well. The benefits were maintained for the four days of the study.
Ryan expects the effects will last even longer. People tend to experience the most unpleasant nausea on the first day of chemotherapy and are less likely to have nausea on subsequent days if they don't have it on the first day, she says.
So will ginger ale or ginger snaps do the trick? "Theoretically, as long as they contain one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of fresh or dry ginger. But if it's ginger flavoring, that wouldn't work," Ryan tells WebMD.
Scientists don't know why ginger relieves nausea, she says.
SOURCES: American Society of Clinical Oncology, Orlando, May 29-June 2, 2009. Julie Ryan, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology and radiation oncology, University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y. Douglas Blayney, MD, incoming president, ASCO; clinical professor of medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
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