Approximately 70% of all patients receiving chemotherapy experience some degree of nausea. While some have mild symptoms that are manageable, others experience more significant nausea. Nausea can impact a person's ability to eat and therefore meet their nutritional needs. Addressing nausea is important to a patient's quality of life and also their nutritional status.
At a recent meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) results were presented of a double-blind placebo controlled trial looking at ways to better control nausea. This type of trial is considered the "gold standard" of study designs. It showed that ginger can significantly decrease the degree of nausea caused by chemotherapy when used with conventional anti-nausea medications. The study enrolled 600 patients who had complaints of nausea related to chemotherapy. Patients were randomized to receive either a placebo or a ginger supplement and were asked to rate their degree of nausea. The researchers reported that the people receiving the ginger supplement had significantly less nausea that those receiving the placebo (no ginger supplement).
Important points from this trial include:
- Ginger was used in addition to anti-nausea medications, not in place of these medications. It may be that the ginger helps these medications work more effectively.
- Ginger was given in capsule form. Each capsule contained 250 mg of ginger. The most effective relief was found in patients taking 250 mg two to four times a day.
- ALWAYS ask your doctor if it is OK to use any supplement, including ginger. Ginger has the potential to interact with anticoagulant drugs such as Coumadin, as well as some acid blockers and proton pump inhibitors.
Patients may be interested in using food sources of ginger to help relieve nausea. Ginger is found in cookies, candies, teas and other drinks. The amount of ginger that showed a benefit in the study was approximately 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger. Unfortunately some ginger products, such as ginger ale, contain very little real ginger. Preparing your own food using ground ginger and brewing ginger tea probably provides a better source than relying on commercial products that may use a ginger flavoring but it should be noted that this most recent study looked only at ginger supplements.