Taking Ginger Before Chemotherapy Reduces Side Effects

gingerIf you remember having a stomach ache as a child, you probably remember your mother giving you a glass of ginger ale, or a cup of ginger tea.

Ginger is a well established natural remedy for stomach upset.

Now, the humble ginger plant is helping relieve a common side effect of one of the most aggressive forms of traditional medication: ginger capsules can help relieve nausea caused by chemotherapy treatment.

In a federally funded study, people who were taking intravenous chemotherapy treatment were given either capsules containing ginger or placebo capsules starting a few days before chemotherapy began.

Patients in the ginger capsule group had fewer episodes of nausea afterward, and the nausea they did have was less severe. Researchers, in fact, were surprised by how well the ginger worked.

The ginger used in the test was real ginger root extract in capsule form. Powdered ginger sold in the supermarket, ginger ale, ginger tea, and even ginger cookies often contain flavoring, and not real ginger.

Nausea which results from chemotherapy is more than just an inconvenience. Nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy is sometimes such a problem that patients stop chemotherapy or refuse to consider taking it all together. This significantly reduces their chances of becoming cancer free.

Studies of ginger’s effectiveness in treating nausea caused by morning sickness and motion sickness have shown mixed results. In the current study, purified ginger root extract was in a specially formulated gelcap produced by the Aphios Corporation.

There were more than 600 patients in the study, about two-thirds of whom had breast cancer. All patients had previously been through one round of chemotherapy and had suffered nausea during that time.

Patients were divided into four groups depending on whether they were to receive from one-half to one and one-half grams of ginger per day or placebo capsules.

Patients began taking the capsules three days before beginning their chemotherapy and continued for a total of six days. All of the patients rated their level of nausea on the first day of treatment using a  7 point scale.

While all of the patients receiving ginger capsules showed reduced nausea, surprisingly the two lowest doses were most effective. Patients ranked their nausea an average of two points lower on the 7 point scale, representing an improvement of about 40 percent. Patients receiving placebo capsules experienced virtually no difference.

Researchers believe that having the patients start taking ginger several days before chemotherapy began made a real difference. Earlier studies where patients starting ginger on the day of treatment showed that the ginger made little difference.

If you want to try taking ginger for chemotherapy induced nausea, talk with your doctor. While ginger does not have any side effects, it can interfere with blood clotting, an issue for patients taking blood thinners, having surgery, or having chemotherapy.