Fight Chemo-Induced Nausea with Ginger

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - 1:44pm

By Erin Dummert RD, CD

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, vomiting, dehydration, inadequate nutrient intake, and severe weight loss. These side effects have serious consequences, and in some cases, may result in stopping or delaying planned treatments.

Natural remedies appeal to cancer patients

Controlling chemotherapy-induced nausea is a primary goal during cancer treatment. Patients are often given anti-nausea medications before and during treatment. While these medications may offer relief, some patients continue to struggle with nausea. Therefore, cancer treatment specialists are in search of a natural remedy that can be used in conjunction with existing anti-nausea medications. The hope is that this combination will more effectively alleviate nausea caused by chemotherapy. The prospect of a natural remedy that can be used in conjunction with anti-nausea medications is attractive to many patients.

Ginger combats nausea

Ginger ale, ginger snaps, gingerbread. Whatever the form, ginger is one of the world's oldest comfort foods. Used for centuries as an herbal remedy, ginger has been known to aid digestion, as well as control and prevent nausea and vomiting. Ginger may alleviate nausea by promoting secretion of saliva and digestive juices, neutralizing stomach acid and increasing movement in the intestines. Recent research has found ginger to be effective at relieving nausea from:

  • Pregnancy
  • Motion sickness
  • Surgery
  • Some cancer treatments.

Ginger is safe

The American Herbal Products Association gives fresh ginger root a Class 1 safety rating, meaning that it is a safe herb with a wide dosage range. Side effects associated with ginger 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
  • Are taking an anticoagulant, commonly referred to as a "blood thinner," such as warfarin
  • Are about to have surgery.

The amount of ginger typically found in foods has not been associated with any side effects.

Adding ginger to your diet

Fresh ginger's availability, safety, ease of use, and promising research makes it an appealing addition to an anti-nausea regimen. Here are some suggestions for adding ginger to your diet:

  • Chew a ΒΌ ounce piece of fresh ginger root
    • Fresh ginger can be purchased in the produce section at any grocery store. Peel the skin before using, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Bottled ginger can also be found in the international foods aisle.

  • Add fresh, grated ginger root to sauces and stir-fries
  • Suck on a piece of crystallized ginger
    • Crystallized ginger can be found at many natural foods stores.

  • Sip on ginger ale or ginger tea
    • Be sure these contain ginger root. Most ginger ales and ginger teas do not contain any actual ginger. You may wish to make homemade tea with fresh ginger (see recipe below).

  • Snack on gingersnaps or gingerbread
    • These foods are high in fat and sugar, contain small amounts of ginger and should be used in moderation.

Adding fresh ginger to your anti-nausea regimen can improve quality of life by safely reducing nausea and vomiting. If you are unable to manage these side effects on your own, be sure to talk to your treatment team about available options.

Ginger tea recipe

1 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
2 cups water

Place fresh, sliced ginger and water in a saucepan. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Discard ginger. Add honey to taste.