Nausea meets its match in spicy ginger root, a popular cooking herb that’s been used as a supplement for digestive complaints, colds and flu, achy joints and head pain for thousands of years.
Spice or supplement? How ginger is used
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is not only a popular culinary ingredient, it is also widely used for medicinal purposes. Today, ginger’s strongest, research-backed claim to fame is its ability to soothe nausea in many guises—motion sickness, morning sickness, stomach upsets and nausea due to chemotherapy. Some preliminary research also supports its long-time use as an anti-inflammatory ache-easer. Traditionally ginger was used to treat chills, arthritis and migraines and may in the future be used as treatment for post-surgery nausea.
Ginger for morning sickness: is it safe?
Morning sickness affects up to 85 percent of women during the first 3 months of pregnancy. It’s been proven that ginger can help, and—good news—herbal medicine experts at Bastyr University, near Seattle in the United States, say it’s safe to take at recommended doses during pregnancy.
How to take ginger medicinally
Ginger comes in many forms. You can make a tea by steeping 1 teaspoon (5 milligrams) of grated fresh ginger in boiling water; then train and sweeten.
Alternately, you can take ginger as a supplement in the form of capsules of dried ginger. Follow dosage directions; experts suggest 250 milligrams 4 times daily to quell nausea.
Another option is to chew candied ginger; a 1-inch (2.5-centimetre) piece is equivalent to about 500 to 1000 milligrams of dried ginger.
How does it work?
What is responsible for this root’s digestive-system-soothing powers? When researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom reviewed the evidence in 2000, they concluded that an active compound called 6-gingerol plays a starring role by relaxing muscles along the gastrointestinal tract. In 2011, in a laboratory study at the Pharmacy Institute at the Free University of Berlin, in Germany, scientists found that gingerols and shogaols from ginger bind to receptors on cells in the small intestine—blocking the action of nausea-inducing chemicals produced by the body, such as serotonin. Fresh ginger root is preferable to dried ginger, as it contains higher levels of the active compound 6-gingerol.
Modern research and studies on ginger as a remedy for nausea
Imagine trying to hold onto your breakfast as your chair spins on one leg—so it’s not just revolving, but also tilting up and down in wobbly circles. And you’re blindfolded! That’s what 36 stalwart volunteers did for a noteworthy 1982 Pennsylvania State University study that helped establish ginger’s beneficial effects against motion sickness. Researcher Daniel B Mowrey found that capsules of dried, powdered ginger worked better than the popular motion-sickness remedies that use dimenhydrinate as the active ingredient, such as Dramamine and Gravol.
In 2003, research conducted at the University of Michigan confirmed ginger’s benefits—this time courtesy of 13 volunteers who ate cheese-and-bacon sandwiches then sat inside a spinning barrel painted with nausea-inducing black-and-white stripes! In this study, 1000 to 2000 milligrams of dried ginger root, in capsules, reduced nausea by about 40 percent; afterwards, nausea levels fell twice as fast—in 5 minutes rather than 10—in the ginger group compared with those taking a placebo.
In a 2005 review of 7 morning-sickness studies, ginger significantly reduced nausea and vomiting in pregnant women. Six of the studies followed the women until they gave birth and found ginger did not increase risk for birth defects, did not shorten pregnancy, or cause any serious side effects for mothers-to-be (though some burped a little more often!).
And that’s not all. In a 2011 study at the University of Rochester, 644 cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy took capsules containing ginger or a placebo twice a day for 6 days—starting 3 days before chemotherapy treatment. Those who received ginger had significantly less nausea.
Ginger boosted sluggish digestion by 25 percent in a 2011 study by Taiwan’s Chang Gung University College of Medicine.
Some of ginger’s time-honoured uses also have real science behind them. In India, the root is considered a useful anti-inflammatory against arthritis. In several case studies, including a1992 report on 56 people with arthritis or muscle aches from Denmark’s Odense University, those who took ginger supplements regularly for three months or more reported a significant easing of pain.
Ginger has a reputation in Asia as a drying, warming herb that can chase the chills of a cold or flu. In one 1991 lab study reported by Japan’s Hokkaido Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, an extract containing gingerols boosted body temperature in animals by 33°F (0.5°C) within half an hour.