Ginger has been used medicinally in Asia for more than 2,000 years. It has been extensively studied in both East and West. Norman Farnsworth, the director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine at the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Pharmacy, calls ginger “one of the three most thoroughly investigated plants in the history of the world.” (The other two are garlic and ginseng.) Ginger can be used for a vast multitude of health problems, including relief of cold and flu symptoms, but its most common use is to relieve nausea. In the United States, many over-the-counter medicines for digestive problems, nausea, and colds and flus contain ginger. Ginger is also commonly used by pregnant women to relieve nausea caused by morning sickness, and many women use ginger to relieve the discomfort of menstrual cramps. Scientific studies show that ginger does relieve nausea consistently when the nausea is caused by morning sickness. However, although the evidence is promising, researchers say they need more controlled studies before they can feel certain that ginger can relieve nausea that is caused by motion sickness, chemotherapy, or surgery.
Using Ginger to Treat Nausea
- Make ginger tea. You can use teabags, or, better yet, grate some fresh ginger and make tea with it. You can straing the fresh ginger out of the finished tea.
- Chew ginger candy.
- Eat foods that are cooked with ginger or that have a ginger sauce. If nothing else is available, even the small amounts of ginger in gingerbread, ginger snaps, or ginger ale can be helpful.
- You can also buy ginger in powders or capsules and take it that way. Powders and capsules are helpful if you are trying to measure the amount of ginger that you are taking every day so that you can document it for your doctor.
- For most kinds of nausea, it takes at least a gram of ginger per day to make a difference. Ginger’s effectiveness can vary depending on the form of ginger that you take, so you may want to experiment to see what works best for you. For nausea, ginger in tea, candy, or food is probably best, because it can begin to work while it is still in the mouth. Ginger in capsules will not be effective until the digestive system has broken down the outside of the capsule -- which in some cases may be too late to prevent vomiting.
Why It Works
Ginger contains volatile essential oils classified as phenols. Two of these phenols, gingerols and shogaols, stimulate the stomach to contract rhythmically, rather than irregularly. Nausea is often associated with irregular stomach contractions, and when the stomach can be soothed into normal, regular contractions, the nausea subsides. Ginger’s ability to regulate peristalsis, contractions of the digestive tract, extends throughout the entire tract, not just the stomach, and is also the reason that many people use ginger to treat diarrhea and constipation. Scientists think that some nausea, in addition, is caused when the hormone serotonin binds to serotonin receptors in the small intestine. The terpenes in ginger’s essential oils prevent serotonin from binding with serotonin receptors. In fact, prescription anti-nausea medications act by blocking serotonin receptors in the intestines.
Ginger is a food herb and is generally regarded as safe. It has no known toxicity. However, researchers are studying ginger’s effects on the immune system to determine whether it interacts with immune-suppressant drugs, such as the drugs taken by people who have received an organ replacement. You should not take ginger if you are being treated for gallstones or are taking blood-thinning medication, including aspirin. If you are going to be having surgery or will be placed under anesthesia, let your doctor know that you have been taking ginger. In addition, because ginger stimulates the circulatory system, you should talk to your doctor before taking ginger if you have a heart condition.
Some people find that they experience heartburn, diarrhea, gas, or mouth irritation after taking ginger.