Dr Paulo de Valdoleiros tells us why ginger is good for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
To ginger someone up is to make someone livelier. Even though this word is no longer commonly used as a verb, the noun ginger (Zingiber officinale) paints the picture of an age-old hot, fragrant spice made from the rhizome of a plant, which may be chopped or powdered for cooking, preserved in syrup, or candied.
When visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, you’ll be told of ginger’s many accomplishments over thousands of years in local traditional medicine, alleviating common digestive system ailments, and reducing inflammation.
The magic of gingerols
Scientific research has caught up and recognised ginger’s assistance in the management of nausea, vomiting, and digestive discomfort. Intrepid (and very intelligent) men and women in white coats, looking through microscopes and performing elaborate chemical dances, have identified the active components in ginger which contribute to its health and therapeutic benefits. These incredible compounds are known as gingerols, and they have become significant in empowering cancer patients to face chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
Despite the widespread use of antiemetics (pharmaceutical drugs to help prevent or control nausea and vomiting), nausea continues to be reported by over 70% of patients receiving chemotherapy1. This distressing and difficult to treat side effect is known as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV).
Nausea describes the stomach upset that may or may not precede vomiting and is a difficult symptom to treat, in part because it is a subjective event. Not only does it make you feel awful, but it can lead to dehydration and subsequent hospitalisations. Chemotherapy works by destroying cells that divide and grow rapidly, such as hair follicle cells, leading to hair loss; bone marrow cells, leading to anaemia; and digestive tract cells, causing nausea.
Some chemotherapy regimens are more likely to cause nausea than others, and everyone is different in their individual susceptibility to this side effect.
Three stages of CINV
The standard of care for chemotherapy-induced vomiting are anti-vomiting drugs and cortisone. However, efforts to control nausea have been less successful.
CINV is divided into three separate stages:
1. Anticipatory nausea (before receiving chemotherapy).
2. Acute nausea (occurring within 24 hours of chemotherapy).
3. Delayed nausea (24 hours to five days post chemotherapy).
At least five published studies show that ginger offers great results in the treatment of CINV.
One study, done at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, included 576 cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy cycles and concluded that “ginger supplementation significantly aids in reduction of the severity of acute chemotherapy-induced nausea in adult cancer patients1.”
Another study, done on 150 females with breast cancer, found that “ginger decreased vomiting severity2.”
Two other studies reported that ginger performed equally well as metoclopramide (an anti-vomiting drug)3,4.
Ginger is safe to use, even in pregnancy, and is also effective for motion sickness.
Modern scientific methods have allowed the extraction of gingerols to produce a standardised extract, which delivers consistent content and benefits.
You should always check that the gingerol content in your ginger supplement is specified. Also, make sure that your supplement is produced under good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards, and free from artificial additives, colourants, GMO, gluten, soya, and sugar.
Generally, you should begin supplementation three days before a chemotherapy cycle. This should comprise taking one tablet containing at least 6% gingerol, three times a day for as long as required.
Besides the recommendation of ginger, the Taj Mahal will also fill you with awe and the recognition that love is the ultimate and essential cornerstone of our humanity.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces acute chemotherapy-induced nausea – Support Care Cancer 2012
- Efficacy of ginger in control of chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting in breast cancer patients receiving Doxorubicin-based chemotherapy – Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention 2016
- Antiemetic effect of ginger in gynaecologic oncologic patients receiving cisplatin – Int Journal of Gynaecological Cancer 2004
- Ginger as an antiemetic inn nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy – Ind J Pharmacology 2003
MEET OUR EXPERT – Dr Paulo de Valdoleiros
Dr Paulo de Valdoleiros MBChB (UFS) is a medical practitioner with a sole interest in functional medicine.