ROCHESTER, NY - Ginger, long used as a folk remedy for soothing tummyaches, helped tame one of the most dreaded side effects of cancer treatment - nausea from chemotherapy, the first large study to test the herb for this has found.
People who started taking ginger capsules several days before a chemo infusion had fewer and less severe bouts of nausea afterward than others who were given dummy capsules, the federally funded study found.
Results were released Thursday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and will be presented at the group's annual meeting later this month.
But don't reach for the ginger ale. Many sodas and cookies contain only flavoring - not real ginger, Ryan said. Her study tested a drug-like ginger root extract, and it's not known if people could get the same benefits from ginger teas or the powdered ginger sold as a spice.
Still, ginger capsules may offer a cheap, simple way to fight nausea, which is far more than just a quality-of-life issue, doctors say. Some cancer patients cut treatment short or refuse chemo altogether because of nausea, hurting their chances of beating the disease.
Medicines do a good job of curbing vomiting, but nearly three-fourths of chemo patients still suffer nausea, which can sometimes be worse, Ryan said.
Ginger has long been touted for stomach upsets, ranging from motion sickness to morning sickness during pregnancy. Studies have had mixed results.
The study involved 644 patients from cancer centers around the nation who had suffered nausea in a previous round of chemotherapy. Two-thirds had breast cancer and the rest, other forms of the disease. They were placed in four groups and given one of three doses of ginger (the equivalent of one-half, 1 or 1½ grams of ginger per day) or dummy capsules in addition to standard anti-sickness medicines.
Patients took the capsules for six days, beginning three days before chemo treatment. They rated their nausea symptoms on a seven-point scale on the first day of each of three treatments.
All of the ginger doses significantly reduced nausea, and the middle and lowest doses gave the best results. Patients taking ginger scored their nausea an average of two or more points lower on the nausea scale, about a 40 percent improvement over their previous chemo treatments without ginger, Ryan said. Those given dummy pills reported hardly any difference.
Timing may have been key to success: An earlier study found ginger did no good when patients waited until the day of treatment to start taking it. In the new study, researchers wanted to see if having ginger in the system ahead of time would help.