Monday, 25 May 2009
How taking ginger can help ease nausea after chemotherapy
Long hailed as a remedy for motion and morning sickness, ginger has now been proven to reduce nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Nausea is a common side effect of chemotherapy, affecting about 70 per cent of patients, and many are given anti-nausea drugs to combat it. However, a study by a New York university found that small doses of ginger alongside these drugs can reduce queasiness by up to 40 per cent.
Although researchers cannot pinpoint why ginger - the stem of the plant Zingiber officinale - reduces nausea, one theory is that its compounds inhibit the release of a chemical that causes vomiting.
'Agents used in chemotherapy such as cisplatin are thought to cause the gut to secrete a neurotransmitter called serotonin which, when it interacts with certain receptors in the brain, can cause vomiting,' says Professor Ian Rowland from the University of Reading.
'Studies have shown that gingerol, the main compound in ginger which contributes to its pungent taste, can inhibit the release of serotonin so this seems a likely mechanism for the anti-nausea effect.'
Another theory from previous studies is that ginger may inhibit two enzymes, cyclo-oxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase, that play a role in inflammation and may therefore alleviate swelling in the gut.
Ginger is not actually a root but a rhizome - or underground stem - native to South-East Asia and used in alternative medicine for thousands of years. Although many of its uses centre on digestive illnesses, it is also used to treat rheumatism, coughs and
'Ginger appears to have a number of beneficial effects,' says Elizabeth Weischelbaum of the British Nutrition Foundation. 'The most established is the relief of nausea but there is evidence it has anti-inflammatory effects and can ameliorate symptoms of osteoarthritis.
'Ginger is also thought to contain compounds that can reduce the risk of some cancers, as well as lower blood pressure and improve circulation. Ginger oil contains the chemical compounds zingiberene and l-bisabolene which seem to have antibacterial properties.'
In the most recent study, ginger caused no side effects in the 600 cancer patients involved, but experts suggest patients undergoing chemotherapy would be wise to consult their oncologist before trying ginger as the spice can interfere with blood-clotting.