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Ginger helps fight chemotherapy nausea

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Monday May 19,  2009 (foodconsumer.org) -- The healing effects of ginger, used in medieval days to fight the plague, have been known as far back as 650 AD. Today the spice has been shown to stave off nausea in chemotherapy patients.

Despite the use of anti-nausea drugs, almost 70 percent of chemotherapy patients experience nausea after treatment. Doctors at the University of Rochester found that administering as little as a quarter of a teaspoon of the ancient spice alleviated nausea symptoms in all patients in the study.

“All doses of ginger significantly reduced nausea,” wrote authors in the study’s abstract. “The largest reduction in nausea occurred with .5 grams and 1.0 grams.”

The study examined 644 people undergoing chemotherapy, mostly breast and lung cancer patients. More than 90 percent of those in the study were female with an average age of 53 years. Participants received either a placebo or .5 grams, 1 gram or 1.5 grams of ginger in capsule form once a day for six days. Doses were administered three days before the chemotherapy cycle.

Previous smaller studies on the effects of ginger for nausea had inconsistent results, said a report on WebMD about the study. Those tests did not introduce ginger before the chemotherapy process.

Those in the study also took traditional drugs, Zofran or Kytril, to manage the nausea associated with chemotherapy. They then rated their nausea on a seven-point scale four times a day for the first four days of treatment.

Dr. Julie Ryan, co-author of the study, said those who received the lowest doses of ginger, either one quarter or one-half of a teaspoon, reported the lowest nausea ratings, according to WebMD. Those who reported the highest levels of nausea were the ones taking the placebo.

Ryan said the benefits of ginger were maintained for the full four days of the study, and she said the effects should last even longer. Symptoms of nausea usually are the worst on the first day of chemotherapy, she said, and patients are less likely to experience nausea at all if they do not do so on the first day.

Ryan said that trying ginger ale or ginger snaps to help with nausea may work but only if they contain one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of fresh or dry ginger.

“But if it’s ginger flavoring, that wouldn’t work,” she told WebMD.

Ginger is native to India and China and was one of the earliest spices known to Western Europe, according to theepiccentre.com. For years ginger root has been used to treat nausea-related symptoms with motion sickness and morning sickness. Henry VIII, a known apothecary, instructed the Mayor of London to use ginger for its sweat-inducing abilities to fight the plague.

The University of Rochester study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and will be presented at the May 30 meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Orlando, Florida.

(By Sheilah Downey, and edited by Heather Kelley)

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