The knotty, twisted underground stem of the ginger plant (Zingiber officinale ) has been used as a spice and a drug in China for the last 25 centuries. Chinese sailors chewed pieces of it to relieve their seasickness thousands of years ago. Today ginger is a leading folk remedy for nausea and digestive problems as well as a flavoring for food and drinks throughout the world.
What is it good for?
In the past two decades, a handful of studies in the United States and Europe have examined ginger’s effects, and the results have been convincing enough for the German government to approve it as a treatment for motion sickness and indigestion. Research findings with regard to motion sickness are mixed, however, as is evidence of its efficacy in treating nausea caused by chemotherapy or surgery.
Studies of gingers effect on morning sickness have been very promising. Several studies have found that ginger is effective for treating nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. A 2007 study of 126 pregnant women found it to be even more effective than vitamin B6, with fewer side effects.
How does it work?
Researchers are not yet sure how ginger prevents nausea. Compounds in ginger might work on the stomach and possibly on the inner ear, where motion sickness originates. Other compounds might have anti-inflammatory effects, although it is unclear whether ginger is effective for treating people with arthritis. Ginger has a big advantage over other motion sickness drugs: In normal doses it doesn’t cause any of their nasty side effects, such as drowsiness, blurred vision, dry mouth, and heart palpitations.
How safe is it?
Ginger has an excellent safety record in humans. In high doses it may cause sleepiness or heart palpitations. It may also thin the blood. To be safe, don’t use it if you are already taking prescription anti-coagulants such as Coumadin (Warfarin).
What’s the best way to take it?
Powdered ginger is available in capsule or liquid extract form. If you want to try it to prevent motion sickness, a typical dose is two 500 mg capsules 30 minutes before traveling and one or two more after four hours if you begin to feel nauseated. Keep in mind that the government does not regulate herbal remedies, so quality and potency can vary from product to product. Asian food markets and many natural food stores sell crystallized or candied ginger; an inch-square slice is roughly equivalent to a standard 500 mg capsule. Ginger tea is a less potent option. You can make it by chopping up a two-inch section of fresh ginger and steeping it in water for about 15 minutes; it’s good with honey and lemon. You can also try ginger ale, but make sure it’s made with real ginger.
Ernst E, Pittler MN. Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Br J Anaesth 2000;84(3):367-71.
Jellin JM, Gregory P, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al. Pharmacist’s Letter/Prescriber’s Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty
Bliddal H, Rosetzsky A, Schlichting P, et al. A randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over study of ginger extracts and ibuprofen in osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 2000;8(1):9-12.
Borrelli F. et al. Effectiveness and Safety of Ginger in the Treatment of Prregnancy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 105:849-856. April 2005.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Ginger. May 2008.
Chittumma P, et al. Comparison of the effectiveness of ginger and vitamin B6 for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy: a randomized, double-blind controlled trial. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand. 2007 Jan; 90(1): 15-20.