Use of ginger by cancer patients has shown to be a natural remedy for reducing the chemo-induced nausea and vomiting, a common side-effect seen in patients treated with chemotherapy. Ginger supplementation along with the anti-emetic drugs can be beneficial for cancer patients dealing with nausea and vomiting.
Ginger – Medicinal Properties
It is no surprise that ginger has continued to be used for centuries by various cultures for both its taste and medicinal properties. Not only does it taste good when paired with literally any other food, the antioxidants present in ginger are known to aid in digestion, inflammation, arthritis, and even in reducing the risk of Diabetes and Cancer. Unfortunately, just blindly consuming a lot of natural products like ginger is not going to magically cure someone of all their health problems, because each product has its own specific properties and effect on the body and should be used accordingly. As for ginger and its relation to cancer therapy, there has been ongoing scientific interest in ginger’s ability to help reduce nausea/vomiting levels in patients being treated with chemotherapy (as a natural remedy for nausea and vomiting).
Nausea and Vomiting in Cancer Patients
Nausea is an extremely common side effect of chemotherapy and despite the use of antiemetic drugs, which interfere with specific neurotransmitters that induce vomiting, over 70% of patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment report having what is known as chemotherapy-induced nausea or CIN. There are three types of Chemo induced nausea- Anticipatory nausea happens before the chemotherapy treatment itself and is simply due to the anticipation and anxiety felt before the treatment; acute nausea is the most severe and happens within 24 hours of the treatment; and lastly, delayed nausea occurs within the next five days of the treatment.
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Ginger – A Natural Remedy for Nausea and Vomiting
In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester, 744 cancer patients were randomly assigned to either a placebo, or one of three different amounts of ginger delivered through capsules which had to be taken three times a day for six days. “Mixed model analyses demonstrated that all doses of ginger significantly reduced chemo induced acute nausea severity compared to placebo on Day 1 of cancer chemotherapy (p = 0.003). The largest reduction in nausea intensity occurred with 0.5 g and 1.0 g of ginger ” (Ryan JL et al, Support Care Cancer. 2012).
These were extremely promising results at the time, because along with being one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy, nausea and vomiting can also prove to be most detrimental due to causing excessive fatigue and ruined dietary intake. In our bodies, we have what is known as 5-HT3 or serotonin receptors which are located throughout the nervous system. Without getting into the complex biology of what these receptors entail, scientists have figured out that these receptors play a significant role in causing nausea and vomiting, which is why all current antiemetic drugs work by attempting to inhibit these receptors. Ginger contains several compounds that can also inhibit the serotonin receptors except through a different binding site than all the other drugs, which may be why it is so much more effective. In addition to this, ginger has additional compounds that are able to bind to other receptors to regulate gastric emptying as well as reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.
In 2019, a systematic review was done and a total of 18 articles were analyzed to get a much more concrete idea of ginger’s effect on adults undergoing chemotherapy in relation to vomiting and nausea. While they couldn’t find the ideal dosage of ginger that should be given to patients because of the clinical heterogeneity between all the trials conducted, the researchers of this meta analysis did conclude that “ginger supplementation in conjunction with standard antiemetic care could be beneficial for chemotherapy-induced vomiting and chemo-induced nausea and vomiting related outcomes” (Crichton M et al, J Acad Nutr Diet. 2019). Hence, ginger may be a natural remedy for nausea and vomiting in cancer patients.
At the end of the day, it is always good news to hear the beneficial effects of a natural product as ginger. In fact, ginger has even been regarded by the FDA as a ‘safe’ food. However, excessive amounts of even a natural ‘safe’ food can be harmful. Ginger has the potential to slow blood clotting and therefore taking excessive ginger along with medications that slow blood clotting such as aspirin may increase chances of bruising and bleeding. Also, use of excessive ginger along with sugar lowering medications for diabetes needs to be closely monitored. Hence, natural products like ginger do offer benefits such as helping reduce the horrible chemotherapy side-effect of nausea and vomiting, but should be used at the right dose and with the awareness of its impact on other conditions, especially for the elderly patients.
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Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.