Ginger has long been a popular remedy for nausea, a type of stomach upset that often results from morning sickness, motion sickness, chemotherapy, food poisoning, migraines, and the use of certain medications. Many people use ginger supplements when treating nausea, although fresh, dried, and crystallized ginger may also help soothe nausea when consumed as foods or spices.
While it's not known how ginger might ease nausea, some scientists suspect that certain chemicals found in ginger may influence the nervous system, stomach, and intestines to help reduce nausea.
The Science Behind Ginger and Nausea
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists ginger supplements as "possibly effective" for preventing morning sickness and controlling post-surgery nausea. Indeed, a 2005 report from Obstetrics and Gynecology analyzed six clinical trials (with a total of 675 participants) and found that ginger was superior to a placebo and similar to vitamin B6 in relieving nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
In addition, in a 2006 report from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, investigators sized up five clinical trials (with a total of 363 patients) and concluded that taking ginger is more effective than placebo for post-surgery nausea and vomiting.
On the other hand, the NIH classifies ginger supplements as "possibly ineffective" for preventing motion sickness and seasickness. Although several small studies suggest that ginger supplements may prevent or treat motion sickness to some degree, other research shows that ginger supplements are of little value in protecting against motion sickness.
When Should You Use Ginger for Nausea?
While ginger is generally considered safe for most people, it may cause some mild side effects (including heartburn, diarrhea, and stomach discomfort). In addition, it's important to take caution when using ginger in combination with other medications. For instance, combining ginger supplements with blood-thinning drugs may increase risk of bleeding, while mixing ginger supplements with diabetes medications may decrease blood sugar.
If you're considering the use of ginger supplements in treatment of a chronic health problem (or during chemotherapy), make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.
Borrelli F, Capasso R, Aviello G, Pittler MH, Izzo AA. "Effectiveness and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting." Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Apr;105(4):849-56.
Chaiyakunapruk N, Kitikannakorn N, Nathisuwan S, Leeprakobboon K, Leelasettagool C. "The efficacy of ginger for the prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting: a meta-analysis." Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Jan;194(1):95-9.
Ernst E, Pittler MH. "Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials." Br J Anaesth. 2000 Mar;84(3):367-71.
Holtmann S, Clarke AH, Scherer H, Höhn M. "The anti-motion sickness mechanism of ginger. A comparative study with placebo and dimenhydrinate." Acta Otolaryngol. 1989 Sep-Oct;108(3-4):168-74.
Lien HC, Sun WM, Chen YH, Kim H, Hasler W, Owyang C. "Effects of ginger on motion sickness and gastric slow-wave dysrhythmias induced by circular vection." Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2003 Mar;284(3):G481-9.
National Institutes of Health. "Ginger: MedlinePlus Supplements". September 2010.
National Institutes of Health. "Nausea and Vomiting: MedlinePlus". November 2010.