Other common name(s): ginger root
Scientific/medical name(s): Zingiber officinale
Ginger is a plant native to Southeast Asia that is also grown in the United States, China, India, and various tropical regions. The root is usually the part of the plant used in herbal remedies.
Ginger has a long history as an herbal remedy for upset stomach, motion sickness, and loss of appetite and as a pungent spice for cooking. Some controlled studies in humans show ginger reduces nausea and vomiting from some causes. Most clinical studies of ginger have tested the use of this herb for nausea associated with pregnancy or following surgery. Tests of how well it might relieve nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy are still going on.
There are a number of conventional medicines for the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Available scientific evidence does not support claims that ginger can add to the effectiveness of these medicines. But some people with cancer find that the taste or aroma of beverages and foods with ginger helps soothe their nausea.
Ginger may interfere with blood clotting and should only be used by cancer patients after talking about it with their doctors. This concern applies mostly to people whose clotting function is already weakened by their cancer or its treatment or to people having surgery.
How is it promoted for use?
Ginger has been used to control or prevent nausea, vomiting, and motion sickness; as an anti-inflammatory (a drug that reduces pain and swelling); a cold remedy; an aid to digestion; a remedy for intestinal gas; and to help relieve nausea in cancer patients who are having chemotherapy. It is also sometimes promoted for arthritis or joint and muscle pain. Some proponents have also claimed ginger is able to keep tumors from developing, even though available scientific evidence does not support this.
What does it involve?
Ginger is available as a dried or fresh root, as a tea, in powder form, as a liquid extract, as a tincture, in tablets, in capsules, and in candied form. Many parents give their children ginger ale to settle an upset stomach, but the soft drink often does not contain much ginger. Some ales have artificial flavors instead of ginger.
Fresh or dried ginger root is used in cooking and in preparing herbal remedies. A broad range of daily doses of ginger is reported, from 250 milligrams to 1 gram. For the treatment of nausea, the usual dose is 250 milligrams to 1 gram of powdered ginger taken with a liquid several times per day. The maximum daily adult dose is usually totals 5 grams or less.
What is the history behind it?
The root of the ginger plant has been used in cooking and as an herbal remedy since ancient times. The ancient Greeks ate ginger wrapped in bread to prevent nausea from a huge feast. For many centuries, Chinese sailors have taken ginger to avoid sea sickness. A proverb from ancient India maintains that everything good can be found in ginger. Its traditional role in herbal medicine has been as a remedy for nausea, motion sickness, heartburn, vomiting, stomach cramps, and loss of appetite.
What is the evidence?
Ginger has been approved by Commission E (Germany's regulatory agency for herbs) for indigestion and to help prevent motion sickness. According to some, but not all, controlled studies in humans, ginger reduces nausea. Most studies also show that ginger reduces motion sickness and severe vomiting in early pregnancy. Although some clinicians warn that using ginger during pregnancy or breast-feeding (at doses that are higher than the amount eaten in foods) might cause harmful effects, there is no objective evidence of harm to the mother, fetus, or infant.
Studies of ginger's ability to reduce nausea and vomiting linked to surgery have had mixed results. At least 3 studies found ginger had no effect on nausea and vomiting after surgery, while other studies have found a significant decrease in nausea and vomiting when ginger was given before the operation. These inconsistencies may be due to the difficulty in measuring symptoms of nausea.
The chemotherapy drug cisplatin can cause nausea, vomiting, and delayed emptying of the stomach. Indian researchers found that extracts from ginger helped to speed up stomach emptying in dogs and rats that were given cisplatin chemotherapy. But extracted chemicals or substances are different from the raw plant. This means that studies of extracts will not necessarily have the same result as studies using the raw plant. In a clinical trial of patients receiving cisplatin, addition of ginger to standard drugs for nausea did not reduce this symptom. A 2009 clinical trial compared ginger versus placebo, along with a standard anti-nausea drug, aprepitant (Emend) in patients receiving other types of chemotherapy. In this study, the effect of ginger was about the same as the placebo. In fact, those who got ginger with aprepitant tended to have worse nausea than those who got placebo and aprepitant. Other clinical trials are still going on to find out if ginger helps with nausea after different kinds of chemotherapy.
While ginger may be effective in treating nausea and vomiting linked to some cancer treatments, it may also interfere with blood clotting. If this happens, it could be life threatening to some patients receiving chemotherapy.
Recent preliminary results in animals show some effect in slowing or preventing tumor growth. While these results are not well understood, they deserve further study. Still, it is too early in the research process to say whether ginger will have the same effect in humans.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
This product is sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. Unlike companies that produce drugs (which must be tested before being sold), the companies that make supplements are not required to prove to the Food and Drug Administration that their supplements are safe or effective, as long as they don't claim the supplements can prevent, treat, or cure any specific disease.
Some such products may not contain the amount of the herb or substance that is on the label, and some may include other substances (contaminants). Actual amounts per dose may vary between brands or even between different batches of the same brand. In 2007, the FDA wrote new rules to improve the quality of manufacturing for dietary supplements and the proper listing of supplement ingredients. But these rules do not address the safety of the ingredients or their effects on health.
Most such supplements have not been tested to find out if they interact with medicines, foods, or other herbs and supplements. Even though some reports of interactions and harmful effects may be published, full studies of interactions and effects are not often available. Because of these limitations, any information on ill effects and interactions below should be considered incomplete.
People who have cancer should talk to their doctors before taking ginger, because it has the potential to interfere with blood clotting and prolong bleeding time. There is some disagreement in published studies about the likelihood of this side effect. The risk of serious bleeding may be higher if the person is taking blood-thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin) or a medicine that can lower his or her level of platelets (blood cells that help the blood to clot) or interfere with platelet function.
In rare cases, some people have had allergic reactions to ginger. Ginger has also been reported to cause occasional rashes, heartburn, bloating, gas, and mild stomach upset. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.
More information from your American Cancer Society
The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be found on our Web site (www.cancer.org) or ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).
The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management
Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 1998.
Borrelli F, Capasso R, Aviello G, et al. Effectiveness and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. Obstet Gynecol. 2005;105:849-856.
Gruenwald J. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 3rd ed. Montvale, NJ: Thomson PDR; 2004.
Janssen PL, Meyboom S, van Staveren WA, et al. Consumption of ginger (Zingiber officinale roscoe) does not affect ex vivo platelet thromboxane production in humans. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1996;50:772-774.
Jeong CH, Bode AM, Pugliese A, Cho YY, Kim HG, et al. -Gingerol suppresses colon cancer growth by targeting leukotriene A4 hydrolase. Cancer Research. 69(13):5584-91, 2009.
Lumb AB. Effect of dried ginger on human platelet function. Thromb Haemost. 1994;71:110-111.
Manusirivithaya S, Sripramote M, Tangjitgamol S, et al. Antiemetic effect of ginger in gynecologic oncology patients receiving cisplatin. Int J Gynecol Cancer. 2004;14:1063-1069.
Medline Plus. Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). Accessed at www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-ginger.html on March 12, 2010.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Ginger. Accessed at www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69234.cfm on March 12, 2010.
Miller LG. Herbal medicinals: selected clinical considerations focusing on known or potential drug-herb interactions. Arch Intern Med. 1998;158:2200-2211.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Herbs at a Glance: Ginger. Accessed at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ginger/index.htm on March 12, 2010.
O'Hara MA, Kiefer D, Farrell K, Kemper K. A review of 12 commonly used medicinal herbs. Arch Fam Med. 1998;7:523-536.
Shalansky S, Lynd L, Richardson K, et al. Risk of warfarin-related bleeding events and supratherapeutic international normalized ratios associated with complementary and alternative medicine: a longitudinal analysis. Pharmacotherapy. 2007;27:1237-1247.
Sharma SS, Gupta YK. Reversal of cisplatin-induced delay in gastric emptying in rats by ginger (Zingiber officinale). J Ethnopharmacol. 1998;62:49-55.
Smith C, Crowther C, Willson K, et al. A randomized controlled trial of ginger to treat nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2004;103:639-645.
Tavlan A, Tuncer S, Erol A, et al. Prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting after thyroidectomy: combined antiemetic treatment with dexamethasone and ginger versus dexamethasone alone. Clinical Drug Investig. 2006;26:209-214.
Zick SM, Ruffin MT, Lee J, et al. Phase II trial of encapsulated ginger as a treatment for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Support Care Cancer. 2009 May;17(5):563-72.
Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.
Last Revised: 05/13/2010