Ginger supplements can reduce chemotherapy-associated nausea when cancer patients take them along with anti-emetic drugs, according to the results of a placebo-controlled study of 644 patients.
Capsules containing 0.5 g and 1 g of ginger reduced the severity of nausea by 40% at the beginning of chemotherapy cycles, investigator Julie Ryan, Ph.D., reported during a press teleconference held May 14 by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
“We found that all doses of ginger significantly reduced nausea compared to placebo in both study cycles,” said Dr. Ryan, who is an assistant professor of dermatology and radiation oncology at the University of Rochester (New York). The largest reductions in nausea were seen in the 0.5 g and 1 g groups.
The study included chemotherapy patients who had experienced nausea during any treatment previous cycle and who were scheduled for at least three additional cycles. Patients were randomized to receive 0.5 g, 1 g, or 1.5 g ginger daily or placebo. Both placebo and ginger were given as capsules.
Nausea was assessed during a baseline chemotherapy cycle and at two subsequent cycles on treatment/placebo. Patients reported their nausea level in the morning, afternoon, evening, and at night using a seven-point scale (1 represented no nausea, 7 represented extreme nausea).
Patients started ginger or placebo 3 days before the start of each cycle and continued for 3 more days, for a total of 6 days. All patients received standard anti-emetic drugs – ondansetron or granisetron – on day 1 of each chemotherapy cycle.
A total of 644 patients were randomized – 90% female and 92% white, with a mean age of 53 years. The most common cancer types were breast (66%), alimentary (6.5%), and lung (6.1%).
“Most patients report the most severe nausea on day 1 of chemotherapy, so we examined the change in nausea in the four study arms on day 1” of each cycle, said Dr. Ryan.
The researchers also observed a statistically significant linear decrease in nausea over 24 hours. This trend was most easily seen on day 1 of cycle 3.
The findings are likely to generate significant interest among patients and oncologists, noted incoming ASCO president Dr. Douglas Blayney. “This will be an interesting abstract for a lot of patients, who often ask us as oncologists ‘is there anything more that I can do to deal with my chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting?’,” said Dr. Blayney, professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and medical director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Michigan.
Reporters asked whether patients could do as well consuming gingersnaps or ginger ale, but it’s unclear how the findings will translate into the use of ginger-containing products.
Dr. Ryan is scheduled to present data from the trial May 30at the annual meeting of ASCO in Orlando, Florida. As for why ginger would protect against nausea, Dr. Ryan said investigators do not know the exact mechanism but other research suggests it may be “a potent anti-inflammatory agent in the gut.”
The study was supported by grants from the U.S. National Cancer Institute.