Does Ginger really work to prevent nausea?

Healthy Planet Blog Aromatherapy at Home
January 10, 2010 | 9 Comments

Other than occasional nausea with flu’s and perhaps mild cases of food poisoning, I don’t think most of us have problems with nausea. There are some populations of people that experience chronic nausea and I can’t think of very much in my life that I find as unpleasant as being nauseous. It’s a terrible way to feel and it carries with it the problem of upsetting the electrolyte balance in your body and that in and of itself can be quite dangerous. As a nurse, mother and grandmother, I’ve seen, smelled, cleaned up and tried to alleviate the suffering of those who had nausea. Frankly, it was and is one of my very least favorite things to do and thankfully, I don’t have nausea except rarely. But, I’ve had friends and loved ones who have suffered with this.

There are three populations of people who experience this debilitating problem on an ongoing basis and below are my recommendations for each, along with some research.

1. During pregnancy – ginger used fresh in tea or foods. If not alleviated with herb, try the essential oil. See note below.
2. During chemotherapy – ginger used fresh, ginger essential oil inhaled.
3. Post surgery – depending on age, ginger essential oil inhaled.

Aromatherapy as well as herbs do have an answer for alleviating nausea. There are really only one or two effective pharmaceutical drugs that actually make a difference, one of which is fairly expensive. I think natural means are more effective, don’t require a prescription and from my research work as effectively, if not more so than pharmaceutical drugs.

From the research I’ve done, as well as anecdotal evidence obtained from others and personal experience, two essential oils in particular have a history of helping to reduce and even stop nausea. Peppermint and Ginger essential oils are both well-known for their ability to do just that.

Ginger during pregnancy:
Some sources say there is not enough information about the safety of ginger in pregnant women to recommend it for morning sickness, saying that ginger inhibits an enzyme called thromboxane synthetase and may possibly influence sex steroid differentiation in the fetal brain. Studies have not confirmed this. Martin Watt, a well-known voice in the aromatherapy world believes, and to quote: “There are NO essential oils that used externally are proven as harmful to a developing foetus. The vast majority of oils you have listed are common food additives. This is all stuff from the aromatherapy novel writers.”

As a nurse and certified professional aromatherapist, I tend to err on the side of caution when using essential oils during pregnancy, especially the first trimester, which is when most nausea occurs. Essential oils are aromatic hydrocarbons and are very small molecules perfectly capable of crossing the placenta and the blood brain barrier. My question is and will be until someone is able to prove differently, since essential oils are metabolized through the liver – does a fetus have the ability to accomplish this and at what risk? However, my favorite resource for essential oil safety is the classic “Essential Oil Safety” by Robert Tisserand and Tony Balacs. They include ginger essential oil in their list of “Essential oils SAFE to use in pregnancy.” So – my recommendation and suggestion would be to try the tea first and if the nausea is truly causing difficulties such as electrolyte imbalances, switch over to the essential oil gradually. To some the smell of ginger can actually be too strong. I am writing a longer discussion that we will publish soon about pregnancy and safety using herbs and/or essential oils. Peppermint is not recommended during pregnancy.

Nausea with migraines:
As I said, I rarely experience nausea. I do, however, have migraines and fairly frequently. I woke up one morning this past summer with an absolutely horrible migraine with accompanying nausea – which rarely (can’t remember ever before actually) happens for me. Migraines are frequently accompanied with nausea. It was my experience this particular morning. My dilemma – I couldn’t take my normal ibuprofen (not recommending that – and that’s another story), or even my prescription medication for migraines (again, not recommending that either), because my stomach was first of all empty and, secondly, I would have just lost it in the toilet anyway. Along with that issue, I really couldn’t even get out of the bed to even get to those items much less take them. This was an unusually severe migraine. To say I was miserable is so not even close to relating to you how bad I felt. Then out of desperation I realized that I had been recommending to other people the use of peppermint and/or ginger essential oils for nausea – just sniffing it is sufficient for most. I’d never really tried it myself – truly. I’d also been recommending Lavender for years for people with migraines, but I’d always thought mine were just too severe to even give it a try. Now, I shouldn’t be admitting this to you, but I knew that it worked for others, but for some reason, (medical background, taking a pill seems easier and more effective? I don’t know) I hadn’t tried Lavender to alleviate my own migraines. Well at that point – it seemed not only the obvious solution, but the only solution. I asked my husband to bring me my peppermint, lavender and ginger essential oils – and quickly please. I simply placed a few drops of the ginger onto a tissue, breathed it in and felt almost immediate relief – seriously. I sat back a minute, actually being somewhat surprised that it worked and worked quickly and effectively. But, my head still hurt and my first impulse was to now take my usual ibuprofen – but decided to try the Lavender instead since it was there in my hand anyway. I opened the bottle, with a dropper cap which should always be on any bottles you buy, and dotted my forehead with straight lavender. It worked! And it has continued to work since that time. I now just put a few drops on my forehead each time I feel a headache starting and it stops it in its tracks. Now, you are talking to someone who has been using and recommending that others use essential oils for years. I just hadn’t personally tried those two for those two problems – shame on me!

Ginger and cancer:
A study (Levine, Gillis, Koch, Voss, Stern, & Koch, 2008) showed that high protein meals that included ginger (fresh) reduced nausea of chemotherapy and reduced the need for use of antiemetic (anti-nausea) medications.

A precautionary statement from the American Cancer Society, who usually sides with allopathic medicine and as an organization is well-funded by pharmaceutical companies, nevertheless, had valid points that I think are important to include in this discussion: "While ginger may be effective in treating nausea and vomiting associated with some cancer treatments, it may also interfere with blood clotting. This 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 warrant further investigation. However, it is too early in the research process to say whether ginger will have the same effect in humans." This is one of those times I would agree with checking with your doctor first. Hopefully you have a physician who has taken the time to become educated on alternative modalities.

My favorite recipes lately have been for anything that has a curry-like taste and we attempt to make our own by simply adding cinnamon, cloves, fresh ginger and fresh nutmeg into what would have been a basic vegetable soup or stew. All of these herbs are well-researched for their ability to make you healthier. We’ll do individual articles about each another time. Chai as a coffee substitute is not only wonderful on cold winter days, but includes many beneficial properties in each of its ingredients. A recipe we tried recently:

Chai Tea/Coffee:

3 – 4 peppercorns
2 dried cinnamon sticks (about 1 inch each)or organic sweet cinnamon chips (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
1 tbsp cardamon powder (prefer the whole, but didn’t have it on hand)
4 – 5 clove buds
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and cubed
Approximately 2 turns of the fresh nutmeg grinder – you can always add more to each cup to taste
Either green tea or chicory – amount depending on individual preference as to strength
Sweeten as you prefer. I use and recommend stevia.

Simmer the spice blend (add tea or chicory later) with 3 cups of water for 5 minutes,then steep for another 10 to 20 minutes. Strain into cup and add soy or almond milk and tea or chicory (or both). Reheat slightly if needed. I actually reuse the chai mixture over and over again for a few days, adding water each time and only adding the milk individually with each cup.

So, what does work for you? I’d love to hear comments about things that you’ve tried, things that have worked and things that didn’t work. See our comments section below.

Bryer E. A literature review of the effectiveness of ginger in alleviating mild-to-moderate nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2005 Jan-Feb;50(1):e1-3.

Levine, Gillis, S.Koch, Voss, Stern, and K. Koch “Protein and ginger for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced delayed nausea”, Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.). 01/07/2008; 14(5):545-51.

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Posted by poomiapse on March 26, 2010

Great Mel! Let me know how it works for you. Ginger is also a great cramp reliever, skin rejuvenator and improves circulation and blood flow. We use the essential oil in our Spicey Muscle Oil for these properties and have reports that it helps with monthly cramps if you just rub the oil over your abdomen. I’d love to hear one way or the other if ginger works. Thanks!

Posted by Ann Wooeldge on January 17, 2010

Great information Ann! I get the bad nausea with migraines and I’m very interested in trying this out! A migraine essential oil “blend” would be wonderful!

Posted by Mel on January 13, 2010

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