Ginger: Is it Truly the Ultimate Spice to Treat Nausea and Indigestion?
How does ginger treat nausea and indigestion? Does it really live up to all its hype?
For thousands of years, ginger has been used as a form of traditional herbal medicine in Asia, and has now gained traction in Western society as a popular home remedy to treat several health conditions. Ginger is known for its bitter, pungent flavour, and for its strong odour. The compounds responsible for this pungent flavour are gingerols and shogaols; these compounds also being responsible for many of ginger’s health benefits.
For a spice to have such strong claims to treat so many health conditions, it definitely sparked a personal interest in doing some research to see if it really lives up to its hype.
By doing a quick google search on “ginger health benefits”, several websites stated that ginger can treat nausea, alleviate muscle pain/soreness, lower blood glucose, improve indigestion, improve menstrual pain, and even protect from infections and cancer. The list of its benefits essentially goes on and on. In this article, I’ll be focusing on ginger’s perceived benefits towards treating nausea and indigestion, and see if the current research out there provides substantial evidence to support these claims.
The most common and established use of ginger is to alleviate nausea and vomiting, with many studies focusing on these symptoms when induced pregnancy or chemotherapy treatments.
How does ginger work to reduce feelings of nausea and vomiting?
Well, ginger has been shown to promote the movement of food through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract by increasing the breakdown and emptying of food from the stomach, leading to a shorter GI transit time (time it takes for food to move along the GI tract). Decreasing the transit time of food in the GI tract helps with reducing the feelings of nausea. As well, ginger has been shown to mildly inhibit the action of serotonin by reducing the ability of serotonin to bind to one of its receptors (5-HT3 receptor), which helps reduce the degree at which serotonin triggers the brain’s nausea and vomiting response. Many antiemetic (anti-vomiting) drugs work to inhibit this same serotonin receptor.
Does the research out there prove that ginger is effective?
There is a lot of research out there that studies the effect of ginger in treating nausea and vomiting.
Based on a systematic review of 4 clinical trials and another with 12 clinical trials, there is evidence of ginger improving pregnancy-induced nausea symptoms and intensity, but mixed results in terms of reducing vomiting frequency. Most of these studies did show support of ginger being effective at a dose between 0.5g — 1.5g/day. However, many of the studies ranged from a duration of 4 days to 2–3 weeks. This isn’t completely reflective of the time span that an average pregnant woman experiences nausea and vomiting, as it typically lasts weeks-months. Overall, there does seem to be promise in the use of ginger to reduce nausea and vomiting symptoms during pregnancy, but more studies should be done to see if it can persist over a longer duration.
In terms of whether chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting can be reduced with ginger, there are several studies supporting this as well. A clinical trial with 576 participants showed that ginger at a dose of 0.5g-1.5g/day taken for 3 days before the first day of chemotherapy was effective in reducing the severity of nausea in the first day of chemotherapy. Another clinical study involving women with breast cancer had participants take 1g/day of ginger for the 5 days leading up to and the 5 days post chemotherapy (alongside their regular antiemetics). The results showed those who took ginger with their antiemetics saw a reduced frequency of nausea and vomiting, compared to the individuals who only took antiemetics.
It is evident that ginger has substantial evidence in being effective to reduce nausea and vomiting symptoms. It’s important to note that it shouldn’t be used as a substitution from required medication, but instead can be something that can be used alongside these medications (as long as it’s deemed safe to do so by your practitioner).
Ginger has also gained attention in improving dyspepsia (indigestion). Dyspepsia usually involves chronic or recurring upper abdominal discomfort in absence of any disease (e.g IBS or GERD) that can explain the cause. As pharmacological interventions to treat indigestion have been for the most part ineffective, the use of ginger has gained popularity as a suitable alternative.
How does ginger work to treat dyspepsia/indigestion?
Ginger has been shown to enhance GI motility (movement), the frequency of stomach contractions, and to speed up the transit time of food in the GI tract, all of this contributing to speed the overall digestion of food. In several animal studies, ginger extracts have been proven to enhance stomach emptying (the rate at which food can exit the stomach) and GI transit time. Another mechanism at which ginger acts to enhance digestion is similar to how it improves nausea/vomiting symptoms. The gingerol and shogaol compounds in ginger can act to mildly inhibit serotonin receptors, thereby reducing the ability for serotonin to activate the region in the brain that regulates nausea, vomiting, and hypomotility (reducing hypomotility helps promote the movement of food).
Once again, does the research support this?
Yes, there are several clinical studies that show very promising results in ginger treating dyspepsia.
In a clinical trial with individuals experiencing dyspepsia, stomach emptying was more rapid in the individuals that took ginger compared to placebo. However, no changes in other GI symptoms (i.e. the bloating, pain etc.) were experienced with ginger ingestion. Another clinical trial that involved individuals with dyspepsia taking a ginger and artichoke extract supplement, did show support for improving GI symptoms. The results showed that the supplement was effective in improving symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain, and bloating over a span of 4 weeks.
Okay, but how about a study that shows improved symptoms using purely ginger as the form of treatment?
Well, the effect of ginger alone in improving symptoms has been proven in multiple studies as well. A clinical study assessed whether ginger was effective in eradicating H. pylori and improving dyspepsia symptoms. Functional dyspepsia is sometimes caused by the presence of H. pylori (a bacteria) infections. The individuals who had ginger had a 53.3% eradication rate of H. pylori and improvements in some dyspepsia symptoms including stomach fullness, early satiety, nausea, belching, stomach pain, and stomach burn.
Overall, it appears that ginger is effective in improving the digestion of food and in reducing some of the symptoms individuals experience as a result of indigestion.
Ginger has been proven through several studies to be effective in reducing nausea, vomiting, and symptoms of indigestion. It works by reducing the action of the region of the brain that regulates nausea, vomiting, and hypomotility, as well as by promoting the movement of food along our GI tract.