Giving an educated opinion is often a challenge, because rarely are herbal remedies tested in traditional medical trials. With the introduction of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health, this was supposed to change. Slowly, but surely, it is.
Last week, in advance of the upcoming meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology, results from a number of studies scheduled to be presented were released to the public. One of these was designed to test whether ginger, a traditional folk remedy for nausea, can help with the nausea produced by chemotherapy.
No one suggested that ginger alone was sufficient, but instead, patients were who experienced chemotherapy-induced nausea were randomly assigned to one of four groups: 1) treatment with their regular anti-nausea drug alone, 2) treatment with their regular anti-nausea drug plus 0.5g ginger, 3) treatment with their regular anti-nausea drug plus 1.0g ginger, or 4) treatment with their regular anti-nausea drug plus 1.5g ginger. The ginger was administered in the form of a capsule containing ginger extract, and neither the patients nor their doctors knew who was in what group. Patients reported their daily nausea on a 7 point scale. A total of 664 patients were treated, 90% women, 66% with breast cancer. All doses of ginger significantly reduced the nausea patients experienced while receiving chemotherapy. You can read the original abstract here.
So what does this mean? Ginger may interfere with blood clotting, so patients should still consult with their doctors prior to adding this to their routine, but on the whole ginger is safe and effective. And if the form doesn’t matter (something not tested in this trial), imagine how easy it would be to convince patients to add ginger in the form of ginger ale or cookies! Of course, not all ginger ale contains actual ginger – and artificial ginger flavoring is unlikely to be a good substitute.
What else does it mean? I think it reinforces something I tell all of my patients who ask about herbal remedies. Some work, some don’t. The ones that work should withstand the sort of testing we do for other medical treatments, including the “gold standard,” a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Just like this one. Ginger passed the test.
I’m going to go make my patients some ginger snaps!
Medicine from the Sea