Q. Is ginger really good for nausea or is this an old wives' tale?

Ginger is an underground stem that is beige, thick and knotted. The stem extends roughly a foot above ground with long, narrow, ribbed, green leaves, and white or yellowish-green flowers.

The underground stems of the ginger plant are used for cooking and medicinal purposes. In Asia, ginger is used to treat stomach aches, nausea, and diarrhea. Ginger extract is found in many dietary supplements sold in the United States for digestive ailments.

Common forms of ginger include fresh or dried root, tablets, capsules, liquid extracts, tincture and tea.

The following are summaries of evidence from the National Institutes of Health about treatment of a variety of ailments with ginger:

Ÿ Motion sickness: Some studies report that ginger has no effect on motion sickness, and other studies say that ginger may reduce vomiting, but not nausea. More studies are needed comparing ginger to other drugs used for motion sickness

Ÿ Nausea and vomiting from pregnancy: Early studies suggest that ginger may be safe and effective for nausea and vomiting of pregnancy when used at recommended doses for short periods of time.

Ÿ Nausea from chemotherapy: Initial research reports that ginger may reduce the severity and length of time that cancer patients feel nauseous after chemotherapy. Other studies show no effects. More study is required to confirm these results.

Ÿ Post-surgical nausea and vomiting: Some studies report improvement in nausea or vomiting after surgery if patients take ginger before surgery. However, other research shows no difference. Additional studies are needed.

Ÿ Migraine: There is not enough available scientific evidence in this area.

Ÿ Osteoarthritis: Ginger has been studied as a possible treatment for osteoarthritis. Results of these studies are mixed. More research is needed.

Ÿ Rheumatoid arthritis: There is limited scientific evidence about whether ginger helps people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Ÿ Weight loss: Ginger has been suggested as a possible weight loss aid, but more study is needed to a make a firm recommendation.

The following are just some uses based only on tradition or theory. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans. These uses include:

Antacid, anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac, athlete's foot, baldness, bronchitis, cancer, colds, cough suppressant, depression, diarrhea, high cholesterol, flatulence, flu, headache, heart disease, hepatitis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, low blood pressure, malaria, pain relief, snake bites, psoriasis, stomach ache, sweating, toothache and ulcers.

Few side effects are linked to ginger when it is taken in small doses. Side effects most often reported are gas, bloating, heartburn, and nausea. These effects are most often associated with powdered ginger.

There is a lack of available studies that confirm the long-term, safe use of ginger supplements.

In theory, ginger may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood-thinners such as aspirin, anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin®), anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).

Ginger may also interfere with medications that change the contraction of the heart, including beta-blockers and digoxin.

Before beginning to take ginger for any ailment, you should consult your doctor. Seniors usually take medicines regularly and it's always unwise for them to start a new regimen without the advice of a physician.

Federal regulations for dietary supplements are very different from those for prescription and over-the-counter drugs. For example, a dietary supplement manufacturer does not have to prove a product's safety and effectiveness before it is marketed.

If you want to read more columns, you can order a copy of "How to be a Healthy Geezer" at www.healthygeezer.com.

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