Nausea, whether from motion sickness, hormones, stress or even a questionable meal, is a feeling many of us are familiar with. From attempting to read in a moving car to indulging in a bit too much ice cream, this pesky symptom has the uncanny ability to transform an otherwise enjoyable day into a disastrous one. While some forms of nausea serve a purpose by aiding the body in expelling toxins, there are many instances when this sensation becomes an unwelcome nuisance.
Fortunately, there are many drugs that can combat different types of nausea, motion sickness or stomach discomfort—Dramamine and Pepto Bismol are examples of brand names you might know. Yet, these remedies sometimes come with undesirable side effects, such as drowsiness. Prolonged usage should always be under the supervision of a health care professional. But what alternatives exist for those long road trips where you need relief without the worry of these side effects?
One remedy for nausea that doesn’t have side effects dates back more than 2,000 years: ginger. While this simple herb is a staple in many cuisines, it has many medicinal effects, from being anti-inflammatory to antiemetic (treating nausea and vomiting).
Ginger helps prevent nausea and vomiting by interacting with neural receptors in the gut. Ginger contains compounds called gingerols and shogaols. These substances interact with receptors for two neurotransmitters called serotonin and acetylcholine, which let your nerves communicate between your gut and your brain. Serotonin and acetylcholine transmit the signals that activate your vomiting reflex. Eating or drinking foods and beverages that contain ginger helps calm this reflex to calm your stomach.
While ginger may not be as powerful as antiemetic medications, the gentle blocking of these receptors caused by gingerols and shogaols can help delay the onset of nausea and allow you to enjoy your day for a while longer. So, the next time you feel some stomach unease, make sure to try some real ginger candies or capsules to avoid any unpleasantries!
Gillian Kelly is a PhD student in the Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her research primarily focuses on early-life stress and the cardiovascular system. Kelly served as a meeting blogger for the 2023 American Physiology Summit.