GingerMotion Sickness

Ginger to prevent seasickness

Motion sickness (or seasickness) is a common response to real and perceived movement through the environment.

On a recent cruise with my wife, the ocean got choppy one night, so she walked me to the shipboard sundry shop to buy seasickness medicine that she was convinced we would need. I disagreed, but went anyway to supervise the purchase. The choices were Dramamine (diphenhydramine) to treat existing nausea, vomiting, and dizziness from motion sickness, or ginger to prevent it.

We went with the ginger and voila, I didn’t get sick. Other anecdotal reports support our experience but clinical studies are less definitive.

What to do?

First, the other anecdotal report. One of my favorite TV shows is Mythbusters where each week two guys debunk or confirm all sorts of legends.

For their test, 5 treatments were used on one of the hosts and his assistant who were then spun around in a chair until they felt ill. Among the treatments, only ginger pills prevented motion sickness — the testers remained nausea free for 25 to 30 minutes. By comparison, mouth spray, wrist straps, and electric stimulation wristbands had no effect ? except to let them get nauseated. One of the testers was also “protected” from motion sickness after taking a placebo.

The University of Maryland website summarizes the results from several studies that support ginger as a more effective treatment than placebo in reducing symptoms of motion sickness. In one trial of 80 novice sailors (prone to motion sickness), those who took powdered ginger experienced a significant reduction in vomiting and cold sweating compared to those who took placebo. Similar results were found in a study with healthy volunteers.

Other studies suggest that ginger is not as effective as scopolamine a prescription drug (sold under the brand name, Transderm Scop) that is FDA approved to reduce the symptoms associated with motion sickness. In a small study of volunteers who were given ginger (fresh root and powder form), scopolamine, or placebo, those receiving scopolamine had significantly fewer symptoms compared to those treated with ginger.

In the absence of a definitive study, remember that drugs always have side effect. So, before getting a prescription for scopolamine, review the warnings and risk factors that increase the risk of scopolamine-associated side effects.

By comparison, the safety of ginger (and effectiveness based on anecdotal evidence and some scientific support) makes it an acceptable alternative. Caution: The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) states that if taken in excessive doses the herb may cause mild heartburn. Ginger should not be used during pregnancy.

6/21/06 12:12 JR
Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.