When Duane Stanford’s dad emerged from rotator-cuff surgery, hospital nurses handed him a small can of Canada Dry ginger ale in case the anesthesia had made him queasy. As the editor of Beverage Digest, Stanford understood the impulse to fight nausea with ginger ale perhaps better than most.
“People in general believe ginger ale has a healthy halo,” Stanford said. “The psychosomatic effects are something not to discount. If they think ginger will do something, it might.”
The hospital did what caregivers have done for thousands of years: Reach for ginger root as an anti-emetic. When ginger ale was invented in the mid-19th century, it quickly became a bedside staple among people suffering from various causes of nausea and vomiting.
But does it work? The limited medical literature contains no slam dunk in ginger ale’s favor for perhaps its most common therapeutic use: nausea caused by gastrointestinal bugs, or gastroenteritis. Clinical trials have shown, though, that ginger is at least marginally effective against nausea caused by chemotherapy, anesthesia, motion sickness, and pregnancy.
Since research has found few negative side effects of the spice aside from a possible risk of heartburn, it’s safe to assume that ginger ale will, at least, do no harm. In part because ginger ale is safe, “it would be something I’d grab,” said Suzanna Zick, a professor at the University of Michigan department of family medicine.