Saturday, December 3, 2022

Ginger in blood sugar control

Ginger helps control blood sugar through many mechanisms. And an extra bonus is its properties that help prevent diabetic complications.

Executive Summary

Ginger is a medicinal plant, which is used as a spice for thousands of years in many cultures.

It is also used in traditional medicine for treating indigestion, constipation, cold–related problems, and various kinds of pains. Recently, it has been found to posses anti–cancer, anti–clotting, and anti–oxidative properties.

Ginger reduces sugar digestion in the intestines. It increases insulin secretion and mimics some actions of insulin. With these capabilities, it helps in reducing post–meal blood sugar.

Ginger lowers insulin resistance. This helps keep the overall (fasting, as well as post–meal) levels of blood sugars low.

Ginger helps protect many organs that are damaged in diabetes, such as diabetic liver, eyes, kidneys, and neural system. Thus, it is protective against diabetic complications.

Ginger is also useful in bronchitis, arthritis, acidity (heartburn), upper respiratory tract infections, menstrual pain, and digestive problems.

Read the full article for more discussion and medical references.

Ginger has been used for thousands of years as a spice in many cultures. It is the stem of a plant Zingiber Officinale, which is commonly found in India, China, Australia, Africa, and Jamaica.

In traditional medicine, ginger has been used for indigestion and constipation, nausea and vomiting, pain, cold–induced syndromes, and inflammatory issues.

More recently, it was reported that ginger also possesses anti–cancer, anti–clotting, anti–inflammatory, and anti–oxidative characteristics. More on that, at the end of this article.

Many people say that they want modern science to test all the ancient wisdom. So, in this article, I will only use research articles published since 2000 in reputed medical journals of the western world. Most of these articles are peer–reviewed, and involve randomised control trials.

Compounds in ginger

The main bio–active compounds in ginger are something called gingerols, especially 6–gingerol. Now, get ready for some heavy words.:-)

When ginger is dried into a powder, we get its dehydration products called shogaols, with 6–shogaol being the main one.

Ginger also has useful plant compounds called terpenes. If you smoke cannabis, terpenes can enhance your ‘high’. 🙂 Ok, just kidding.

Actually, I am not kidding. Read here a 2011 article published in the British Journal of Pharmacology. It says what I told you about cannabis. But, the article also says, which is more important to us, “terpenes could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.”

Do not use ginger as the only product in managing your blood sugar. Consume it along with your regular medicines. And discuss with your doctor, if you are taking ginger.

Evaluating ginger trials

There are very few trials about the use of ginger for blood sugar control. And, those that are published have very small number of patients and were run only for a few weeks.

We know that most nutrients take a much longer time than pharmaceutical drugs to show an effect. This is because the concentrations of nutrients we consume are much smaller than those of the medicines. For example, you might use a lot of ginger in your trial; but the actual amount of gingerol in it will be very little. That is why we have far fewer side effects of nutrients.

Also, unlike a pharmaceutical drug, you cannot patent a nutrient, such as ginger. So there is less incentive for anyone to fund the clinical trials about ginger. If I cannot get exclusive marketing rights to ginger, why would I do all the legwork and spend money? And, then, learn that someone else is using my research, and marketing his ginger–based products using that work?

As a result, the nutrient trials cover very few patients and are restricted to a few days.

Unfortunately, for a trial to ‘prove’ benefit of a nutrient, you have to see a large difference, or you have to see it in a large number of patients, or both. The first aspect needs higher concentrations of nutrients, or a longer time period to take effect. The second aspect costs money.

Here is a crude example of natural versus artificial methods, just for the sake of understanding. Consider losing weight by going for a morning walk (natural way) versus taking a diuretic (medicine).

You will need weeks, if not months, for any noticeable weight loss by going for a morning walk. A diuretic can bring your weight down — with significant side effects — in just a few hours.

As a result, in any nutrient trial, you have to be cautious when evaluating the evidence. If a trial shows that a nutrient does not show any beneficial effect, don’t throw the nutrient out of the window immediately.

There are various such technical reasons why nutrient trials don’t show benefit. Here is a detailed article I have written on this website about this: How to understand the evidence from the nutrients trials.

Read the article before you form any opinion of your own. I have come across almost no one who understands everything that I have compiled in the article. Yet, every single point mentioned is out in the medical literature. You just need to connect the dots.

Health benefits of ginger

Let us now look at the benefits of ginger. Here is my short video on the topic:

Reducing sugar digestion in intestines

A 2012 review article in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternate Medicine analysed multiple clinical trials. It concluded that ginger inhibits enzymes that metabolise carbohydrates and lipids. It also increased insulin release from the pancreas. It increased insulin sensitivity, helping glucose to get inside the body cells more easily.

In those trials, ginger also offered prominent protective effects on diabetic liver, kidney, eye, and neural system. These organs face damage in diabetes, causing complications. Ginger seemed to help prevent them.

Increasing insulin secretion

In 2009, it was found out that serotonin, a ‘feel–good’ hormone, in the body increases insulin release after a meal. In diabetic patients, the serotonin receptors — the proteins to which serotonin attaches and becomes active — are impaired. This reduces insulin secretion and causes high blood sugar.

A 2009 article in the European Journal of Pharmacology showed that ginger interacts with such serotonin receptors and increases insulin secretion. Treatment with ginger in diabetic rats reduced blood glucose levels by 35% and increased blood insulin level by 10%.

Lowering insulin resistance

A meta–analysis published in 2018 in the journal Archives of General Internal Medicine showed that ginger can reduce insulin resistance and lower fasting blood sugar levels, in people with type 2 diabetes.

Mimicking insulin action

A very interesting article published in 2012 in the journal Planta Medica showed that ginger helped blood glucose to get into muscle cells independent of insulin. Ginger improves something called the surface distribution of a protein named GLUT4. Normally, this protein allows entry of blood glucose into the muscle cells. However, in type 2 diabetes, this protein does not function properly.

Lowering blood sugar

So, does ginger help control blood sugar?

A paper published in 2014 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine showed that daily consumption of 3 g of ginger powder (in capsule form) for 8 weeks reduced fasting blood glucose and HbA1c in type 2 diabetics. It also lowered insulin resistance.

A review article published in 2015 in the Journal of Ethnic Foods analysed 5 clinical trials. It summarised that administering 1.6–3.0 g of ginger powder per day for 8–12 weeks lowered fasting blood glucose and HbA1c levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. This ginger supplementation also lowered fasting serum insulin levels and insulin resistance. But, the difference was not statistically significant. Perhaps, this was because the trials were conducted only for 8–12 weeks.

Preventing diabetes–induced medical complications

A 2010 article published in the journal Molecular Vision showed that ginger prevented development of diabetic cataracts in rats. This action was mainly through its sugar–lowering ability, and to a lesser extent, by inhibition of something called the polyol pathway.

A 2016 article published in the Diabetes and Metabolism Journal showed that ginger helps protect against heart problems that caused by diabetes.

A 2012 article mentioned earlier also showed protective effects of ginger on diabetic liver, kidney, eye, and neural system, which are the main organs that get damaged in diabetes.

Ginger in other medical disorders

Since scope of this article is ginger and sugar control, I will keep the discussion brief and provide a couple of links, instead.

Ginger has many anti–oxidant compounds and so, has anti–inflammatory properties. Plus, it has no gastrointestinal side effects. So, it is helpful for reducing pain and swelling in many conditions, such as joint pain (arthritis) and muscle pain. In this aspect, it is almost as good as a non–steroidal anti–inflammatory (NSAID).

Ginger is also useful in bronchitis, acidity, upper respiratory tract infection, menstrual pain, and digestive problems.

In conclusion

Ginger is a medicinal plant, which is used as a spice for thousands of years in many cultures.

It is also used in traditional medicine for treating indigestion, constipation, cold–related problems, and various kinds of pains. Recently, it has been found to posses anti–cancer, anti–clotting, and anti–oxidative properties.

Ginger reduces sugar digestion in the intestines. It increases insulin secretion and mimics some actions of insulin. With these capabilities, it helps in reducing post–meal blood sugar.

Ginger lowers insulin resistance. This helps keep the overall (fasting, as well as post–meal) levels of blood sugars low.

Ginger helps protect many organs that are damaged in diabetes, such as diabetic liver, eyes, kidneys, and neural system. Thus, it is protective against diabetic complications.

Ginger is also useful in bronchitis, arthritis, acidity (heartburn), upper respiratory tract infections, menstrual pain, and digestive problems.

First published on: 22nd July, 2019

Last update on: 27th May, 2021

Image credit: Siala from Pixabay

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