Ginger is an underground stem or rhizome belonging to plant Zingiber officinale. It is mostly grown in Africa, India. China, Australia and Jamaica. It is used as a spice or as a flavoring agent in cooking. It is also used as a herbal remedy to treat nausea and indigestion and also in the manufacture of some soaps and cosmetics. Ginger can be used fresh, or it can be dried and powdered or the juice of ginger can be extracted. The smell of ginger is strong and pungent. It is used to add flavor to foods and juices.

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Diabetes is a condition caused when there is high amount of glucose in the blood because the body is unable to use it properly. The body requires a hormone called insulin to help glucose enter the blood stream. Insulin is produced by the pancreas in the body. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce adequate insulin or no insulin at all or if the insulin that is produced does not work properly, a condition known as insulin resistance. Diabetes is of 2 types, type-1 and type-2 diabetes. Type-1 diabetes develops early in life and is due to the insufficient production of insulin. Type-2 diabetes develops in later life due to unhealthy life habits. According to diabetes UK, there are 2.9 million people in UK alone who have been diagnosed with diabetes and another 850,000 who have the condition, but do not know about it.

Ginger and its role to control diabetes

Ginger has a number of components like gingerones, gingerols, paradols and shogaols. All these components were found to have medicinal values. Of these, gingerols which is a phenolic or antioxidant component of ginger is said to be the component responsible for the increased glucose uptake. A number of clinical studies have been conducted to test the effect of ginger in managing blood sugar levels.

Clinical tests to prove the effect of ginger to control diabetes:

Several studies have been conducted in various countries to test the effect of ginger in controlling blood sugar.

A study published in August 2012 in the journal Planta Medica was of opinion that ginger will help control blood sugar for people with Type 2 diabetes. The research done in the University of Sydney, Australia suggest that extracts from Buderim Ginger (Australian ginger) was rich in gingerols that helped in the intake of glucose into the muscle cells without the help of insulin and thus helped manage blood sugar levels.

According to Professor Basil Roufogalis, Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, these studies suggest that ginger extracts would help in the management of sugar levels of long-term diabetic patients and would help cells to operate independently of insulin.

The gingerols found in ginger increased the distribution of a protein GLUTA4 which stimulates the skeletal muscles to take in more glucose. Insufficient GLUTA4 is the cause for insulin insensitivity in type 2 diabetes. “Under normal conditions, blood glucose level is strictly maintained within a narrow range, and skeletal muscle is a major site of glucose clearance in the body,” Roufogalis said.

A study reported in the European Journal of Pharmacology reported in December 2009, that two extracts from ginger spissum and an oily extract interact with serotonin receptors to reverse effects on insulin secretion. This extract reduced the blood glucose level by 35% and a 10% increase in plasma insulin levels. This was caused by ginger’s interaction with insulin-inhibiting serotonin receptors.

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A 2009 study in Basic Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology also showed that ginger helped protect the body against metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Iranian scientists at the Tabriz University of Medical Sciences conducted a 12 week trial on 64 people with type-2 diabetes. The study was titled “The effect of ginger consumption of glycemic status, lipid profile and some inflammatory markers in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus,” and published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.

Type 2 diabetes usually develops at a later stage in life due to an unhealthy lifestyle and hence the body does not respond to insulin. The subjects were given either a placebo or 2 grams of ginger every day. The subjects were measured for before and after the intervention for blood sugar levels, blood lipids, C-reactive protein, prostaglandin E2 and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα).The study reported that subjects who took ginger had higher insulin sensitivity and lowers levels of insulin and lower levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. The following reduction in parameters were noticed in subjects who were given ginger treatment:

  • Fasting plasma glucose
  • HbA1C (or glycated hemoglobin) – a measurement to find out the amount of damage that is being caused by sugars to red blood cells in the body, reflective of body wide damage caused by chronically elevated blood sugar
  • Insulin
  • HOMA (the homeostatic model assessment) – which measures insulin resistance and beta-cell function (the pancreatic cells that produce insulin)
  • Triglycerides
  • Total cholesterol
  • C-reactive protein (CRP) – a marker of inflammation
  • Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) – a marker of inflammation

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The following conclusion was arrived at after the tests, “Ginger improved insulin sensitivity and some fractions of lipid profile, and reduced CRP and PGE2 in type 2 diabetic patients”. Therefore ginger can be considered as an effective treatment for prevention of diabetes complications.”

Role of ginger on treating complications of diabetes

Helps Digestion: The pancreas which produces insulin also performs other digestive functions. For a diabetic, the digestive function is also affected resulting in indigestion. Ginger helps control these diabetic side effects like indigestion and irregular bowel movement. Good digestion and prevention of acidity is one of the many health benefits of ginger. This also improves the quality of life.

Reports in The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 2003;307:1098–103) on studies conducted on people with type-2 diabetes has shown that ginger effectively controlled the gastrointestinal complications that occur with diabetes. 22 healthy adults between the ages of 19 and 49 years underwent four different electrogastrographic (EGG) studies.

EGGs (to measure the rhythm of stomach contractions by placing electrodes over the abdomen) were done on these trial participants. The first EGG was done after taking 1000 mg. of ginger root and then administering them with intravenous glucose to increase the sugar levels to 250 to 290 mg./dl. The second EGG was done after taking misoprostol, a substance to disrupt the normal rhythm of the stomach. The third and fourth EGG were done after participants were given placebo followed by the same administration of glucose and misoprostol. All these EGGs were analyzed for changes in normal stomach rhythm and rate of stomach emptying.

The results from this test proved that ginger helped reduce the disruptive effect of blood sugar on stomach rhythm and helped maintain a normal rate of stomach emptying. When the placebo was taken, the stomach rhythm and contractions increased. The same results were observed after taking misoprostol. The results proved that ginger root helped to prevent abnormalities in stomach rhythm and emptying that could lead to constipation, heartburn, and ulceration in some individuals.

The above study was done on healthy adults. High blood sugar levels are known to cause stomach ailments. Ginger may provide symptomatic relief to patients with high blood sugar levels and may also help to bring down the blood sugar levels. Since ginger is generally very safe to use, it is worth trying for people with diabetes related stomach disorders.

Prevents kidney damage: Studies on animals have shown that ginger protects against the kidney damage that is secondary to diabetes in around 1 in 3 diabetics.

Inhibits Cataract Progression: Eyesight is another side effect of diabetes. A study on mice has shown that ginger helps delay the onset and development of cataract. Ginger is thought to help improve eyesight.

A study published in 2011 in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition found that ginger provides a number of benefits to people with diabetes. This was because ginger inhibits the the action of the enzymes a-glucosidase and a-amylase, which can contribute to diabetes, and also the inflammatory enzyme cyclooxygenase. Inflammation has been linked to a number of chronic health conditions, including diabetes.

The amount of ginger used in most of the studies were about 1.6 to 2 grams which is equivalent to about ¼ of a teaspoon. The ginger was given orally in the form of capsules. Higher doses of ginger did not show any additional benefits. Higher doses may not have any additional benefits.

Ginger has been used mainly to treat indigestion and heartburn. It is also a very effective anti-inflammatory. The gingerols in ginger have proven to be beneficial in the absorption of sugar without the aid of insulin. It is the hope of diabetics that ginger will help control diabetes on a long term basis and thereby reduce the dependence on insulin and reduce the life long affliction of those persons suffering from diabetes.