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Ginger: Part of a Diabetes-Management Strategy

Ginger: A New Diabetes-Management Strategy?: Main Image
People taking ginger had an average 10.5% decrease in fasting blood glucose levels
On the surface, the numbers on type 2 diabetes may appear discouraging: 350 million people worldwide are affected. The good news is that when properly managed with a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight, the condition doesn't have to cause health problems. Now a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study--the gold standard of research--suggests taking ginger powder may significantly improve glucose control, and improve other markers of diabetes control.

Ginger improves insulin resistance

To study how ginger affects markers of type 2 diabetes control, researchers randomly selected 88 adults with type 2 diabetes to receive three one-gram capsules containing ginger powder, or to receive three one-gram placebo capsules containing no ginger or other bioactive components, for eight weeks. The majority of participants, 92%, completed the study. Before and after the study period, the authors collected measures on:

  • fasting blood sugar and insulin levels,
  • hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c)--a marker of overall, long term glucose control,
  • insulin sensitivity, and
  • the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance index (HOMA-IR), and
  • the function of the pancreatic cells that produce insulin (beta cells).

The researchers observed:

  • an average 10.5% decrease in fasting blood glucose levels in the ginger group, compared with baseline blood glucose levels,
  • an average 21% increase in fasting blood glucose levels in the placebo group, compared with baseline blood glucose levels, and
  • significant improvements in HOMA-IR in the ginger group.

Ginger, glucose control, and you

This was a well-designed study. While it does not provide evidence that taking ginger long term will lessen complications of type 2 diabetes, it offers another potential tool for managing the condition. Use our tips to help craft your best, type 2 diabetes management plan.

  • Ask first. Discuss ginger with your doctor before adding ginger supplements or large amounts of ginger root to your daily routine. When combined with your diabetes medications, ginger may cause unsafe drops in blood glucose levels.
  • Consider the big picture. Ginger supplements are generally considered safe for most people, but they aren't right for everyone. For example, ginger can have blood thinning effects, and this may affect other health issues that you have.
  • Go tried and true. To best manage diabetes, there is no substitute for a well-balanced diet of vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit, whole grains, and lean protein. Ginger may be a good addition, but it can never take the place of healthy eating.
  • Walk it off. Along with the right nutrition, ample evidence exists to support that regular physical activity, even a brisk walk each day, will increase insulin sensitivity, regardless of whether you lose weight.
  • Reframe goals. Lifestyle changes--exercise, diet, quitting smoking--improve the health of people living with type 2 diabetes, weight loss or not. Instead of focusing on the scale, look to other health-related motivators to keep on track, such as how you feel, your energy levels, and your glucose numbers. Weight loss may be a side bonus, but it doesn't have to be the ultimate goal.

(Comp Ther Med 2014; 22, 9-16)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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