Benefits of Ginger for Obesity and Fatty Liver Disease

BY Michael Greger TIMESeptember 3, 2022 PRINT

Ground ginger powder is put to the test for weight loss and NAFLD, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Ginger has been used in India and China to treat illnesses for thousands of years. But, they also used mercury, so that doesn’t really tell you much. That’s what we have science for. But, when you see titles like this in the medical literature on the “beneficial effects of ginger…on obesity,” for example, you may not be aware they’re talking about the beneficial effects of ginger on fat rats. Wait; why don’t they just do human clinical studies? The “lack of clinical studies may be attributed to [for example] ethical issues [and] limited commercial support.” Limited commercial support I can see. Ginger is dirt cheap; who’s going to pay for the study. But ethical issues? We’re just talking about feeding people some ginger!

Studies like this are relatively cheap and easy to do: cross-sectional studies where you take a snapshot in time of ginger consumption and body weight. And, you do see that people who are obese tend to eat significantly less ginger. And so, they suggest this “demonstrate[s] that the use of ginger could have relevance for weight management.” But maybe ginger consumption is just a marker of more traditional, less Westernized, junk food diets. You don’t know…until you put it to the test.

A randomized, controlled trial to assess “the effects of a hot ginger beverage”—by which they just meant two grams of ginger powder in a cup of hot water. So, about one teaspoon of ground ginger stirred into a teacup of hot water. That’s about five cents worth of ginger. And…after the ginger, the participants reported feeling significantly less hungry. And, in response to the question, “How much do you think you could eat?” described “lower prospective food intake.”

Now the control was just “hot water alone,” so the participants knew when they were getting the ginger. So, there could be a placebo effect. They considered just stuffing the ginger into capsules to do a double-blinded study, but they think part of the effect of ginger may actually be through taste receptors on the tongue. So, they didn’t want to interfere with that.

Not all the effects were just subjective, though. Four hours after drinking, the metabolic rate in the ginger group was elevated compared to control—though in a previous study, when fresh ginger was added to a meal, there was no bump in metabolic rate. The researchers suggest this may be “due to the different method of ginger administration”—giving fresh instead of dried. And, there are dehydration products that form when you dry ginger that may have unique properties.

Now although satiety and fullness were greater with ginger compared to control, the researchers didn’t then follow the participants out to see if they like actually ate less for lunch. The problem is, there’s never been a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of that much ginger and weight loss…until now.

Twelve weeks of that same teaspoon of ginger powder a day, but this time hidden in capsules. And, consumption of ginger for 12 weeks significantly reduced body mass index. Check it out. No change in the placebo group, but a drop in the ginger group—though body fat estimates didn’t really change, which is kind of the whole point.

What about using ginger to pull fat out of specific organs, like the liver? Evidently, “[t]reatment with ginger ameliorates fructose-induced fatty liver…in rats.” You know what else would have worked? Not feeding them so much sugar in the first place. But there’s never been a human…you know where this is going…until now. “Ginger supplementation in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled…study”—a teaspoon of ginger a day or placebo for 12 weeks.

They were all told “to limit their dietary cholesterol intake”—I’ve got a video on why that’s important—and get more fiber and exercise. So, even the placebo group should improve.  But did the ginger group do any better? Yes, “daily consumption” of just that teaspoon of ground ginger a day “resulted in a significant decrease in inflammatory marker levels,” and improvements in liver function tests, and a drop in liver fat. All for five cents worth of ginger powder a day.

And, what are the side effects? A few gingery burps? I searched for downsides, and didn’t find any other than, of course, “ginger paralysis.” What?! “In 1930, thousands of Americans were poisoned” by a ginger extract. First of all, who drinks ginger extract? Oh, 1930, it was Prohibition, so they bought ginger extract as a legal way to get their hands on alcohol. “Little did he realize that the bootleggers had [been taking] advantage of the demand,” swapped in a cheaper ginger substitute, a varnish compound, in order to make greater profits. The moral of the story being…don’t drink varnish.

Michael Greger, MD, FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. He has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Colbert Report,” and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. This article was originally published on NutritionFacts.org
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