Food as Medicine

Is Ginger Beneficial in a Diabetic Diet?


In a case report of the “Successful management of type 2 diabetes with [a] lifestyle intervention,” a 45-year-old fellow took responsibility for health into his own hands, and sought to defeat his disease and get off the drugs by eating foods purported to be anti-diabetic. But how strong is the evidence for, let’s say, ginger?

“Diabetes is reaching pandemic levels…and requires safe, affordable, and effective therapies.” So, what about the potential of ginger in the prevention and treatment? Well, in a petri dish, increasing exposure to ginger compounds improves blood sugar uptake of muscle cells almost as much as the popular diabetes drug metformin. And in rats, ginger might work even better than metformin. But weight and blood sugar reduction observed in rodent models does not necessarily translate to humans. In this study, a combination of nutraceuticals caused mice to lose 30 percent of their body weight in one month, but in people? No benefit compared to placebo. You don’t know if something works in humans until…you put it to the test.

If you feed people refined flour—white bread with a cup of water—this is what happens to their blood sugars over the next two hours. But drink some unsweetened green tea with that white bread instead, and there’s less of a blood sugar spike. Same with cinnamon tea and…same with ginger tea, made by mixing a tablespoon of grated fresh ginger in a cup of hot water. Okay, but these were healthy, normal subjects. What about the effects of ginger in diabetics?

This was the first study of its kind: diabetics randomized to take a teaspoon of ground ginger a day for two months hidden in pill form, so they could compare it with identical-looking sugar pill placebos and…ginger supplementation decreased the levels of insulin, which is a good thing, and lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, but, without a significant effect on blood sugars. Now, heart disease is the leading killer of diabetics, so a 13 percent drop in LDL bad cholesterol would be reason enough to shell out the nickel a day it would cost to add that much ginger to your diet. But it would have been nice to see an improvement in blood sugar control. There was that drop in insulin levels, which suggests improved insulin sensitivity, and indeed there was a significant drop in insulin resistance. So, maybe they just didn’t give the ginger long enough time to work? Well, this was two months, how about three months?

Even less ginger, just 1.6 grams, less than a teaspoon a day, but for 12 weeks and…maybe ginger can reduce blood sugar levels after all, and decrease inflammation, cutting C-reactive protein levels in half.

What about going back to just eight weeks, but this time using a higher dose: three grams a day or about one and a half teaspoons? And… a significant decrease in fasting blood sugars and long-term blood sugar control in the ginger group, “thereby showing the effect of ginger in controlling diabetes.” Check it out. The placebo group continued to get worse; the ginger group got better.

Similarly, amazing randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled results for a teaspoon a day for 12 weeks, and for a teaspoon and a half. All better in the ginger group; all worse in the non-ginger group. All significantly different, just because of a little cheap, safe, simple, side-effect-free spice. Put all the studies together, and they clearly demonstrate that ginger can lower blood sugar levels and improve long-term blood sugar control and at a totally “manageable dose.” I mean, you could just dump a teaspoon of ginger powder in a cup of hot water and just drink it down. So, “overall ‘adding a little spice to our life’ may serve as a delicious and sensible way to maintain a healthy body.”

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