Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, has been been used for centuries as a traditional remedy for a variety of illnesses, including diabetes. Use of herbal and nutritional remedies is increasing in the United States, and many people with diabetes are looking toward these natural products to help manage their condition. A number of researchers have investigated ginger's effect on type 2 diabetes (T2DM) as well as its potential to protect against diabetes-related complications. While additional research is needed, some preliminary evidence indicates ginger might have some benefits for people with diabetes. However, ginger is not a replacement for medical therapy.
Effects on Blood Sugar and Insulin Sensitivity
An April 2015 review article in "Current Reviews in Eukaryotic Gene Expression" describes a number of animal and human studies examining the effects of ginger on diabetes. Several studies involving rats with experimentally induced diabetes showed that ginger juice or ginger extract had blood-sugar-lowering effects. The review also summarized the results of 3 small studies investigating the effect of ginger supplements on people with T2DM, in dosages ranging from 1.6 to 3.0 g daily for periods ranging from 8 to 12 weeks. All studies found improvements in blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. A March 2015 "Journal of Ethnic Foods" article in which researchers pooled the results from 5 studies examining the effects of ginger powder among people with T2DM also found reduced blood sugars and improved insulin sensitivity. However, larger studies are needed to confirm these results and further examine safety and effective dosage.
Effects on Inflammation
Increased levels of inflammatory chemicals in the blood contribute to the development of diabetes and its complications. A study published in the September 2011 issue of the "African Journal of Biomedical Research" reported that treatment with ginger extract had an antiinflammatory effect in rats with diabetes. A small study published in the December 2013 issue of the "Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin" tested the antiinflammatory effects of 2.0 g of ginger powder daily in 54 people with T2DM. The researchers found that study participants taking ginger powder had lower levels of 2 out of 3 inflammatory chemicals at the end of the 2-month study, compared to people who were not taking ginger. These preliminary results are promising, but additional research is needed to determine whether ginger might help prevent inflammatory complications related to T2DM.
Effects on Diabetes Complications
People with diabetes have an increased risk for coronary heart disease. With this condition, obstructed blood flow within the arteries supplying the heart deprives the heart of oxygen. This process can eventually lead to a heart attack. Research published in the May 2000 issue of the "Journal of Nutrition" tested the effects of ginger extract on genetically engineered mice that rapidly develop atherosclerosis. The ginger extract significantly slowed atherosclerosis progression in the rats fed the supplement.
A possible explanation for ginger's anti-atherosclerosis effect may relate to interference with platelet aggregation -- one of the initial steps in the formation of blood clots. An October 2015 "PLoS ONE" article reviewed 8 human studies examining the effect of ginger on platelet aggregation. Four studies reported that ginger reduced platelet aggregation, but the other 4 found that ginger had no effect. Additional research is needed to better understand these findings.
Longstanding diabetes can also lead to kidney disease, or diabetic nephropathy. A study published in April 2008 in "Nutrition and Metabolism" found that ginger reduced -- but did not eliminate -- this type of kidney damage in rats with experimentally induced diabetes. Again, more research is required to determine if this effect is seen in people.
Warnings and Precautions
Although ginger is associated with few side effects, some people experience gas, bloating, heartburn and nausea. While some preliminary research shows ginger might be beneficial for diabetes, additional large-scale research studies conducted in people with diabetes are needed to determine if the herb has proven benefits. Ginger should not be used as a substitute for any prescribed diabetes medication. Do not discontinue or change the dose of any medications you take without your doctor's approval. Also be sure to check with your doctor before taking ginger as a supplement, as it may alter the effects of some prescription medications, such as blood thinners.