Ginger, the spice that puts a kick in your favorite foods, has been a go-to medicine for eons, being used to treat ailments such as colds, motion sickness, and arthritis pain. Now, it looks like the spice can lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, according to a new study by researchers from Shahid Sadoughi University of Medical Sciences in Yazd, Iran.
The research team studied 88 people with type 2 diabetes. The volunteers, all of whom had been living with diabetes for at least 10 years, were randomly given either 3 daily one-gram capsules of ginger powder or 3 identical-looking sham capsules, in addition to their regular diabetes meds. Those who took the ginger capsules saw a significant decrease in blood sugar after 8 weeks.
Study participants were middle-aged and overweight, but not obese. “It’s interesting that the ginger group happened to be in worse shape, diabetes-wise, at the beginning of the study, than the placebo group,” says Martha Howard, MD, medical director of Wellness Associates of Chicago. “I was impressed that their fasting blood sugars started at 171 and 136, respectively, and then both groups ended up with similar FBS numbers in the mid-150s,” said Howard. According to the American Diabetes Association, fasting blood sugar levels for people with diabetes should range between 70 and 130 mg/dl.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure how ginger works to lower blood sugar. It’s possible that it inhibits hepatic phosphorylase—an enzyme that breaks down glucose storage molecules, called glycogen, says Howard. When glycogen breaks down, blood sugar rises—so inhibiting this enzyme could theoretically lower blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes, she explains.
Howard says that if you have type 2 diabetes and your blood sugar still isn’t where you want it to be, despite following your doctor’s advice, it’s worth trying ginger to see if it helps normalize your levels. “Ginger can increase the effects of blood thinners, so if you’re taking these drugs, don’t take ginger,” advises Howard. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re adding ginger to your regimen, and monitor your blood sugar levels regularly.