Ginger is a pungent spice widely used in Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines that is harvested from the rhizome of Zingiber officinale, a tropical, flowering plant in the Zingiberaceae family that also includes cardamom and turmeric. In traditional medicine, ginger root is most commonly used to address stomach upset and nausea associated with pregnancy, motion sickness and chemotherapy. This use is supported by several studies that show that 500 mg of powdered ginger root taken every four hours is as or more effective than Dramamine, the standard pharmaceutical option for nausea. New research indicates that ginger may also help to improve blood glucose levels in people with type II diabetes.
In a recent study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, researchers from Shahid Sadoughi University of Medical Sciences in Iran report that a daily supplement of powdered ginger root decreased fasting blood sugar by 10.5% in people with type II diabetes. The study subjects, who took 1,000 mg of powdered ginger root 3 times a day for 8 weeks, also experienced better long-term blood sugar management. While the exact mechanism of ginger’s effect on blood sugar is not yet fully understood, researchers speculate that ginger compounds may inhibit the hepatic phoshorylase enzyme, which breaks down molecules that store glucose.
Several studies demonstrate that ginger’s anti-inflammatory compounds, referred to as gingerols, significantly reduce joint pain in people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Ginger also contains at least 50 antioxidants that protect against oxidative damage from free radicals. In an in vitro (test tube) study, the antioxidant compound known as 6-gingerol was shown to significantly decrease the production of nitric oxide, a highly reactive nitrogen molecule that rapidly degrades into a free radical called peroxynitrite capable of oxidative damage that can trigger cancer, heart disease and stroke, chronic inflammatory diseases, diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders.
Research conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan shows that gingerols also have anti-tumor effect against ovarian cancer cells. In addition to inhibiting certain inflammatory factors such as interleukin-8 and prostaglandin E2, a whole ginger extract containing 5% gingerol was shown to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) and autophagocytosis (self-digestion) in several ovarian cancer cell lines.
Potential Side Effects
Ginger may also help to improve circulation and regulate blood pressure. However, check with your health care practitioner before supplementing with ginger if you also take prescription blood-thinning medications because the spice may increase the effects of these drugs.