Featured Research

Plant Compounds Delay Diabetic Complications, Offer New Treatment Options

September 22, 2015

Research from Shengmin Sang, PhD, at the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis, NC, is proving that ginger compounds and some flavonoids are effective at stopping physiological processes that lead to diabetic complications.



Shengmin Sang, PhD

Scientific evidence is building that plant compounds may be a safe and effective alternative to approved pharmaceutical treatments for type 2 diabetes because they provide a natural means to prevent diabetic complications without the side effects like stomach upsets, skin rashes, dizziness, weight gain and increased risk for liver disease common to prescription diabetes drugs.

Shengmin Sang, PhD, associate professor of functional foods with the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T) Center for Excellence in Post-harvest Technologies at the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis, NC, published a new study that examined the ability of two ginger compounds to stop the physiological processes that lead to the development of diabetic complications such as heart, kidney, eye and neurological diseases. The ginger findings support Sang’s previous research that found flavonoids in other foods have similar properties.


Preventing AGEs and Diabetic Complications

Published in Chemical Research in Toxicology in August 2015, the scientific paper “Bioactive Ginger Constituents Alleviate Protein Glycation by Trapping Methylglyoxal” investigated the ability of gingerols and shogaols to prevent the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) via trapping methylglyoxal (MGO) (1). MGO and glyoxal (GO) are reactive carbonyl compounds that are by-products of autooxidation of glucose, lipid peroxidation and protein glycation, a process where protein and glucose interact interfering with the function of protein in the body. They are also found in foods like bread, cookies, honey, coffee, wine, beer and soft drinks.

Research shows that diabetics are found to have two to six times the level of MGOs in their blood than non-diabetic control subjects. Although AGEs are part of the aging process, their damaging impacts are accelerated by high blood sugar. They are dangerous because they accumulate in organs contributing to the development of insulin resistance and diabetic complications. AGEs are also linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

“Glycation of protein contributes to the known health complications from diabetes,” said Sang, whose previous research demonstrated the anti-cancer effects of ginger as well as its ability to prevent anemia induced by kidney disease or chemotherapy. “Glycation is life threatening far more than high blood sugar itself to diabetic patients.”


Effectiveness of Plant Compounds

Sang’s study demonstrated in vitro that within an hour both ginger compounds “trapped” 80 percent of the MGO present forming the less reactive and harmful compounds mono-MGO adducts, 6S-MGO and 6G-MGO. The ginger compoundsfinding support Sang’s research on flavonoids such as flavanols in tea, chalcone from apples and isoflavone from soy. He found that the ability of these compounds to trap MGOs and prevent cellular damage began an hour after exposure and lasted up to six days in vitro (2-4).

“The flavonoids and ginger are very effective at this trapping,” Sang said. “We found that they do have an additive effect. When more than one compound is present, they work together to trap dicarbonyl compounds like MGO.” (5).

Sang’s goal is to develop plant-based compounds as an alternative to therapeutic treatments for type 2 diabetes and as possible treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Drugs have side effects,” he said. “Dietary compounds do not. So in the long term, we want to determine the efficacy in humans of using different plant compounds to prevent diabetic complications.”

Learn more about the NCAT Center for Excellence in Post-harvest Technologies.


  1. Zhu, Y.; Zhao, Y.; Wang, P.; Ahmedna, M.; Sang, S., Bioactive Ginger Constituents Alleviate Protein Glycation by Trapping Methylglyoxal. Chemical research in toxicology 2015, 28, 1842-9.
  2. Lv, L.; Shao, X.; Chen, H.; Ho, C. T.; Sang, S., Genistein inhibits advanced glycation end product formation by trapping methylglyoxal. Chemical research in toxicology 2011, 24, 579-86.
  3. Shao, X.; Bai, N.; He, K.; Ho, C. T.; Yang, C. S.; Sang, S., Apple polyphenols, phloretin and phloridzin: new trapping agents of reactive dicarbonyl species. Chemical research in toxicology 2008, 21, 2042-50.
  4. Sang, S.; Shao, X.; Bai, N.; Lo, C. Y.; Yang, C. S.; Ho, C. T., Tea polyphenol (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate: a new trapping agent of reactive dicarbonyl species. Chemical research in toxicology 2007, 20, 1862-70.
  5. Shao, X.; Chen, H.; Zhu, Y.; Sedighi, R.; Ho, C. T.; Sang, S., Essential Structural Requirements and Additive Effects for Flavonoids to Scavenge Methylglyoxal. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 2014.



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