Cinnamon and Blood Sugar

Cinnamon sticksCinnamon is one of my favorite spices so you can imagine how glad I was to find increasing evidence of its health benefits.

To cut to the bottom line, relatively small amounts of cinnamon (a half teaspoon or so) lower blood sugar and improve a person’s lipid profile.

The story I heard but haven’t been able to confirm is that a USDA research group got interested in cinnamon when they were testing the effect of various foods on blood sugar levels.

Most cakes and pies sent the blood sugar sky-high but apple pie apple pieseasoned with cinnamon didn’t. That led the researchers to wonder why that was and they considered the possibility that it might be the cinnamon.

Of course cinnamon has been a folk remedy for years. It has a mild ability to suppress bacterial growth, which is probably why it was part of the Egyptian embalming process.

It also soothes an upset stomach. And it just plain smells good.

Aromatherapy enthusiasts know that the scent of cinnamon elevates mood. There is reason Cinnabun franchises are always placed close to the entrance of malls and real estate agents suggest boiling some cinnamon sticks and water prior to showing a home to potential buyers.

But current research suggests that the benefits may go well beyond what was previously suspected.

Initial research was done in the laboratory on fat-forming cells. This work suggested that cinnamon, and in particular a compound in it called methylhydroxychalcone polymer (MHCP), has effects similar to insulin.

Not only that, it improves insulin sensitivity. That is, it makes whatever insulin is around work better.

Those studies were in cells growing in tissue culture. The benefits appear to hold up in real life.

The first clinical trial that I’m aware of was done in Pakistan in cooperation with American researchers on a group of patients with type 2 diabetes.

The researchers gave the diabetic patients either various doses of cinnamon or a placebo for 40 days. They didn’t change any other treatment. They then compared the patients’ fasting glucose taken prior to the study with measurements done at 20 days, 40 days, and 60 days (20 days after the last dose of cinnamon or placebo).

The results were dramatic.

Glucose levels were reduced by 18 to 29%,!  And there was a sustained response even after the cinnamon was stopped.

It is of interest that while the higher doses seem to work more quickly, the lower dose was ultimately as effective and sustained response was even better than the higher doses.

Other studies haven’t been quite as conclusive and, as the saying goes, “more research needs to be done.”

However low doses of cinnamon are very safe as well as tasty so I think is something we should probably all include in our diet regularly.

As with anything else, it’s important not to go overboard with it. Very high doses of cinnamon taken regularly might affect blood clotting.

Other than that I’m not aware of any side effects.

The cinnamon should be as fresh as possible. MHCP is water soluble so you can get its benefits from brewing a cinnamon tea. Other essential oils, including the one that might affect blood clotting, aren’t water soluble so they won’t be extracted in a tea.

Cinnamon supplements are available and are probably fine as long as you don’t go overboard with. My usual approach is to use supplements as just that: supplements. I find it easy to add cinnamon to my diet by sprinkling it on my breakfast cereal or add it to a smoothie so I don’t supplement with it.

Many of my diabetic patients report an easier time controlling their blood sugar once they add cinnamon to their diet.

And just as an antidotal report, one my patients swears that her diabetic neuropathy improved greatly after she started supplementing with cinnamon.

The benefits of supplementing cinnamon go beyond improved insulin function and glucose control. It also lowers total cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol levels and triglycerides. Not a bad combination at all, so consider adding cinnamon regularly to your diet.

But, as I tell my patients, just don’t take it in the form of a cinnamon bun.

References
1. Broadhurst CL, Polansky MM, Anderson RA. Insulin-like biological activity of culinary and medicinal plant aqueous extracts in vitro. J Agric Food Chem 2000 Mar;48(3):849-52.
2. Jarvill-Taylor KJ, Anderson RA, Graves DJ. A hydroxychalcone derived from cinnamon functions as a mimetic for insulin in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. J Am Coll Nutr 2001 Aug;20(4):327-36.
3. Khan A, Safdar M, Khan MMA, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2003 Dec;26(12):3215-8.
4. Qin B, Nagasaki M, Ren M, Bajotto G, Oshida Y, Sato Y. Cinnamon extract (traditional herb) potentiates in vivo insulin-regulated glucose utilization via enhancing insulin signaling in rats. Diabetes Res Clin Pract 2003;62:139-48.