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Cinnamon

By David Mendosa

Posted On: May 1, 2001
Last Update: March 20, 2007

Wouldn't it be wonderful if an inexpensive spice that many of us use often would reduce insulin resistance? Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, thought so too. So they tested about 50 plant extracts.

There is one red flag.

Hot News in Diabetes
One of them—cinnamon—increased glucose metabolism about 20-times in test tube assays of fat cells. None of the other plants tested so far come close.

Led by ARS chemist Dr. Richard A. Anderson, the researchers subsequently confirmed their findings with in vitro measurements. Studies involving feeding of cinnamon to people with diabetes and determining their improvement in blood glucose have not yet been published. But two publications regarding this work are being submitted for publication, Dr. Anderson tells us.

"We tried all [species of cinnamon] and they all worked similarly," he says. "We also tried numerous commercial bottles of cinnamon and they also worked."

There is one red flag. The Dutch health and food newsletter "Gezond" recently published an article about the risks of coumarin, one of the flavorings in cinnamon. In animal studies coumarin is a carcinogen and genotoxic agent.

However, essentially all toxic materials in cinnamon are lipid soluble, Dr. Anderson says. Therefore, he uses a water-soluble extract.

"We recommend that people take ¼ to 1 teaspoon daily," he tells us. "Or if they want to take more, to boil cinnamon in water and pour off the soluble portion and discard the solid cinnamon."

Increasing the amount of cinnamon that you use won't cure your diabetes. But it could reduce how much insulin or oral medications you need. That means you will need to test even more often.

Lifestyle Improvement Tip
If you feel restricted by your diabetes diet, you can always literally spice up your life. Few spices and herbs besides cinnamon promise to help you reduce your blood glucose.But there are many spices and herbs that can go a long way toward keeping your food interesting.

There are so many combinations of herbs, spices, and foods that it can get pretty confusing without a guide. Fortunately, many cookbooks offer matchups. And at least one Web site, "Cooking with Herbs and Spices," at: http://www.allsands.com/Food/HowTo/herbscookingsp_pz_gn.htm offers an overview of each and what foods they complement the best.

Related Web Site Reviews
"Cinnamon Extracts Boost Insulin Sensitivity" is an article by Judy McBride reproduced from Agricultural Research magazine on the U.S. Agricultural Research Service's Web site. A clear summary of Dr. Richard Anderson's preliminary findings can be found in his article, online at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jul00/cinn0700.htm.

One of the world's biggest online spice merchants is Penzeys Spices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at http://www.penzeys.com. This company offers the two major species of cinnamon. The one preferred in the United States and southern Europe is cassia cinnamon, also known as Chinese, Saigon, or Korintje cinnamon. Zeylanicum cinnamon, also known as Ceylon or true cinnamon, has a more delicate fragrance and flavor and is preferred in England, most of Europe, and Mexico.

I asked Dr. Anderson which type of cinnamon they had used. "We tried all three and they all worked similarily," he replied. "We also tried numerous commercial bottles of cinnamon and they also worked."

About.com has an encyclopedic article about cinnamon at "Spices: Cinnamon," http://homecooking.about.com/food/homecooking/library/weekly/aa042798.htm. This attractively presented and comprehensive article includes everything from the history of cinnamon to dozens of recipes featuring the spice. 


I originally wrote this article for the former website of LXN Corp. on May 1, 2001.


    Update

    If eating one gram a day of cinnamon reduces blood glucose levels 20 percent, then three grams or six grams will reduce it a lot more. Wrong.

    Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including Dr. Richard A. Anderson, and Agricultural University, Peshawar, Pakistan, gave these doses of cinnamon to volunteers. Some 60 volunteers divided into six groups participated. Three of these groups got the three different doses and three groups received a placebo.

    They found that less than one-teaspoon—one gram—of cinnamon worked as well as higher doses. They also found that triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels fell about as much and that the volunteers’ levels started rising when they stopped eating cinnamon.

    Diabetes Care published the research findings in its December 2003 issue, pages 3215-3218, as “Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes,” by Alam Khan, Mahpara Safdar, Mohammad Muzaffar Ali Khan, Khan Nawaz Khattak, and Richard A. Anderson. The American Diabetes Association has the abstract online at http://care.diabetesjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/26/12/3215.

    When I asked my friend Gretchen Becker to review this update, she suggested that I contact C. Leigh Broadhurst, the author of Diabetes Prevention and Cure (Kensington Pub Corp., 1999). Dr. Broadhurst, who had worked in Dr. Anderson's lab, in her book gives a recipe for cinnamon that includes extracting with baking soda, according to Gretchen.

    As Gretchen suggested, I asked Dr. Broadhurst why they used baking soda. "In the lab we did the best extractions with ammonia, which is unsuitable for the home chemist," she replied. "Baking soda makes the solution a little basic and is safe for ingestion. However, hot water alone is just fine to do the extraction. One can also just eat cinnamon, but quite a bit of toxicity concerns are alleviated by not ingesting the full complement of the essential oils. It is a water soluble compound in cinnamon that is effective for lowering blood sugar—the fragrant oil is irrelevant to this issue."

    Further Update

    Dr. Anderson and his associates on April 4 at Experimental Biology 2006 in San Francisco presented two studies.

    The first provided new evidence for the beneficial effects and biochemical actions of cinnamon as an anti-inflammatory agent and support earlier findings of its power as an anti-oxidant agent and an agent able to lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose as well as to improve how well insulin functions. They showed that cinnamon, like insulin, increases the amount of three critically important proteins involved in the body's insulin signaling, glucose transport, and inflammatory response.

    The second study used fractionation and electrospray mass spectrometry to identify the chemical structure of active ingredients in cinnamon.

    Dr. Anderson said that eating great quantities of cinnamon straight from the can is not a good idea. Table cinnamon is not water soluble, which means that it can build up in the body with unknown consequences. Second, the powered cinnamon has another limitation. Dr. Anderson’s personal 60-point decline in total cholesterol occurred only after he switched from sprinkling cinnamon on his breakfast cereal to taking it in a capsule. He said that saliva contains a chemical harmful to cinnamon. The press release is online.

    Yet Another Update

    If an extract of cinnamon is the way to go, as it seems to be, where can you go for it? A correspondent, Margaret Sholaas, writes that, "for people who don't have time to make their own (or are lazy, like me sometimes) and want the extract ready-made, I and my family (we're all diabetics) use NuNaturals Cinnamon Extract." The address is http://www.nunaturals.com/products/cinnamon.html.


    David Mendosa is a freelance journalist and consultant specializing in diabetes and lives in Boulder, Colorado. When he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in February 1994, he began to write entirely about that condition. His articles and columns have appeared in many of the major diabetes magazines and websites. His own website, David Mendosa’s Diabetes Directory, established in 1995, was one of the first and is now one of the largest with that focus. Every month he also publishes an online newsletter called “Diabetes Update.” Twice weekly he writes for his blog at http://blogs.healthcentral.com/diabetes/david-mendosa. He is a coauthor of What Makes My Blood Glucose Go Up...And Down? (New York: Marlowe & Co., August 2003, and second American edition coming July 10, 2006, and other publishers in the U.K., Australia, and Taiwan).


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