Cinnamon is a spice that comes from the inner bark of trees belonging to the genus Cinnamomum. Reports suggest that this spice has been in use since the time of the Egyptians, as early as 2000 years ago.
Cinnamon has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, apart from its use as a spice and as an embalming and anointing oil. There has been research that indicates that there is a cinnamon and diabetes connection and that type 2 diabetics certainly benefit from consuming cinnamon. It has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Cinnamon has been found effective in medical conditions such as:
A paper published in Diabetes Care concluded that low levels of cinnamon (1 to 6 grams per day) reduced glucose, triglycerides, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels in type 2 diabetic subjects. This study also stated that cinnamon could be used by the healthy population to protect themselves from, and prevent, elevated glucose levels and blood lipid levels.
Another study that underlined the connection between cinnamon and diabetes was published in Nutrition Research. It found that cinnamon extract improved fasting blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels in 66 Chinese patients with type 2 diabetes.
There have been lab-level studies which show that cinnamon extracts may have potent anti-cancer properties.
Phytochemical analysis of cinnamon reveals that it has many chemicals which have potent bioactivity. The chemicals contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-cancer and anti-diabetic activity, among others.
A substance isolated from cinnamon has been called the “insulin potentiating factor (IPF).” It means that this compound is able to increase the activity of insulin, which underscores the cinnamon diabetes type 2 connection.
Diabetics face more stress than most other folks due to a phenomenon called oxidative stress. The high levels of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes lead to the formation of certain harmful substances called Advanced Glycation End products (or AGE). This “oxidative stress” burden can lead to cellular damage. Epicatechin, catechin and procyanidin B2 in cinnamon show inhibitory activities on the formation of AGEs.
One way in which cinnamon helps diabetic patients is through its inhibition of important enzymes that help digest carbohydrates. These enzymes (biological catalysts) break down the complex carbohydrates that we eat into simpler units such as glucose. When these enzymes are inhibited, it results in reduced postprandial (after-meal) glucose levels. Thus cinnamon extract can help control blood sugar levels after meals.
A substance derived from cinnamon, called Methylhydroxychalcone Polymer (MHCP), was found to be an effective insulin mimetic (insulin-like molecules that are able to mimic the activity of insulin). It can be useful in the treatment of insulin resistance in type 2 diabetic patients. Compounds in cinnamon extract can regulate insulin signaling and find use in decreasing insulin resistance in type 2 diabetics.
There are four types of cinnamon that are commercially used – Ceylon, Cassia, Saigon and Korintje. Except for Ceylon cinnamon, the other three types are clubbed together and called Cassia cinnamon since they are similar to one another with only slight variations in color, shape and taste. Ceylon cinnamon, also called true or Mexican cinnamon, comes from Cinnamomum zeylanicum and Cinnamomum verum, while Cassia cinnamon comes from C. burmanii, C. loureroi and C. aromaticum.
Ceylon cinnamon sticks are soft and brittle, and are rolled tightly like cigars, while Cassia cinnamon is hard, thick and has only one roll or curled layer. Ceylon cinnamon is lighter in color as compared to the other types.
Around 1-3 grams (quarter to three-quarters of a teaspoon) of cinnamon per day seems a good cinnamon and diabetes dosage. You can sprinkle cinnamon powder on your salads or use it to flavor a recipe. You can also take a good quality cinnamon supplement after consulting your physician. Cinnamon tea for diabetes is also a good way to consume cinnamon. Add a three-inch length stick (broken into smaller pieces) of Ceylon cinnamon to one and a half cups of water in a kettle and bring it to boil. Slow boil the water. Once the water starts bubbling, remove from fire and let it sit for 15 minutes. While cooling, the cinnamon releases all its magical compounds and will turn a lovely golden red color. Strain the tea and enjoy it warm or hot, as per your liking.
High levels of cassia cinnamon may cause complications in people with liver problems. Coumarin is the compound found in it that may cause this. Ceylon cinnamon (true cinnamon) contains lesser quantities of coumarin and is considered the best type of cinnamon for diabetes. Since cinnamon is capable of reducing blood sugar levels, people on anti-diabetic medications need to adjust their dosage of medication if they are consuming cinnamon or cinnamon supplements.
There is no data regarding its safety in pregnant and breastfeeding women, so such women should consult their doctors before consuming cinnamon for medical purposes or taking cinnamon supplements.
Cinnamon supplements may interact with certain medications you might be taking, such as blood thinners, antibiotics, heart medicines etc. You need to consult your doctor before starting a cinnamon supplement.
Cinnamon usually shows no side effects if taken in moderation. Heavy doses cause side effects like irritation of the mouth and lips, and allergic reaction.
Cinnamon, like many spices, has a distinct phytochemical profile that contains a lot of bioactive compounds. Many of these compounds have been found to have beneficial effects on human health. Diabetics especially are prone to a lot of metabolic problems that are either the effect of the condition itself or the result of anti-diabetic drugs they are on. A state of body-wide inflammation is one of the causes of diabetes. The anti-inflammatory effects of cinnamon can reduce inflammation and reduce the stress of many health complications.
Another complication of diabetes is cardiovascular disease. Reports indicate that cinnamon also has the potential to protect the heart. Cinnamaldehyde, a compound isolated from cinnamon, has been found to stop the progress of hypertension (high blood pressure) in type 2 diabetes patients. The antioxidant activities of cinnamon can also reduce the oxidative stress on the diabetic person’s body. Oxidative stress is usually a result of vital nutrients being lost due to the action of anti-diabetic drugs.
All of these activities make cinnamon a desirable additive in the food of type 2 diabetics. However, moderation is advised and it should be made part of a holistic, healthy diet and an active lifestyle.
1. Nutritional Medicine, by Alan Gaby, M.D.