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Research published in the December 2003 issue of Diabetes Care found that just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day can significantly reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics. While evaluating the blood sugar effects from apple pie, Dr. Anderson and his team of researchers noticed it had the opposite effect of that expected, and the cinnamon was the culprit. The research team then asked volunteers with type 2 diabetes to take 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon powder a day, in capsules after meals. Within weeks, the cinnamon-consumers’ blood sugar levels averaged 20% lower than a control group. Some even achieved normal blood sugar levels. Tellingly, blood sugar started creeping up again after cinnamon was stopped. The cinnamon had additional benefits. In the volunteers, it lowered triglycerides and cholesterol, which are also partly controlled by insulin. And in test tube experiments it neutralized free radicals, damaging chemicals which are elevated in diabetics.[i]
Carbohydrates in food are broken down into glucose (sugar), which then circulates in the blood. The hormone insulin makes cells take in the glucose, to be used for energy or made into fat. Persons with type 1 diabetes do not produce enough insulin, while those with type 2 produce it, but their receptors have lost sensitivity to it. Even apparently healthy people, especially if overweight and sedentary, frequently lose sensitivity to insulin. Excess glucose in the blood can cause serious damage to the eyes, kidneys, and other organs, so controlling it is a good idea. Cinnamon contains a water-soluble flavonoid called methylhydroxychalcone polymer (MHCP) that closely mimics insulin activity and activates its receptor. MHCP and insulin together work synergistically (meaning they are more effective when used together than when either one is used on its own) in regulating glucose metabolism. MHCP, in most instances, can work alone, without the presence of insulin.[ii]
Whole cinnamon, like most plants and other living things, has both fat-soluble and water- soluble fractions. There is some evidence that high levels of the fat-soluble fractions of cinnamon could be cause for concern. This does not mean that this spice should not be consumed. There is an easy way around it if someone is worried about exceeding 1 gram a day (approximately ¼ to ½ teaspoon). Essentially, boil the cinnamon, strain the liquid through cheesecloth, and discard the solid portion and keep the remaining watery solution for use, either drinking it as a tea, or using it in other foods and drinks. Just be sure you discard the solid remainder after it boils, which would contain the less-safe fat and oil-soluble factions.[iii]
Although apple pie can be an occasional treat, an everyday food it is not. Try adding this spice to oatmeal, hot beverages, popcorn, poultry seasoning rub, and muffin and bread recipes. The current research even mentions that the blood sugar effects can be produced even by soaking a cinnamon stick in a cup of tea, so even a little will help. Dr. Anderson noted in his research that all species of cinnamon and numerous bottles of commercial cinnamon were tried and that they all worked to help regulate glucose metabolism in his research teams’ experiments.
Water extracts of cinnamon are also available in capsules.
Note: Since the 2003 study, other studies of the effects of cinnamon on blood sugar control have been done, some confirming the 2003 study and others showing no effect.[iv],[v],[vi],[vii] The reasons for the discrepancies in results are unclear. But using cinnamon doesn’t hurt and may help. However, it is important to work with a physician to monitor any progress so medications can be adjusted as cinnamon goes to work.
[i] Khan, A., Safdar, M., Ali Khan, M. M., Khattak, K. N., Anderson, R. A., Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2003 Dec;26(12):3215-3218.
[ii] Jarvill-Taylor KJ et al. A hydroxychalcone derived from cinnamon functions as a mimetic for insulin in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. J Am Coll Nutr 2001; 20(4):327-336.
[iii] Wright, Jonathan, M.D. (Blood) Sugar and Spice. Nutrition & Healing, April 2002.
[iv] Ziegenfuss TN et al. Effects of a water-soluble cinnamon extract on body composition and features of the metabolic syndrome in pre-diabetic men and women. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2006; 3:45-53.
[v] Mang B et al. Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA, and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2. Eur J Clin Invest 2006; 36(5):340-344.
[vi] Pham AQ et al. Cinnamon supplementation in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Pharmacotherapy 27(4):595-599.
[vii] Hlebowicz J et al. Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying, and satiety in healthy subjects. Am J Clin Nutr 2007; 85(6):1552-1556.
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