The American Diabetes Association states that 25.8 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes, with an estimated 79 million people having prediabetes. In 2010, a total of 1.9 million new cases were diagnosed, and in 2007, the disease contributed to 231,404 deaths.
Meanwhile, the risks for developing this disease include being 45 or older, having a family history of the disease, being overweight, not exercising regularly, having high blood pressure, having a low HDL “good” cholesterol level, or having prediabetes.
We already know that maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting some exercise every day can help lower our risk, but science also tells us that there’s something else we can do that is super easy, but may make a significant difference in our blood sugar levels—consume more cinnamon.
Skeptical? Here’s the evidence.
What the Science Says
Though large medical organizations are not quite ready to start recommending cinnamon for those at risk of diabetes, the Mayo Clinic has gone so far as to say, “recent research suggests that cinnamon may be helpful as a supplement to regular diabetes treatment in people with type 2 diabetes.”
The Mayo Clinic is usually pretty careful when it comes to recommending natural or complementary treatments, so this statement is evidence that cinnamon has come a long way from being just a way to spice up our hot chocolate.
In fact, cinnamon has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments—including type 2 diabetes—for thousands of years. It’s another one of those old tried-and-true “medicines” that our modern world is just starting to rediscover.
To give you a quick overview, here are summaries of several scientific studies that support the idea that cinnamon helps to control blood sugar levels:
- December 2003: Researchers studied a total of 60 people with type 2 diabetes—30 men, and 30 women. They divided them into six groups. Groups 1, 2, and 3 consumed 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon a day. Groups 4, 5, and 6 were given a placebo. The study went for 40 days of participants consuming the cinnamon, and 20 more days of a washout period. Results showed that after the 40 days, all three levels of cinnamon reduced the mean fasting serum glucose levels (18-29%), triglyceride levels (23-30%) LDL cholesterol levels (7-27%), and total cholesterol levels (12-26%). The placebo group showed no change. The researchers wrote that the results showed that “intake of 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon per day reduces serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes and suggest that the inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type 2 diabetes will reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
- June 2006: Researchers from the University of Hannover in Hannover, Germany, conducted a placebo-controlled, double blind study on 79 patients with type 2 diabetes. The participants were randomly assigned to take either a cinnamon extract or placebo capsule three times a day for four months. The cinnamon capsule contained 112 mg of water-soluble extract, the equivalent of 1 gram of cinnamon powder. Results showed that those taking the cinnamon experienced a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar levels (10.3%) versus the placebo group (3.4 percent).
- June 2007: Researchers observed 14 healthy subjects after an eight-hour fast. They all had normal fasting blood glucose concentrations. Each participant was given either 300 grams of rice pudding, or 300 grams of rice pudding with 6 grams of cinnamon. Results showed that the addition of cinnamon slowed the rate at which the food left the stomach (called “gastric emptying”) and lowered blood glucose levels.
- January 2009: A study by Scandinavian scientists involving 15 people found that ingesting cinnamon led to reductions in blood insulin levels, and increased levels of a peptide reported to work by delaying the emptying of the stomach. “Our finding that cinnamon decreases the insulin demand,” researchers wrote, “despite the lack of change in blood glucose concentrations, was probably due to enhanced glucose update via stimulation of the insulin receptor.”
- May 2010: Researchers publish an article in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology summarizing the findings so far, noting that components of cinnamon “may be important in the alleviation and prevention of the signs and symptoms of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular and related diseases.”
- September 2011: Researchers from the University of California conducted a meta-analysis of clinical studies of the effect of cinnamon intake on people with type 2 diabetes and/or prediabetes. Results showed that cinnamon intake, either as whole cinnamon or as cinnamon extract, “results in a statistically significant lowering in fasting blood glucose.”
- July 2012: Cinnamon supplements lowered blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes in a small, well-controlled study. Researchers observed 69 Chinese patients with the disease, and found those that took a high dose of cinnamon (360 mg/day) lowered their average blood glucose levels from 8.9 percent to 8 percent. Those taking the lower dose (120 mg/day) dropped from 8.9 percent to 8.2 percent. The placebo group’s levels remained unchanged. Note: The researchers added that the source of the cinnamon and the means by which it was extracted from cinnamon bark could make a difference as far as its effects on blood glucose levels.
- October 2012: A large meta-analysis conducted by researchers from the University of West London concluded that cinnamon helped control blood sugar levels. Researchers examined six randomized controlled trials with a total of 435 patients. Doses of cinnamon ranged from one gram to six grams per day up to four months. Researchers wrote, “Use of cinnamon showed a beneficial effect of glycemic control and the short term (4 months) effects of the use of cinnamon on glycemic control looks promising.”
This is just a small sampling of the studies on cinnamon and blood sugar levels, but does include some of the major findings.
What Kind of Cinnamon? At What Levels?
The type of cinnamon most often used in these studies is cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum). It’s related to the regular cinnamon we find in our spice cupboards, but doesn’t come from the same plant. Cassia cinnamon is also called “Chinese cinnamon” or “Saigon cinnamon.” Cassia also includes the species Cinnamomum burmannii, which is also called “Java cinnamon” or “Padang cassia.”
The chemical “hydroxychalcone” has been identified as the potential active ingredient, which is believed to modify the sensitivity of cells to insulin, enhancing their uptake. Several laboratory studies have shown that cinnamon increases cellular uptake of glucose.
What’s interesting is that if this is the mechanism of action, cinnamon would work similarly to current diabetes drugs on the market, like Avandia and Actos—without the same health risks. The problem is that isolating the active ingredients in cinnamon is difficult, and potency varies from batch to batch. Some believe that this variation is why some studies (not included in the list above) have shown little effect of cinnamon on blood sugar levels. A 2008 meta-analysis, for example, found no effect of cinnamon on patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
There is also the question of safety. Can we consume lots of cinnamon without worry? Not necessarily. Studies used between 1-6 grams of cassia cinnamon daily for up to 4 months. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon spice is equal to 4.75 grams. Note, however, that studies used cassia, not other types of cinnamon or combined cinnamon spices. Capsules of cassia cinnamon are available over the counter.
Side effects for cinnamon are relatively mild, and are usually safe when used within the dosage suggested—one to 6 grams daily. Higher doses than that may be unsafe. Because cassia cinnamon contains coumarin—and high doses of coumarin (50-700 mg) have been known to cause reversible liver toxicity—there is some concern about consuming large amounts of cassia cinnamon. It’s unlikely that one would get too much coumarin from cinnamon, but those with liver disease should be cautious.
Note: At Renegade Health, we sell Ceylon cinnamon, which has lower levels of coumarin. Though this type of cinnamon hasn’t been as widely studied because it is more expensive, it is likely to have the same health benefits as cassia and other types.
We need more research to know exactly what cinnamon can do, but so far, the studies are very promising. We still aren’t sure what types of cinnamon are best, and in what form and dose. So far, only cassia has shown to be effective, but it’s possible other species or even combinations of different types of cinnamon may show different results.
Still, the drawbacks of trying cinnamon are few. Those who have diabetes, or who are at risk, may find a benefit from taking it. These capsules are relatively inexpensive, especially compared to diabetes drugs. Some patients may not be able to replace their medications, but may be able to reduce their dosage. The best bet is to get your blood tested, try cassia for four months, then test again to see what you find.
Have you tried cinnamon to control blood sugar levels? Please share your story.
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“Cinnamon May Help Improve Blood Glucose Levels in Type 2 Diabetes,” American Diabetes Association, http://www.diabetes.org/news-research/research/access-diabetes-research/cinnamon-extract-improves.html.
Alam Khan, et al., “Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People with Type 2 Diabetes,” Diabetes Care, December 2003, 26(12):3215-3218, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/12/3215.long.
“New Study Shows Cinnamon Extract Lowers Blood Sugar Levels in People with Type 2 Diabetes,” Medical News Today, June 30, 2006, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/46243.php.
Davis PA, Yokoyama W, “Cinnamon intake lowers fasting blood glucose: meta-analysis,” J Med Food, September 2011; 14(9):884-9, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21480806.
Joanna Hlebowicz, et al., “Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying, and satiety in health subjects,” Am J Clin Nutr June 2007; 85(6):1552-1556, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/85/6/1552.full.
Joanna Hlebowicz, et al., “Effects of 1 and 3 g cinnamon on gastric emptying, satiety, and postprandial blood glucose, insulin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, glucagon-like peptide 1, and ghrelin concentrations in healthy subjects,” Am J Clin Nutr, March 2009; 89(3):815-821, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/3/815.full.
Bolin Qin, et al., “Cinnamon: Potential Role in the Prevention of Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, and Type 2 Diabetes,” J Diabetes Sci Technol. May 2010; 4(3):685-693, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2901047/.
William L. Baker, et al., “Effect of Cinnamon on Glucose Control and Lipid Parameters,” Daibetes Care, January 2008; 31(1):41-43, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/31/1/41.long.
Molly E. Howard, Nicole D. White, “Potential Benefits of Cinnamon in Type 2 Diabetes,” Am J Lifestyle Med. 2013;7(1):23-26, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/778087.