Deep within the inner recesses of your kitchen pantry is a spice that’s been prized for thousands of years. It’s even mentioned in the Bible.
In the United States, cinnamon is mostly used for baking and flavoring, but recent research suggests that cinnamon health benefits are numerous, though somewhat controversial.
Besides sweetening your morning oatmeal or cup of coffee, other benefits of cinnamon may include:
Lowering blood sugar
Speeding up blood flow and circulation
Staving off Alzheimer’s Disease
Can cinnamon cure diabetes?
By itself, not likely. But cinnamon has demonstrated that it contains compounds that lowers blood sugar after meals and increases insulin sensitivity.
A study from VIT University in India examined cinnamon’s effect on diabetic rats and demonstrated that cinnamon bark is effective in reducing post-meal high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) levels. A meta-analysis of clinical studies on cinnamon published in the Journal of Medicinal Food concluded that cinnamon lowers fasting blood glucose levels in people with Type II diabetes.
Another study led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Department of Human Nutrition, involved 60 people and concluded that cinnamon reduces serum glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in people with Type II diabetes. It also suggested that adding cinnamon to the diet of people with Type II diabetes will reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Despite these and other studies, not everyone sees cinnamon as a panacea for blood sugar metabolic disorders.
Who’s not buying the hype?
According to the American Diabetes Associaiton, “There is not enough evidence from research to claim that including cinnamon in your daily diet will help regulate blood glucose in people with diabetes.” The ADA points to a study by University of Connecticut and Hartford Hospital researchers that found a lack of efficacy in cinnamon’s ability to reduce blood sugar and fat.
New York University’s Langone Medical Center also doubts the usefulness of cinnamon for diabetes and for other health issues. On its website, it says, “At present, it would be premature to consider cinnamon an evidence-based treatment for Type II diabetes or high cholesterol, but it has definitely shown some promise.”
The Langone Medical Center points to the aforementioned USDA study involving 60 people, who were given doses of one, three, or six grams of cinnamon. The center concluded: “This study has some odd features. The most important is that it found no significant difference in benefit between the various doses of cinnamon. This is called lack of a dose-related effect, and it generally casts doubt on the results of a study.”
The critique continues, “The researchers counter that perhaps even (one gram) of cinnamon is sufficient to produce the maximum cholesterol-lowering effect, and therefore, higher doses simply didn’t add any further benefit. There is another problem with this study as well: no improvements were seen in the placebo group. This too is unusual, and also casts doubt on the results.”
‘Hogwash,’ says one researcher
Richard Anderson is the lead scientist at the Human Nutrition Research Center (a branch of the U.S.D.A.) in Beltsville, Md., and author of the study that NYU’s Langone Medical Center concluded was flawed. Anderson told the Mother Nature Network, “I disagree, vehemently. All doses worked. That’s not a negative. We had 3 groups of 20 people in each group and a corresponding placebo for 1, 3, and 6 grams. In essence it’s three studies in one, so for them to say it’s a weak study is absolutely false. To say cinnamon doesn’t have an effect on humans is wrong.”
Anderson adds that some of the studies that failed to prove that cinnamon is effective in lowering blood sugar levels in patients with Type II diabetes has to do with the fact that the studies were done on people who were already taking blood sugar-lowering drugs such as Glucophage.
“To give cinnamon to people who are already on blood sugar-lowering drugs is ridiculous,” says Anderson.
Studying diabetic rats and mice is easier than humans
“It’s harder to duplicate the studies on cinnamon’s efficacy in humans because you can easily control a rat or mouse’s diet,” says Don Graves, a former distinguished professor at Iowa State University and current adjunct professor at University of California Santa Barbara.
“It’s very hard to control the diet of humans, it varies so much,” says Graves, who was Anderson’s graduate advisor. Nonetheless, Graves concludes, “Both in animals and humans, without a doubt, cinnamon is very effective in helping manage diabetes.”
What other benefits?
Israeli researchers at Tel Aviv University have isolated a section of the cinnamon plant capable of delaying the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The findings were published in a peer-reviewed online science journal.
Cinnamon also fights the E. coli bacteria in unpasteurized juices, according to research by Daniel Fung, Professor of Food Science at Kansas State University.
“Cinnamon has tremendous killing power in controlling some microbes,” Fung tells MNN. “At a minimum, it can preserve food longer, and in some cases it can kill bad organisms,”
So, go ahead and relocate cinnamon front and center in your spice rack. It may be good for you.
Do you know of any other cinnamon health benefits? Let us know in the comments below.
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.