It may sound too good to be true, but a common kitchen spice may help people with diabetes to manage their blood sugar. Several different studies have shown that cinnamon has properties that help normalize glucose, fat and cholesterol levels and could even delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in people at risk.
Studies show the effects of cinnamon on diabetes
Several studies conducted at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center have shown that extracts of cinnamon increase insulin activity. Importantly, this includes the ability of insulin to break down glucose. Since insulin controls the body’s utilization of blood sugar, improved insulin function leads to improved management of blood sugar levels.
Another study was conducted in Pakistan on 30 men and 30 women, all over 40, who had diabetes and were not taking insulin. They were randomly assigned to groups taking various numbers of 500-mg cinnamon capsules or placebo capsules daily for 40 days. Normal meals and the patients’ usual medication were continued throughout the study. The researchers tested the patients’ levels of blood glucose, triglycerides, LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol before the study began and on days 20, 40 and 60 (that is, 20 days after the end of cinnamon intake).
The study found that one to six grams of cinnamon, taken daily for 40 days, significantly reduced fasting blood glucose, triglyceride levels, LDL-cholesterol, and total cholesterol – all highly beneficial results for diabetes patients. And cinnamon’s effects continued at least 20 days after the participants stopped taking it. The placebo capsules showed no similar results.
How does cinnamon work on diabetes?
The effects of cinnamon on diabetes symptoms were discovered somewhat by accident by a researcher at the Agricultural Research Service. Scientists there began studies on cinnamon more than 10 years ago. They are still studying an ingredient of cinnamon called MHCP, but they know that the substance prevents the formation of free radicals — chemicals produced naturally in the body as we age that damage and even destroy cells and lead to a host of long-term health problems.
Antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E are known to counteract the damaging effects of free radicals and preserve healthy cells. It’s possible that antioxidant supplements could reduce or slow the progression of some complications of diabetes. Although more research is needed, the antioxidant effects of MHCP in cinnamon could at least partly explain the plant’s beneficial effects on diabetes.
How diabetics can add more cinnamon to their diets
Health-food stores and websites offer cinnamon capsules and “blood sugar support formulas” that contain cinnamon extract. But researchers say the best way for a diabetes patient to ingest the spice is to buy cinnamon sticks, grind it fresh if possible, and add the ground spice to recipes or tea. Scientists recommend patients take in about one-half to one full teaspoon of ground cinnamon per day.
Here are a few foods that you can spice up with a pinch of cinnamon:
- Hot or iced teas
- Hot chocolate, eggnog, spiced tea or warm spiced cider
- Coffee drinks such as lattes and iced coffees
- Yogurt parfaits or smoothies
- Muffins and nut breads
- Cinnamon rolls and other breakfast pastries
- Cinnamon toast or French toast
- Applesauce, fresh apple slices or fruit salad
- Apple pie and other fruit pies
The American Diabetes Association sells several cookbooks of healthy recipes, many of which contain cinnamon, for people with diabetes. Visit the Association’s website for more information. With a little imagination, you can spice up your diet and possibly enjoy better health, too.