Cinnamon can be used to add flavor to lots of things — toast, cereal, rolls, pies, hot chocolate, tea, meat dishes, chili, even whiskey. But can it help in blood sugar control? A new study just published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society suggests that it just might.
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One of the main reasons the authors of the study chose to look at cinnamon is that all sort of claims have been made for its health benefits — for heart disease, cancer, fungal infections, blood sugar and more. The authors pointed, however, out that much of the evidence for the efficacy of cinnamon and other reputedly health-boosting foods has been “sparse and in many instances of low quality.” With regard to cinnamon specifically, they said previous studies of its effects on blood glucose (HbA1c) “were inconsistent and did not reach statistical significance in aggregate.” Another thing the researchers wanted to investigate was if cinnamon really were found to have some benefit for patients with diabetes, whether that effect would apply to different ethnic groups. For that reason the researchers did a two-country study, with subjects in both the United States (the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston) and South Korea (Kyung Hee University in Seoul). The choice of South Korea was important because rates of diabetes have been soaring in East Asia and South Asia.
Lead researcher Giulio Romeo, MD, of the Joslin Diabetes Center said, “We are looking for safe, durable, and cost-effective approaches to reduce the progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes.” One possible reason earlier studies on the benefits of cinnamon for diabetes patients were inconsistent, he said, was that these patients might have been taking other medications that could have interfered with the research. For this reason, he and his team chose to investigate patients with prediabetes who were not yet taking medications.
The clinical trial involved 51 subjects with prediabetes who were randomly divided into two groups. One group was given a 500-milligram capsule containing 300 milligrams of cinnamon extract and 200 milligrams of Cinnamomum burmannii powder (Cinnamomum burmannii is the most common type of cinnamon used in the United States). The other group received an identical-looking placebo capsule containing cellulose, caramel food coloring, and a tiny bit of cinnamon incense. The doses were given three times a day for 12 weeks.
The researchers reported that the cinnamon capsules lowered abnormal fasting glucose levels as measured by a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, while also improving the body’s response to consuming a carbohydrate-heavy meal. The cinnamon was “well tolerated” and no side effects or harmful effects were observed. The authors also recorded no significant changes in “vital signs, physical exams or laboratory test results” in either group during the test period. Short-term blood glucose levels, as measured by a glycated albumin test, also showed a lowering in the cinnamon group, and the researchers speculated that the reductions of both Hb1Ac and glycated albumin in the cinnamon group might partly have been related to a lessening of blood sugar spikes that occur after meals. Dr. Romeo summed up the findings by saying, “Our 12-week study showed beneficial effects of adding cinnamon to the diet on keeping blood sugar levels stable in participants with prediabetes. The difference between the groups of patients was significant. Blood glucose levels of people on cinnamon would not go as high as the participants on placebo after meals and also would return to baseline much faster.” He added, however, that more research will be needed: “These findings provide the rationale for longer and larger studies to address if cinnamon can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes over time.”
After reviewing the new study, diabetes educator Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES, agreed that more research is needed. She commented that the study overall “looks very interesting,” but pointed out that the 12-week research period was “not a very long time to see if an intervention really works.” Also the sample size — just 51 people — was quite small.