Cinnamon is delicious, but it also has potential health benefits. You may be able to use cinnamon to lower your cholesterol. In addition, scientists believe they have discovered how a compound from cinnamon may moderate blood sugar and ward off obesity (Jiang et al, Metabolism, Dec. 2017). The chemical in cinnamon that might help you stay slim is called cinnamaldehyde. It triggers fat cells to create heat by using energy. This is known as thermogenesis.
What Is the Evidence That Cinnamon Could Help You Stay Slim?
Cinnamaldehyde boosts the activity of certain genes that control enzymes important in lipid metabolism. So far, the research was conducted in mice and in human cells, not in people. As a result, the researchers don’t yet know for sure whether cinnamon will help you stay slim. However, a four-month study in India suggests promising results at 3 g cinnamon daily (Gupta Jain et al, Lipids in Health and Disease, June 12, 2017).
Side Effects of Cinnamon:
The common cinnamon in our spice racks (cassia cinnamon, often from China) contains another compound, coumarin, that can harm the liver. So while it is fine to enjoy a sprinkle of cinnamon on your oatmeal, it could be risky to swallow spoonfuls of it. The researchers caution that they need to do more studies to learn how to use it most safely and effectively.
Eating cinnamon, or even using toothpaste or mouthwash with cinnamon extract in it, can be irritating for some people. Cinnamon chewing gum and cinnamon toast could also trigger mouth sores.
What Else Can Cinnamon Do for Your Health?
Most people who don’t have diabetes don’t worry about keeping their blood sugar under control, at least not until the doctor points out that it’s been creeping up into the range of pre-diabetes. Cholesterol, on the other hand, has everyone’s attention. We all know that it is an important risk factor for heart disease, so we try to keep an eye on it. Have you thought about using cinnamon to lower your cholesterol? You might be surprised at how well it could work.
Cinnamon for Cholesterol and Blood Sugar:
Q. I began sprinkling cinnamon on some of my food every day about three years ago. I’ve never had diabetes, but my blood sugar and triglycerides were climbing slowly.
Since adding cinnamon, my blood sugar and triglycerides went down to less than 100, and my total cholesterol went along for the ride.
Will Cinnamon Lower Your Cholesterol?
A. Some research has shown that taking cinnamon with a meal can reduce the rise in blood sugar and insulin that occurs after the meal. Other studies have failed to show a benefit for people with diabetes.
One meta-analysis of ten studies found that cinnamon lowers blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels (Allen et al, Annals of Family Medicine, Sep-Oct. 2013). A single study of 204 people with type 2 diabetes provided 3 g of cardamom, cinnamon or ginger or 1 g of saffron in three cups of black tea daily (Azimi et al, Review of Diabetic Studies, Fall-Winter 2014). The participants were randomly assigned to get these spices or three cups of plain black tea every day for two months. At that point, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels had dropped significantly for all the volunteers getting cinnamon, cardamom, ginger or saffron. Those drinking plain tea did not have significant changes in blood lipids.
Cinnamon Extract for Blood Sugar and Cholesterol:
A placebo-controlled study conducted in China with more than 100 volunteers demonstrated that consuming cinnamon extract daily for two months lowered fasting glucose and insulin, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (Anderson et al, Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, Apr. 18, 2015).
The extract used was CinSulin, a water extract of cassia cinnamon, and the dose was 250 mg twice daily. We think these results are encouraging for using cinnamon to lower your cholesterol. We’d suggest taking the capsules with meals.
More recently, a meta-analysis evaluated 13 randomized placebo-controlled trials of cinnamon supplements (Maierean et al, Journal of Clinical Lipidology, Nov-Dec. 2017). The common thread in these studies was that cinnamon lowered triglycerides and total cholesterol, but had no significant impact on either LDL (low-density) or HDL (high-density) cholesterol.
Studying Cinnamon for Type 2 Diabetes:
A relatively recent review of eleven randomized controlled studies found that cinnamon lowered fasting blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes (Costello et al, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Nov. 2016). There was even a very small decrease in HbA1c, a measure of blood sugar over time. The studies varied significantly, with a huge range of doses and even different species of cinnamon used (aromaticum, cassia and zeylanicum). The researchers concluded that people with diabetes should continue with appropriate diet, exercise and medication; but adding cinnamon to the mix might help improve the overall approach.
What Will the Research Tell Us?
Investigators are planning a trial exploring the effects of Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) as a therapeutic agent for people with type 2 diabetes (Ranasinghe et al, Trials, Sep. 29, 2017). Appropriately, the study will be conducted in Sri Lanka, where this type of cinnamon is native. The scientists anticipate three groups of volunteers. One will get placebo pills, another will take 250 mg of cinnamon extract and the third will get 500 mg of cinnamon extract. HbA1c, fasting blood sugar and serum insulin will be used to assess effectiveness.
Cinnamon to Lower Blood Sugar:
Another reader asked:
Q. Some time ago a person wrote to you asking about cinnamon and its use for lowering blood sugar. I have a friend who is diabetic but not on insulin yet.
I’d like to tell her about cinnamon, but I would need more information to back this up. Otherwise she may think it’s just a folk remedy, like putting a potato on a wart.
From the Spice Rack to the Test Tube:
A. Folk wisdom lauds many herbs and spices as helpful for diabetes, but researchers have actually tested ordinary cinnamon and certain other plant products using live tissue in a test tube. (Broadhurst et al, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, March, 2000). Cinnamon was the most effective at getting sugar into cells. It also improves the cell’s response to insulin. It’s good news that the inexpensive cinnamon in your spice rack (cassia cinnamon) can be helpful.
Cinnamon for Blood Sugar Control:
More recently, researchers have found that cinnamon can help keep blood sugar from rising too quickly after a meal. In a three-month placebo-controlled trial, cinnamon capsules significantly reduced HbA1c in type 2 diabetics (Akilen et al, Diabetic Medicine, Oct., 2010). This is a measure of blood sugar over several weeks, not just at one point in time.
The Coumarin Problem:
We caution that using plain ground cinnamon in high doses or regularly over a period of time might expose your friend to excess coumarin. As we stated above, this cinnamon compound can damage the liver. It isn’t water soluble, though, so filtering the spice and using the cinnamon-flavored solution that results is one safe way to approach this.
Reader Stories about Cinnamon:
Visitors to this website have offered the following stories:
“I add cinnamon to my coffee all the time. It is a great replacement for sugar. I have a love of sugar in my cappuccinos and I’ve been trying to kick the sugar habit. It really helps make your taste buds forget the sugar. :)”
“I tried a concentrated form of cinnamon called Cinnulin (purchased from Swanson Vitamin Co.) for lowering my glucose level. It helped with that and surprisingly it lowered my triglycerides from 61 down to 51. I got a double benefit.”
“My oldest brother takes cinnamon for diabetes prevention and it seems to work well for him — just don’t overdo it with too big of a dosage. Tony Pantalleresco (‘The Remedy’ program on The Micro Effect) recommends and uses bitter melon. And prickly pear (a cactus also known as Opuntia) is another good option. Any kind of squash (like zucchini) is also supposed to be good for diabetes.”
“For several years, I have been a diabetic, controlled on diet & exercise. I also drink 2 tablespoons of vinegar in an 8 oz glass of water at lunch and at dinner. I put 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon in my dry coffee grounds before perking the coffee and take a cinnamon capsule twice a day. My A1C has never been up to 7 and in fact was 6.4 last time it was checked. I got used to drinking the vinegar by putting it in low sodium V-8 juice. Now it does not bother me to drink it in water.”
“We use cinnamon with ground flax seed in our yogurt every morning and have had good results with our blood sugar and also our triglycerides.”
If You’d Like to Learn More:
You can learn more about cinnamon and other natural approaches to controlling blood sugar in our Guide to Managing Diabetes. In it, you’ll find out why using a water-based extract could be the safest way to use cinnamon to lower your cholesterol. (The effective compounds for lowering blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol are water soluble, while coumarin that can harm the liver is not.) You’ll also learn about other approaches that can help keep your blood sugar under control. Stay tuned for more research that will show whether or not cinnamon can really help you stay slim.