Many people struggle with insulin resistance and some may not even realize it. In this condition, the pancreas produces insulin, sometimes lots of insulin, but the cells stop responding well to this critical hormone. Surprisingly, certain common spices and condiments may reduce insulin resistance and help control blood sugar.
Will Cinnamon Help Control Blood Sugar?
Q. My husband was having blood sugars in the 200s, even though he was taking metformin and cutting his carb intake down to 15 to 30 grams per day. He was becoming insulin resistant.
We had bought some cinnamon sticks in Mexico, where they are called canela. He ground some up and started taking a 1/4 teaspoon of the powder. His sugars immediately dropped into the low 100s and stayed there!
A. A review of research on the effects of cinnamon concluded that it is probably helpful (together with medication) in controlling blood sugar (Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, Oct. 2018). The “canela” used in Mexican cuisine is Cinnamomum zeylanicum, or Ceylon cinnamon. Cinnamon might help control blood sugar by reducing insulin resistance. Scientists in Sri Lanka are currently studying this mechanism (Trials, Sep. 29, 2017).
Safety of Ceylon Cinnamon:
Because your husband is using Ceylon cinnamon along with metformin to help control blood sugar, we are not worried about his liver. The more common cassia cinnamon often sold in the US often contains a compound called coumarin. Unfortunately, regular exposure to coumarin can damage the liver. Ceylon cinnamon does not contain measurable amounts of coumarin.
Anyone who would like to learn more about using cinnamon to lower blood sugar or triglycerides may want to consult our book, Spice Up Your Health.
Controversy Over Using Cinnamon for Blood Sugar Control:
Not all research supports using cinnamon, with or without medication, to help control blood sugar. Your husband is getting good results from canela, but not everyone benefits so much from taking cinnamon.
Q. I have been a type 2 diabetic for 13 years and thought that using cinnamon on a daily basis would result in a lower blood sugar reading. To date, cinnamon has had absolutely no effect on my condition.
A. The use of cinnamon for blood sugar control remains controversial. It is not a substitute for medical supervision and appropriate medications.
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Adding an indeterminate amount of cinnamon from the spice rack poses some challenges. For one thing, you don’t know the daily dose and for another, you don’t know what cinnamon you are consuming.
Two Kinds of Cinnamon:
There are two types of cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon from China is the type that was used in the original research showing that it could help lower blood sugar after a meal (Diabetes Care, Dec. 2003). Other studies have suggested that “true” cinnamon, also known as Cinnamomum zeylanicum or C. verum, has little or no impact, but a recent review actually found substantial evidence in animal and other laboratory studies that it too may help control blood sugar (Diabetic Medicine, December 2012).
Jim J. has had success with Saigon cinnamon, a form of cassia cinnamon:
“I have been using Saigon cinnamon for about 2 months as a supplement to my diet and medication. I put it in coffee, cereal, or oatmeal (at least one daily in the morning). I have found that a sprinkle of cinnamon daily keeps my blood sugar from spiking. I still must maintain a diet of low carbs and no sugar, but my glucose remains fairly constant levels (between 70 and 140) whereas without cinnamon it would spike sometimes as high as 230 for no apparent reason. Also, my A1C has dropped to 6.1 from the low 8s during this time.”
Diane uses cinnamon along with the insulin she must take for type 1 diabetes:
“I am a Type 1 Diabetic. I have tried cinnamon and found it really does work. If you are a Type 2 diabetic, don’t assume that the cinnamon will decrease your blood glucose levels to a ‘normal’ level. There’s no cure for this disease, obviously. I have noticed that cinnamon does a lot for me and my ailments from Diabetes like my blood sugar level, cholesterol level, blood pressure readings, regularity, and gastroparesis. I wouldn’t give up on the spice as of yet if I were you. I found many benefits from it.”
What About Cinnamon Supplements?
Cinnamon supplements might be a way to get a safe and reliable dose. An analysis of six placebo-controlled studies found that cinnamon (in doses ranging from 1 to 6 grams/day) reduced HbA1c, a measure of blood sugar over time, as well as blood sugar (Clinical Nutrition, Oct. 2012). We worry, however, that so much cassia cinnamon on a regular basis could expose a person to excess amounts of coumarin. This natural compound found in cassia cinnamon can damage the liver. It is not water-soluble, so water-based extracts should be safe.
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. Read Terry's Full Bio.
Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life
Learn about the latest research on the surprising health benefits of herbs and spices. Find out how to make home remedies with spices that can help with common health problems.
Santos HO & da Silva GAR, "To what extent does cinnamon administration improve the glycemic and lipid profiles?" Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, Oct. 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2018.07.011
Ranasinghe P et al, "Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Ceylon cinnamon) as a potential pharmaceutical agent for type-2 diabetes mellitus: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial." Trials, Sep. 29, 2017. DOI: 10.1186/s13063-017-2192-0
Khan A et al, "Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes." Diabetes Care, Dec. 2003. DOI: 10.2337/diacare.26.12.3215
Ranasinghe P et al, "Efficacy and safety of 'true' cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) as a pharmaceutical agent in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Diabetic Medicine, Dec. 2012. DOI: 10.1111/j.1464-5491.2012.03718.x
Akilen R et al, "Cinnamon in glycaemic control: Systematic review and meta analysis." Clinical Nutrition, Oct. 2012. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnu.2012.04.003
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