Known for its cozy fragrance that’s a mix of sweet and spicy-hot all at once, cinnamon is a spice-rack staple. But warm and spicy cinnamon can hold the promise of much more than holiday baking – especially if you are diabetic. Known for its strong anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties, cinnamon (both Ceylon and cassia varieties) is increasingly being explored as an alternative remedy for diabetes. Here’s how the research stacks up in cinnamon’s favor.
Lowers Blood Sugar Levels And Improves Glycemic Control
Although research on the effects of cinnamon on blood sugar is not yet definitive, what has emerged is promising. As a meta-analysis that looked at 8 previous studies showed, cinnamon showed potential in lowering blood sugar in diabetics. When subjects were given either whole cinnamon or a cinnamon extract, it resulted in a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar levels, prompting the researchers to say that cinnamon could be a useful alternative therapy for people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.1 The type of cinnamon was not specified in this case.
While the research on cinnamon’s ability to combat diabetes on various fronts is promising, we still need more long-term trials in humans to establish its effectiveness and safety. But studies do show that it has the potential to be a useful add-on therapy in managing type 2 diabetes.2
Another meta-analysis of 11 studies found similar results. When type 2 diabetics were given cinnamon supplements in doses ranging from 120 to 6,000 mg/day for 4–16 weeks (depending on the study), all studies reported some reduction in fasting blood sugar levels. Of the 11 studies, 7 used cassia cinnamon, 1 used Ceylon cinnamon, while 3 did not specify if Ceylon or cassia cinnamon was used.
All 11 studies also reported a positive impact on Hb1Ac levels, a measure which helps indicate what your blood sugar level range has been in the last 2–3 months. When glucose accumulates in the blood, it binds to hemoglobin that is present in the red blood cells (RBCs) and stays bound to these until the RBCs eventually die (after 3 months). Testing for glycated hemoglobin thus gives a good sense of your glucose control over 3 months. The reduction in Hb1Ac levels in all 11 studies indicates that taking cinnamon not only has an immediate impact on sugar levels but may also translate to better glycemic control overall.3
However, what also needs to be noted is that only 4 of the 11 studies achieved reductions in line with the American Diabetes Association’s diabetes treatment goals. There have also been other studies where the results have not been so clear-cut.
Mimics Insulin And Boosts Insulin Sensitivity
When you have type 2 diabetes, the body’s response to the insulin hormone is compromised. This results in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood. Animal and lab studies have shown that cinnamon can effectively mimic insulin and even make the insulin in the body more efficient. This, in turn, improves insulin sensitivity in the body, helps body cells respond better to insulin, and facilitates smoother glucose transport. Thus cinnamon has potential as an alternative remedy not only for diabetics but also for people with pre-diabetes or who show initial signs of insulin resistance.4 5 Human studies confirm this – as one small study found, during two 14-day interventions, when subjects were given 3 gm of cinnamon per day, they saw an improvement in insulin sensitivity and glycemic control.6
Components like chromium and polyphenols in cinnamon are thought to be responsible for this effect.7 A chemical compound called methylhydroxychalcone polymer (MHCP) in cinnamon is especially thought to be responsible for its insulin-mimicking activity. Studies show that MHCP has the same biological activity as insulin itself. It increases the uptake of blood sugar by cells and stimulates the synthesis of glycogen.8
May Lower Blood Sugar Levels After Meals
You may not realize it when you’re enjoying a big meal, but your blood sugar levels tend to spike significantly after you’ve eaten, especially if it is a carbohydrate-heavy meal. These fluctuations in blood sugar levels increase the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes as well as aggravate the condition if you already have it. This is because they increase your body’s levels of inflammation and oxidative stress.
Some studies indicate that taking cinnamon alongside a carb-heavy meal may slow down the rate at which food empties out of the stomach and helps control spikes in blood sugar levels after a meal.9 10 Other studies have suggested that cinnamon may play a role in blocking the digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates in the small intestine, thereby lowering blood sugar levels after a meal.11 12 More extensive human trials are needed to confirm this effect, though.
Chronic inflammation is often a major trigger for diabetes and can even lead the way to other health problems if you already have diabetes. Cinnamon helps cut inflammation in the body thanks to its abundance of flavonoids. This anti-inflammatory effect of cinnamon plays a significant role not only in reducing metabolic problems but also in preventing further health complications due to diabetes.13
Cinnamon’s antioxidant benefits also come in handy for diabetics. Not only does oxidative stress, a type of cell damage caused by free radicals, play a role in the onset of diabetes, but diabetics are often more to prone to oxidative stress.14 15 Cinnamon’s antioxidant effect reduces oxidative stress and breaks this vicious cycle, helping you manage the condition better.16
Reduces Risk Of Diabetic Complications
Thanks to its ability to cut inflammation, control uncontrolled sugar levels, and prevent sudden spikes, cinnamon may be able to stop a range of complications associated with diabetes in their tracks.
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing heart disease. Cinnamon is often recommended as part of an overall heart healthy-diet for preventing coronary artery disease because it is rich in antioxidants and cuts inflammation.17 Its positive impact on cholesterol levels and blood pressure (as you’ll see next) also helps reduce the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis.
One review of studies among type 2 diabetics showed that cinnamon was associated with an average decrease in LDL cholesterol as well as triglycerides.18 The same analysis also showed a link between cinnamon and an increase in HDL cholesterol.
Cinnamon may have an inhibitory effect on HMG-CoA reductase, the enzyme responsible for producing cholesterol, thanks to a component called cinnamase. It might thus be a promising alternative remedy for hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, a condition many diabetics struggle with.19
High Blood Pressure
Cinnamon is increasingly being recognized as a supplementary dietary option to regulate blood pressure levels. As one clinical trial showed, supplementation with cinnamon significantly lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure among people with type 2 diabetes.20 Cinnamaldehyde, a compound found in cinnamon, helps with the dilation of blood vessels (vasodilatation), which in turn eases high blood pressure.21
Uncontrolled diabetes and the resulting elevated sugar levels in the body can damage many of your organs, including the brain. No wonder that research is uncovering a stronger link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In fact, AD is increasingly being referred to as type 3 diabetes, with studies suggesting that the condition represents a form of diabetes mellitus that specifically afflicts the brain.22 Research suggests that cinnamon extract may modulate the activity of beta-amyloid and tau proteins which are routinely linked to the development of AD. While further studies are needed to establish this link, cinnamon’s dual action here, against both diabetes and AD, is promising.