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Most Americans consider cinnamon a simple flavoring, but in traditional Chinese medicine, it's one of the oldest remedies, prescribed for everything from diarrhea and chills to influenza and parasitic worms. Cinnamon comes from the bark of a small Southeast Asian evergreen tree and is available as an oil, extract, or dried powder. It's closely related to cassia ( C. cassia) and contains many of the same components, but the bark and oils from C. zeyleanicumare thought to have a better flavor.
What is the Scientific Evidence for Cinnamon?
Based on previous animal studies that had suggested potential benefits of cinnamon for diabetes , 1 researchers in Pakistan performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in people. 2 In this 40-day study, 60 people with type 2 diabetes were given cinnamon at a dose of 1, 3, or 6 g daily. The results reportedly indicated that use of cinnamon improved blood sugar levels by 18%-29%, total cholesterol by 12%-26%, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 7%-27%, and triglycerides by 23%-30%. These results were said to be statistically significant as compared to the beginning of the study and to the placebo group.
However, this study has some odd features. The most important is that it found no significant difference in benefit between the various doses of cinnamon. This is called lack of a dose-related effect, and it generally casts doubt on the results of a study. The researchers counter that perhaps even 1 g of cinnamon is sufficient to produce the maximum cholesterol-lowering effect, and therefore, higher doses simply didn’t add any further benefit. There is another problem with this study as well: no improvements were seen in the placebo group. This too is unusual, and also casts doubt on the results.
In an attempt to replicate these results, a group of Dutch researchers performed a carefully designed 6-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 25 people with diabetes. 3 All participants were given 1.5 g of cinnamon daily. The results failed to show anydetectible effect on blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, or cholesterol profile. Although this second study was smaller than the first because it had fewer groups ("arms"), overall, its statistical validity is similar. Furthermore, a double-blind study performed in Thailand enrolling 60 people, again using 1.5 g of cinnamon daily, also failed to find benefit. 4 On the other hand, a double-blind study of 79 people that used 3 g instead of 1.5 g daily didfind that cinnamon improved blood sugar levels. 5 In addition, a small study involving 22 prediabetic patients with metabolic syndrome found that an extract containing 500 mg cinnamon given once daily was effective at modestly reducing fasting blood sugar and systolic blood pressure, and increasing lean body weight. However, the low dosage of cinnamon used in this study raises concerns about the reliability of these results. 6 Another, very small study evaluated cinnamon for improving blood sugar control in women with polycystic ovary disease , and it too found evidence of benefit. 7 The bottom line: At present, it would be premature to consider cinnamon an evidence-based treatment for type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol, but it has definitely shown some promise.
Regarding type 1 diabetes, a study of 72 adolescents failed to find benefit with cinnamon taken at a dose of 1 g daily. 8 A meta-analysis (formal statistical review) of all published evidence concluded that, thus far, cinnamon has not yet been shown to have any effect on blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. 9 The bottom line: The evidence regarding cinnamon as a treatment for diabetes is highly inconsistent, suggesting that if cinnamon is indeed effective, its benefits are minimal at most.
Typical recommended dosages of ground cinnamon bark are 1 to 4 g daily. Cinnamon oil is generally used at a dose of 0.05 to 0.2 g daily. 10
- Imparl-Radosevich J, Deas S, Polansky MM, Baedke DA, Ingebritsen TS, Anderson RA, Graves DJ. Regulation of PTP-1 and insulin receptor kinase by fractions from cinnamon: implications for cinnamon regulation of insulin signalling. Horm Res. 50(3):177-82.
- Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 26(12):3215-8.
- Vanschoonbeek K, Thomassen BJ, Senden JM, et al. Cinnamon supplementation does not improve glycemic control in postmenopausal type 2 diabetes patients. J Nutr. 2006;136:977-980.
- Suppapitiporn S, Kanpaksi N, Suppapitiporn S. The effect of cinnamon cassia powder in type 2 diabetes mellitus. J Med Assoc Thai. 89 Suppl 3():S200-5.
- Mang B, Wolters M, Schmitt B, Kelb K, Lichtinghagen R, Stichtenoth DO, Hahn A. Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA, and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2. Eur J Clin Invest. 36(5):340-4.
- Ziegenfuss TN, Hofheins JE, Mendel RW, Landis J, Anderson RA. Effects of a water-soluble cinnamon extract on body composition and features of the metabolic syndrome in pre-diabetic men and women. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 3():45-53.
- Wang JG, Anderson RA, Graham GM 3rd, Chu MC, Sauer MV, Guarnaccia MM, Lobo RA. The effect of cinnamon extract on insulin resistance parameters in polycystic ovary syndrome: a pilot study. Fertil Steril. 88(1):240-3.
- Altschuler JA, Casella SJ, MacKenzie TA, Curtis KM. The effect of cinnamon on A1C among adolescents with type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 30(4):813-6.
- Baker WL, Gutierrez-Williams G, White CM, Kluger J, Coleman CI. Effect of cinnamon on glucose control and lipid parameters. Diabetes Care. 31(1):41-3.
- Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Wiley; 1996: 168.