Cinammon: The wonder spice?
Cinnamon... Mmmm, the smell conjures up thoughts of fresh apple pies and warm spiced Christmas drinks in front of the fire. I do love it but did you know how special this clever spice is? It has been prized for thousands of years for its culinary and medicinal properties, even as far back as the Ancient Egyptians. Then in the 16th century it found its way to England via the Dutch East India Company and was so highly sought after it became one of the most expensive spices available. Thankfully now it’s easily accessible from any supermarket and most of us have a jar or two lingering in the back of our kitchen cupboards. And new exciting evidence shows that it could be a very interesting addition to the management of Type 2 diabetes with its remarkable ability to lower blood sugar levels.
Diabetes is a growing problem with Diabetes UK saying that 1 in 16 people in the UK were suffering from the condition in 2018. That’s 4.7 million people in the UK alone living with diabetes; 90% of which is Type 2 diabetes, a condition which has seen a huge increase in the number of people being diagnosed, mainly due to the rise in obesity levels in this country. Another big developing issue in the UK is pre-diabetes, a condition where the body starts not to handle sugar as well as it should and this is linked with a high likelihood of progressing to full blown diabetes over time if something is not done to change the risk. There are potentially 18 million people in the UK with pre-diabetes.
A recent review of studies (1) on the use of cinnamon in humans showed that just 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon (about a half to 3 teaspoons a day) could be a useful complement to the drug management of Type 2 diabetes. It’s unlikely that cinnamon alone could control blood sugar levels but it could be a tasty addition to help reduce sugar levels in the blood.
Another review (2) of 70 studies showed that cinnamon is capable of reducing fasting blood sugar levels and the HbA1c (which is the 3 month average sugar level) by reducing the amount of sugar absorbed in the intestines and encouraging cells to take up sugar from the blood as well as stimulating insulin release, which is a hormone produced by the pancreas to stop our blood sugars from getting too high. This review also showed that cinnamon has the potential to help improve cholesterol levels by lowering the LDL level in the blood, which is the bad form of cholesterol, and raising the HDL level, the good form of cholesterol. Incredibly it also appears to kill certain bacteria and fungi.
One last surprising extra benefit of cinnamon is its ability to treat period pain. A study (3) in 2018 showed that taking 1 gram of cinnamon in a capsule for the first 72 hours of a period can significantly reduce the intensity of period pain. Who would have thought it?! Cinnamon capsules are available from health food shops if you don’t like the taste of it.
Like most dietary interventions or complementary medicines, further studies are needed to solidify this research. Maybe you have diabetes, or it runs in the family, or your cholesterol is up a little? Adding more cinnamon to your diet is unlikely to do you any harm and could have huge benefits to your health. So whether you sprinkle it on your porridge, add it to stewed apples or dust it over your latte, cinnamon has huge potential and let’s face it, it tastes and smells amazing!
(1) Ho and Gar. To what extent does cinnamon administration improve the glycemic and lipid profiles? Clinical Nutrition ESPEN. 2018; 27(1-9)
(2) Ranasinghe et al. Medicinal properties of “true” cinnamon (Cinnamonum zeylanicum): a systematic review. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013; 13:275
(3) Jahangirifar et al. The effect of Cinnamon on primary dysmenorrhea: a randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Complementary therapies in clinical practice. 2018; 33:56-60 and listed in Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials