Is there anything more enchanting then the smell of cinnamon on French toast wafting up from the kitchen on Sundays, a warm inviting odor with just a hint of tang? Think about what a dash of cinnamon can do for a simple baked apple, or when it’s mixed with cocoa and milk for a rich, steamy cup of hot chocolate! Now that can take the chill off a snowy winter’s night. Cinnamon adds flavor and aroma all right. But can it do more than that? Does it have health benefits beyond improving the palatability of foods?
Specifically can it be used as a dietary oral hypoglycemic? That question has bounced around the research world for a few years without a clear answer. Some studies have had positive results: in a number of clinical trials, cinnamon has been found to decrease fasting blood glucose numbers and cholesterol values; in other studies, cinnamon has had no effect. In 2008 a major meta-analysis paper, which is an article that uses statistics to look at the results of a large number of research studies on a subject and see if there is any connection between the subject under study and expected result , found no benefit on glycemic control from using cinnamon.
However the scientists went back to the drawing board and a recent meta-analysis of several studies showed some benefit on fasting blood glucose (a drop of an average 25 mg/dL) and on bad cholesterol (LDL) levels (an average drop of 9 mg/dl), but no effect on the A1C, the parameter that we use to evaluate diabetes control. The reason the A1C might not have been affected may be due to the short duration of the studies (4-18 weeks). A1C measures blood glucose values over a 2 to 3 month period.
In most of those trials the cinnamon was taken in a dose of 1 to 6 mg/day (1 teaspoon is equivalent to 3 mg). A teaspoon of cinnamon is quite a lot; much more than you would normally sprinkle on your French toast, for example.
It isn’t clear why cinnamon might reduce blood glucose and cholesterol. Some research has indicated that cinnamon may serve as an antioxidant and reduce inflammation. But so far, the American Diabetes Association does not recommend people with diabetes take cinnamon for glycemic control.
Osama Hamdy,M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.E., Medical Director of the Obesity Clinical Program at Joslin Diabetes Center states, “The biggest advantage of cinnamon is that it is cheap and tasty and is safe in the short-term. However, it cannot be substituted for a person’s diabetes medications. Rather, cinnamon can be used in addition to a patient’s usual diabetes drugs if the patient prefers.”
Even though cinnamon is a household word, taking it may not be entirely without consequences. Large doses of cinnamon can irritate the mouth and skin. Cinnamon contains coumarin, which has been associated with some liver damage when studied in experimental animals, so using large doses for long-term may be unsafe, but a bit on the morning cereal may not be a bad idea.
In addition to the powder we are familiar with in the supermarkets, cinnamon can be sold as a supplement. The FDA doesn’t regulate food supplements the way it does drugs so look for those brands labeled with NSF International, US Pharmacopeia, or Consumerlab seal. These certifications indicate that the product contains what it says on the label.