Highlights of history
Cinnamon is studied for its antibacterial and antioxidant properties
Some of the most promising research focuses on blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes
Experts warn it’s too early in the scientific process to support supplement use
Cinnamon is one of the most popular spices in the world, sprinkled on lattes, boiled with cider, and enjoyed in many dishes. Without it, Thanksgiving and Christmas meals might just turn out tasteless and certainly less flavorful.
Harvested from the inner bark of an evergreen tropical plant, cinnamon has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to treat respiratory and digestive problems. The ancient Egyptians used cinnamon as a perfume during the embalming process, while the Romans used it in funeral pyres to mask the stench of burnt flesh.
The The Bible mentions cinnamon several times, most often to perfume bedding, clothing, and anointing oil. The essential oil form is made from the bark, leaves or twigs of the plant.
But it’s the use of cinnamon as a medicinal agent that is rocking scientists, trying to figure out how well its antioxidant abilities might work to improve our health.
“Medicine started out as herbs and plants,” said Lauri Wright, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “So the circle is almost complete, as we are now going back and proving what some of these plant substances can do for your health.”
There are two basic types of cinnamon. Ceylon, or Cinnamomum verum, is cultivated in Sri Lanka. C. cassia, C. loureiroi and C. burmannii, commonly referred to as cassia, are widely produced in China and Indonesia. Cassia has the stronger flavor and smell of the two, and due to its much lower cost, this is what we buy in the store to sprinkle on our food.
But it’s the more expensive version of Ceylon, with a milder, sweeter flavor, that might be the best for your health.
Cassia may contain relatively high concentrations of coumarin, a plant compound that can damage the liver. A study of 91 cinnamon samples from various stores in Germany found 63 times more coumarin in cassia cinnamon powder than Ceylon powder. Cassia sticks, which look like a thick layer of rolled bark, also contained 18 times more coumarin than Ceylon sticks, which have thin layers.
“One challenge with some of these herbal solutions, because they’re not a regulated drug, is that you don’t know exactly what you’re getting,” said registered dietitian Melinda Maryniuk, who sits on the practice committee. Professional Association of the American Diabetes Association. . “A lot of things affect the makeup of the product: where it’s grown, the soil, the growing conditions, even the way the spice has been stored and dried. ”
This problem also plagues cinnamon research. Scientists have used different doses, species and compounds of the spice in their research.
“Doses varied widely between studies, from less than 1 gram to levels that would be toxic in humans,” Wright said. “The duration of the capsules has also varied considerably. That’s the problem with translating all of this work. Even when we find positive results, how do we find the correct composition and dosage for maximum safety? ”
Keep this in mind as you read up on the science of cinnamon.
“I think the strongest evidence so far can be found in diabetes and the promise of cinnamon and blood sugar control,” Wright said, pointing to studies conducted in test tubes and mouse and even small studies in people showing that cinnamon helps insulin sensitivity and glucose transport while decreasing inflammation.
“There have been a lot of studies in postmenopausal women and men of this age,” said biochemist Amy Stockert, who studies cinnamon at Raabe College of Pharmacy at Ohio Northern University. “Some have found positive effects; other studies have not.
Stockert co-wrote a small study of 18 people with type 2 diabetes who showed the cassia cinnamon species to be more effective than diet alone at lowering blood sugar. In fact, his study found it to be comparable to oral diabetes medications.
Another study in 60 people with type 2 diabetes found that small doses of cinnamon lowered blood sugar and improved LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, triglycerides and total cholesterol.
“I like that the amount that showed benefits for blood sugar and cholesterol in this study was 1 to 6 grams, which is the range of half a teaspoon to three teaspoons, or a tablespoon, so it’s easy to sprinkle on cereal or in yogurt or use in recipes, “said dietitian Lisa Drayer, who writes on nutrition for CNN. The Food and Drug Administration recommended limit is 6 grams per day.
But while the future looks bright, the American Diabetes Association calls for caution.
“The ADA believes that there is not enough evidence,” said Maryniuk. “A 2013 meta-analysis, which is one of the most rigorous reviews, found that cinnamon had no impact on hemoglobin A1c levels, which we are looking at to measure blood sugar control over time. time. If it had gone down I would be more impressed.
Still, if you want to see if cinnamon works for you, Maryniuk suggests that people with type 2 diabetes take a self-test.
“Do blood sugar tests in pairs,” she said. “Use half a teaspoon in the morning, on fruit, oatmeal or in coffee, and see what happens to your blood sugar before and after you eat. Check again two to three hours later and see if there is a difference.
“But keep taking your meds,” she warned. “You don’t want to try anything excluding the medicine you are taking.”
“We still need a little more work before we deploy this,” Wright agreed. “And you have to be careful to work with your doctor when using cinnamon with diabetes medications, as it could drop your blood sugar too low.”
The antioxidant properties of cinnamon are also under study for their impact on the formation of plaques and tangles in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Cinnamaldehyde, a compound responsible for the sweet smell of the spice, and epicatechin, a powerful antioxidant that is also found in blueberries, red wine, and chocolate, appear to offer some protection against damaging oxidative stress. tau, a key player in the development of dementia.
“It appears to work as an anti-inflammatory or an antioxidant, protecting the body at the cellular level from the bad things that happen,” Wright said, “by getting rid of waste and keeping cells healthy.”
Cinnamon and other traditional Indian medicinal plants are also tested in the fight against HIV. A to study found that green tea, elderberry, and certain flavonoid-rich cinnamon extracts prevented the virus from entering and infecting certain cells.
“This is how AZT works, which is one of the first drugs against HIV,” said Wright, who specializes in nutrition for infectious diseases at the University of South Florida. “And while it’s interesting, what I would hate is for patients to use cinnamon and other supplements instead of their HIV medications.
“Having worked with many clients who are HIV positive over the years, I know there is certainly a great interest in supplements,” she said. “But I would always caution them to always use the drugs that we know to work, that have been tested and dosed, and then watch carefully to make sure there is no conflict with additional supplements.”
The research on cinnamon doesn’t stop there. Ceylon cinnamon has also been associated with anticancer properties in rodents, antiparasitic effects, improved diabetic neuropathy, lowered blood pressure and wound healing including liver damage. Studies showed that cinnamon oil solutions can kill a number of common bacteria, such as strep and E. coli. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is studying the impact of cinnamon on multiple sclerosis.
Using a computer model, biochemist Stockert discovered that cinnamon was as effective as resveratrol, an antioxidant in red wine known for its anti-aging and anti-disease properties, at activating SIRT-1 – also known known as the longevity gene because of its role in repair. DNA.
“In some cases, it did better than resveratrol,” Stockert said. “We’re talking about anti-cancer, anti-aging, a very, very big deal if that’s what’s going on.”
Based on all of this preliminary research, the potential of cinnamon seems huge. But experts warn it’s still too early in the scientific process to suggest cinnamon as a daily supplement.
“I don’t recommend the capsules. There isn’t enough science to tell us to take capsules, ”Wright said.
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“You affect your body’s signaling,” Stockert said, “and that’s important. We’re at an early stage of research where we don’t know how cinnamon will affect most people. Is it healthy to cook? with spices and using them liberally? I’m sure that’s fine. But I’d be careful before taking any supplements alone. ”
“I think the bottom line is that cinnamon is a perfect pantry staple, a pleasant spice that can add flavor to foods for minimal calories, with antioxidant properties that can give an edge to food. those looking to better control their blood sugar, ”agreed Drayer. “But we need to see more research before we can make any strong health claims binding cinnamon to reduce disease risk or improve health.”