Cinnamon is a sweet and pungent spice obtained from the inner bark of cinnamon trees. Besides its routine use in cooking and baking, cinnamon also has many medicinal properties. The most important is the use of cinnamon for diabetes.
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease that results in an abnormally high level of blood sugar in the body. The body is either unable to make enough insulin or is unable to effectively use the insulin it makes. Deficiency of insulin results in the inability of the body to process the glucose consumed; which stays in the bloodstream. This leads to an increase in the blood sugar (glucose) level.
Cinnamon has certain properties that help to lower blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity.
Why Cinnamon for Diabetes?
Cinnamon is a tropical evergreen tree that grows in Southeast Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. Its characteristic smell and flavor are due to the oily part that contains the compound called cinnamaldehyde. This compound is also responsible for most of the cinnamon’s beneficial effects on health and metabolism.
Its medicinal properties have been known since thousands of years. It was routinely used in traditional Ayurvedic (Indian) and Chinese medicine for its benefits linked to digestion and respiratory health problems. Cinnamon is called ‘dalchini’ in India.
Recent studies have shown that cinnamon does have a positive effect on blood glucose levels in those with type 2 diabetes. However, more studies need to be carried out to determine the actual usefulness of cinnamon for diabetes.
Although studies are still not conclusive, it may be useful to add cinnamon to the daily diet of people suffering from diabetes.
It is available both as a spice as well as a supplement. Before using supplements, you must consult your doctor. As of now, it should not be used as a complete replacement for treating diabetes or other health conditions.
Types of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is of two main types.
Ceylon cinnamon: Also called “true” cinnamon. It is grown mainly in Sri Lanka. It is less common and quite expensive.
Cassia cinnamon: It is the more common variety and is less expensive. Cinnamon available in grocery stores usually belongs to this variety.
Cinnamon is made from the bark of the cinnamon tree. The inner bark is extracted and the outer woody parts are removed. On drying, it forms strips that curl into rolls, called cinnamon sticks (or quills). These sticks can also be ground to form cinnamon powder.
How is Cinnamon for Diabetes Beneficial?
Cinnamon has certain properties that make it useful for people suffering from diabetes. These include:
It can imitate insulin and increase insulin sensitivity
High blood sugar level occurs in diabetes either because of the inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin or because the cells become unresponsive to insulin.
Cinnamon is believed to be helpful in lowering blood sugar because of the following actions:
- Cinnamon imitates the effects of insulin.
- It increases the transport of glucose into the cells.
- It increases insulin sensitivity, which helps to increase the uptake of glucose within the cells.
It lowers postprandial (after meal) blood sugar levels
Cinnamon can help to prevent the dramatic rise in blood sugar which occurs after meals. This occurs probably because it slows down the rate of stomach emptying. In addition, it blocks the digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates in the small intestine.
As a result, a marked increase in blood sugar level after meals is prevented which protects the body from associated oxidative stress and inflammation.
Cinnamon contains antioxidants that lower the risk of diabetes
Cinnamon contains large amounts of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit oxidation.
By inhibiting oxidation, antioxidants help the body to reduce oxidative stress (which is a type of damage to cells caused by free radicals). Oxidative stress is thought to be responsible for the development of many chronic diseases, including diabetes.
It may lower the risk of common diabetes complications
Cinnamon helps to reduce complications related to diabetes such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
It causes a decrease in LDL (or bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels and leads to an increase in HDL (or good cholesterol) levels. It also causes a significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
It also decreases the ability of proteins like beta-amyloid to form plaques and tangles, which are responsible for causing Alzheimer’s disease.
Other Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Besides the use of cinnamon for diabetes and other benefits, cinnamon also has a host of other health uses. These include:
- It has anti-inflammatory properties
- It is effective against bacterial and fungal infections
- It may help protect against HIV
- It has an anti-clotting effect on the blood
- It boosts the body’s immune system
- It helps in relieving indigestion by promoting intestinal motility and a mild laxative action
- Cinnamon oil, when used for aromatherapy, may help to relieve nasal congestion in common colds, flu, and hay fever
- It may be protective against cancer.
- It contains traces of certain vital nutrients, such as calcium, fiber, manganese, and iron. Since only a small amount of cinnamon is consumed in food, so these nutrients don’t play a significant role in daily nutrient requirements.
Many of these uses of cinnamon have been demonstrated in animals or lab tests and need to be still scientifically proven in humans.
The majority of these health benefits are associated with the use of true cinnamon (also known as Ceylon cinnamon) and not cassia cinnamon.
Side Effects and Precautions
Consumption of small to moderate amounts of cinnamon as a spice in food or as a supplement is safe for most people. The maximum recommended dosage of cinnamon is 6 grams daily for 6 weeks or less (6 grams is roughly equal to 1 teaspoon). Side effects usually occur if it is taken in large quantities.
Excess of cinnamon can cause liver damage especially in patients having pre-existing liver disease. This toxic effect on liver is due to the active ingredient- coumarin which is present in cinnamon.
Low blood sugar
Taking cinnamon along with other anti-diabetes medicines may cause the blood sugar to become too low. This can lead to dizziness, fatigue or anxiety.
Allergies and irritation
Consumed in excess amounts, cinnamon can cause irritation and allergies to the mouth and lips causing sores.
Some people may be allergic to cinnamon and may get an upset stomach on consuming it.
Undiluted cinnamon oil can irritate the skin and create a burning sensation when touched with bare hands.
Since it can induce premature labor or uterine contractions, cinnamon tablets or smelling cinnamon oil should be avoided in pregnant patients.
Interactions with other medications
- Due to its effect on blood sugar, patients of diabetes if taking cinnamon supplements need to adjust the dose of anti-diabetic medications.
- Coumarin present in cinnamon also causes thinning of blood like warfarin. So it needs to be taken with caution in patients on anticoagulant treatment. For the same reason, cinnamon supplements should also be avoided before surgery or a dental procedure.
- Because of its antibacterial effects, patients on antibiotics should also exercise caution.
- Cinnamon should be avoided in patients who are taking medicines like acetaminophen or statins which affect the liver, as this may increase the risk of liver damage.
Dosage and Preparation
There is no recommended dose of cinnamon.
Supplement manufacturers recommend a dose between 500 milligrams and 6 grams daily, when used in tablet form.
Also, it should be taken along with a carbohydrate-rich meal to avoid side effects.
Cinnamon extract is also available in gel cap formulations or as an oil.
Cinnamon essential oil should always be diluted with a carrier oil like almond oil or jojoba oil before applying to the skin. A maximum of 5 % concentration (or about 30 drops of cinnamon oil in one ounce of carrier oil) is considered safe for adults.
It is better to use Ceylon cinnamon as it contains far less coumarin than Cassia cinnamon. The compound coumarin is implicated in causing liver damage, thinning of blood, and other toxicities. Ceylon cinnamon is however more expensive. The cinnamon spice available in grocery stores is usually Cassia cinnamon.
Cinnamon supplements can be bought online from health food stores or supplement stores.
Before starting a cinnamon supplement, you must consult your healthcare provider.
Dietary Ideas to Use Cinnamon for Diabetes
A small piece of cinnamon is soaked in water and kept overnight. This water can be consumed the next morning on an empty stomach.
Cinnamon can be added to tea to make spiced tea. Besides its health benefit, cinnamon also imparts a distinctive flavor to the tea.
Cinnamon with honey
Cinnamon powder mixed with honey can be consumed to treat sore throat or other respiratory problems.
Replace sugar with cinnamon
Cinnamon can be used as a healthy replacement for sugar. It can be added to desserts like cakes and pies. It can also be added to traditional Indian sweets like barfi, kheer, halwa, etc.
Cinnamon in baking
Cinnamon can be added to bread, muffins, cookies, or pies. It can either be added to the dry flour before baking or sprinkled on the freshly baked dish. Some of the common cinnamon based dishes include cinnamon rolls, cinnamon nut bars, apple cinnamon baked oatmeal, apple and cinnamon cake, etc.
Add cinnamon to oatmeal or other cereals
Cinnamon powder can be sprinkled on oatmeal or other cereals in place of honey or sugar.
Add cinnamon to Indian curries
A small cinnamon stick is added along with other dry spices and then sauteed to make Indian curries.
Add cinnamon to meat sauces
Cinnamon can be used in poultry, pork or beef spices.
Cinnamon has definite health benefits for diabetics. Also when used in moderation, it is practically free from any side-effects. It is always best to talk to your doctor before starting any supplements, especially if you have preexisting liver disease or are taking other medications.
You can routinely sprinkle a small amount of cinnamon on your food, add it to your food during preparation, or occasionally drink cinnamon tea. This way you can reap the health benefits of cinnamon without worrying about its side effects from overdosage.
- Giulio R Romeo, Junhee Lee, Christopher M Mulla, Youngmin Noh, Casey Holden, Byung-Cheol Lee. Influence of cinnamon on glycemic control in subjects with prediabetes: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the Endocrine Society, 2020; DOI: 10.1210/jendso/bvaa094