Just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day significantly reduces blood sugar levels in diabetics, a new study has found. The effect, which can be produced even by soaking a cinnamon stick your tea, could also benefit millions of non-diabetics who have blood sugar problem but are unaware of it.
The discovery was initially made by accident, by Richard Anderson at the US Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland. "We were looking at the effects of common foods on blood sugar; one was the American favorite, apple pie, which is usually spiced with cinnamon. We expected it to be bad. But it helped," he says.
The active ingredient in cinnamon turned out to be a water-soluble polyphenol compound called MHCP. In test tube experiments, MHCP mimics insulin, activates its receptor, and works synergistically with insulin in cells.
To see if it would work in people, Alam Khan, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Anderson's lab, organized a study in Pakistan. Volunteers with Type 2 diabetes were given one, three or six grams of cinnamon powder a day, in capsules after meals.
All responded within weeks, with blood sugar levels that were on average 20 per cent lower than a control group. Some even achieved normal blood sugar levels. Tellingly, blood sugar started creeping up again after the diabetics stopped taking cinnamon.
In the volunteers, the Cinnamon also lowered blood levels of fats and "bad" cholesterol, which are also partly controlled by insulin. And in test tube experiments it neutralized free radicals, damaging chemicals which are elevated in diabetics.
Cinnamon's essential oils also qualify it as an "anti-microbial" food, and cinnamon has been studied for its ability to help stop the growth of bacteria as well as fungi, including the commonly problematic yeast Candida.
In a study, published in the August 2003 issue of the International Journal of Food Microbiology, the addition of just a few drops of cinnamon essential oil to approximately 3 ounces of carrot broth, which was then refrigerated, inhibited the growth of the food borne pathogenic Bacillus cereus for at least 60 days. When the broth was refrigerated without the addition of cinnamon oil, the pathogenic B. cereus flourished despite the cold temperature. In addition, researchers noted that the addition of cinnamon not only acted as an effective preservative but improved the flavor of the broth.
Research led by Dr. P. Zoladz and presented April 24, 2004, at the annual meeting of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences, in Sarasota, FL, found that chewing cinnamon flavored gum or just smelling cinnamon enhanced study participants' cognitive processing. Specifically, cinnamon improved participants' scores on attention related processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor speed while working on a computer-based program.
(Hint: simmer a few cinnamon sticks in water while your kids are doing their homework – this will also serve as wonderful yet non-toxic air freshener for your home)
In addition to the active components in its essential oils and its nutrient composition, cinnamon has also been valued in energy-based medical systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, for its warming qualities. In these traditions, cinnamon has been used to provide relief when faced with the onset of a cold or flu, especially when mixed in a tea with some fresh ginger.