Cinnamon has a lot to offer: it is a potent antifungal and antibacterial agent; it helps reduce blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes; it lowers cholesterol. And this is only a partial list of cinnamon’s potential health benefits.
Provides Help for Diabetics
Cinnamon’s ability to reduce blood sugar in diabetics was discovered by accident when researchers included apple pie (which is typically spiced with cinnamon) in a study on the effects of common foods on blood sugar. “We expected it to be bad”, said Richard Anderson of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s human Nutrition Research Center, “but it helped”.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to produce or properly use insulin, the hormone that moves glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream to places throughout the body where it can be used as fuel for muscles, the brain and other body systems. In people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to control blood glucose levels. High blood sugar levels can cause serious damage to the eyes, kidneys and nerves and increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems.
In 2003, Dr. Alam Khan and his colleagues conducted a study using 60 volunteers with type 2 diabetes. The researchers divided the volunteers into two groups of 30. Members of the experimental group received one, three or six grams of cinnamon powder per day for 40 days. Members of the control group received a placebo. After 40 days, blood sugar levels had decreased significantly in the members of all three groups receiving cinnamon. Blood sugar levels did not decrease in the control group.
As it turns out, cinnamon contains a chemical compound that mimics insulin, activating insulin receptors and augmenting insulin’s effects in cells. The compound is a water-soluble polyphenol called MHCP, and its effects can also benefit non-diabetics who have blood sugar problems.
Blood triglyceride levels are partially controlled by insulin, which may explain why volunteers in Dr. Khan’s study also experienced decreased blood levels of triglycerides and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
By the end of the 40-day trial, triglyceride levels had decreased in all the volunteers who took cinnamon. The improvement was greatest in the group that took the most cinnamon (six grams). Although cinnamon lowered total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels, its effects on HDL (“good”) cholesterol were insignificant.
Reports from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that patients who took less than half a teaspoon of cinnamon daily experienced up to a 20 percent decrease in cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Reduces High Blood Pressure
The USDA is currently conducting three ongoing studies on the effects of cinnamon on hypertension. Current evidence of cinnamon’s antihypertensive properties is mostly anecdotal, so people are anxiously awaiting the results of those tests.
Kills Bacteria and Fungi
Traditionally used as a preservative for meat, cinnamon has recently been studied for its antimicrobial properties. It has been proved to prevent the growth of most bacteria and fungi, including the stubborn yeast Candida albicans.
In 1996, researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Brooklyn reported that topical applications of cinnamon oil had improved oral Candida infections (thrush) in three out of five patients in a small preliminary trial. In 1999, Israeli researchers reported that cinnamon inhibits the growth of Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes ulcers. Cinnamon oil has also been used to treat fungal infection such as athlete’s foot.
Because of its powerful antimicrobial properties, scientists are studying cinnamon as a natural food preservative for modern use. In one study, two researchers from Spain added a few drops of cinnamon oil to 100 milliliters of carrot broth and then refrigerated the broth. In broth not treated with cinnamon oil, the pathogenic bacterium Bacillus cereus flourished, whereas cinnamon oil prevented bacterial growth in the broth for up to 60 days.
Relieves Intestinal Distress
Cinnamon has traditionally been used to relieve gas and cramps in cases of flatulent dyspepsia, intestinal colic, diarrhea and nausea, and it has been approved by German health authorities to treat milk gastrointestinal spasms and appetite loss. The tannin components of cinnamon bark are thought to be responsible for cinnamon’s effectiveness as an antidiarrheal agent.
Prevent Colds and the Flu
The Chinese have used cinnamon as a remedy for influenza and colds for centuries, drinking a cinnamon and ginger tea at the onset of a cold. Chinese people would also swallow a small pinch of powdered cinnamon to warm cold hands and feet, especially at night.
Prevent Blood Clots
Platelets are cells in the blood that clump together to stop bleeding at the site of trauma or physical injury. But if the platelets clot too much, they can obstruct blood flow and may cause a heart attack or a stroke. This is especially common in the elderly.
Studies show that cinnamaldehyde, a component of cinnamon, has an effect on platelets and may prevent excessive clotting. Because cinnamaldehyde inhibits the release of arachidonic acid – an inflammatory fatty acid in platelet membranes – cinnamon may also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Boosts Brain Function
In a study on the effects of odor on cognitive processing abilities, participants performed a computerized assessment of cognitive function while exposed to peppermint odor, jasmine odor, cinnamon odor and no odor. Cinnamon was found to improve attention and memory (as was peppermint).
The results of this study have lead researchers to study the effects of cinnamon on cognitive abilities in elderly patients, patients with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and people who suffer from test anxiety.
Cinnamon essential oil is very powerful; use no more than a few drops at a time for a period no longer than several days. Store powdered cinnamon and cinnamon sticks in airtight glass containers in a cool, dry and dark place. Fresh cinnamon has a sweet smell; once that smell is gone, it’s probably time to replace your cinnamon.
Side Effects and Contraindications
Cinnamon has been used in cooking for thousands of years without any discernible harm or side effects. It is not a common allergen, but people with allergies to cinnamon, cassia or Peruvian blossom should avoid it.
Heavy, sustained cinnamon use may cause oral sensitivity, tongue inflammation, skin irritation and increased perspiration. Cinnamon can also irritate the GI tract and increase intestinal activity.
For safety, begin using cinnamon in small amounts, increasing the dose as necessary. Supplemental cinnamon in amounts beyond those normally found in food is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women. As always, consult with a physician before using cinnamon as part of a daily supplement regimen.
The Bottom Line
The incidence of obesity, diabetes, and pre-diabetic metabolic syndrome is growing at record rates in the United States. Fortunately, cinnamon, with its potential to lower blood sugar levels, may provide a natural solution to these problems. In addition, cinnamon may lower blood cholesterol levels, relieve intestinal distress, prevent colds and flu, prevent dangerous blood clots and boost brain function. Cinnamon may not be the newest, most exciting supplement available, but it may be one of the most useful.
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