Is supplementing with cinnamon safe and effective for diabetes? My knee-jerk reaction to this topic is “of course it is.” Why?
It's natural, it's a spice, and its flavor is both strong and delicious. That being said, my reaction comes from decades of extensively reading nutrition research, and a huge body of evidence shows that spices tend to have amazing health benefits.
However, I can be quick to endorse natural foods, so I decided to dig deeper. What’s the proof?
The Ravages Of Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes is multi-faceted, often exhibiting organ impairment over time and increases risk of most other chronic diseases. It would be great if it was just about blood sugar, but it isn’t!
High insulin levels, inflammation, and altered fat metabolism are lingering behind the scenes as well, causing extensive damage.
Cinnamon: Does It Get To The Root?
Enter cinnamon. Could one spice help attack and change the direction of this disease? Many products on the market gear towards cinnamon’s benefits.
People claim it “helps them feel better, reduces blood glucose, and takes away their sugar cravings.”
What's intriguing about cinnamon is that it may help more than just insulin resistance, blood glucose, and other harmful markers like cholesterol; it has positive effects on other less-measured root causes of illness, including digestive issues and inflammation.
Intriguing indeed. But does the science yet support its use enough to start supplementing?
It depends: Read on to learn more about cinnamon and what we know today.
The first important fact about cinnamon is that you need to choose the right type.
A common flaw that I see over and over in research study design is the failure to include type of cinnamon used and descriptions of patients’ diets.
Longer-term studies seem to show more benefit with cinnamon supplementation.
Another important fact: No single food, spice, herb, or drug will ever fix the problems caused by lack of physical activity, excessive junk-food, or other unhealthy habits (such as smoking). Period.
Cinnamon is no stranger to health claims. It has been used as part of treating infections, stomach and lung ailments and more as far back as history can track (1).
The few rich people who could afford it in ancient times even used it for embalming in ancient Egypt because it is a great preservative.
It was highly prized, even more so than gold, and used as gifts for monarchs.
Cinnamon is native to India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh.
Types of Cinnamon
Not one, but multiple types of cinnamon commonly are sold today (2). The most common culinary variety available in the United States is cassia cinnamon.
In research studies, two types are used most often and include Cinnamomum verum (Ceylon) and cassia cinnamon. Ceylon is the best variety to use in supplemental doses.
Ceylon cinnamon, preferred for its safety, is referred to as “true” cinnamon. It also is a bit more expensive.
If you are confused by a label, don’t worry. If it doesn’t say Ceylon, it may not be the type you want. It is probably cassia. Make sure to scroll to the bottom to find out about dangers of cassia cinnamon.
Keep in mind, many of the studies that I will present to you did not specify the type of cinnamon used. Some did use cassia, the more risky kind of cinnamon, and didn’t see harmful effects.
How Might Cinnamon Help Diabetes?
May help improve insulin sensitivity, possibly even for 12 hours after taking it. This is because it may improve insulin signaling in cells (3) (4).
May slow down carbohydrate absorption by inhibiting pancreatic enzyme release. This, in turn, may reduce the blood sugar spike related to carbohydrates (5) (6).
Appears to reduce blood glucose levels, with taking even with as little as 1 gram per day (7).
Regulates genes associated with insulin sensitivity and fat storage (8).
May help fight candida, a type of fungal infection. Diabetes puts people at risk of increased candida infections (9) (10).
Acts as an insulin mimetic, or allows glucose into the cell similarly to insulin (11).
May improve feelings of fullness from food (satiety) with additive benefits of vinegar (12).
What About Cinnamon and Blood Glucose?
Cinnamon may improve glucose levels between 18-29% (13).
Another study showed a more modest 10% improvement in glucose, but a cinnamon extract was used instead of ground cinnamon (14).
Even in healthy, lean men, cinnamon reduced total plasma glucose after an oral glucose tolerance test, as well as improved insulin sensitivity (15).
One study did not find benefit from cinnamon related to blood glucose for postmenopausal women with diabetes, but the study only supplemented for a short duration (6 weeks). Cassia cinnamon was used in this case (16).
A recent study also failed to show any benefit of cinnamon in diabetes patients over an 8 week period (although did approach statistical significance). However, type of cinnamon wasn’t specified in the study and diet was not assessed, which are flaws (17).
A longer term study (16 weeks) found that cinnamon (type not specified) helps many markers and measurements of diabetes and diabetes risk factors, including blood glucose, hemoglobin A1C, waist-to-hip ratio, BMI, total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL and HDL cholesterol when compared to placebo (18).
How Does Cinnamon Affect Inflammation?
Cinnamon (both Ceylon and Cassia) may help improve markers of inflammation (19) (20).
It may also improve muscle soreness in athletes (21).
It even may reduce pain and abnormal menstrual cycles associated with inflammatory prostaglandins (22) (23).
Does It Change Cardiovascular Risk Factors?
A large compilation-type of study called a meta-analysis concluded that cinnamon helps lower triglycerides and total cholesterol, and the magnitude of effect seemed to be related to the duration of taking cinnamon. This study included at least two types of cinnamon, including cassia (24).
Some research additionally finds cassia cinnamon helpful in reducing LDL-cholesterol in addition to triglycerides and total cholesterol (25).
Cinnamon as an Antimicrobial
30 studies have found anti-microbial properties, including anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic effects, related to Ceylon cinnamon (26). These studies are conducted in test tubes and animals, not in humans at this point. However, considering that diabetes increases the risk of dangerous infections, the antimicrobial property of cinnamon could be quite beneficial. More research is needed.
Safety Concerns With Cinnamon
This may sound obvious, but if you are allergic to cinnamon, please avoid it.
This reference has a guide to safe levels of supplementation depending on the variety of cinnamon:
The more expensive variety of cinnamon known as Ceylon cinnamon is the safest variety due to its lowest coumarin content. Coumarin is a natural substance but can be toxic at higher levels of intake.
Ceylon cinnamon has the lowest levels of coumarin with below 190 mg/kg (some samples were below detection levels) (27). Cassia cinnamon contains between 700 mg/kg to upwards of 12,230 mg/kg; it is quite variable depending on the source.
Translation: Ceylon has hardly any coumarin, while cassia cinnamon has variable amounts that may not be safe for all people at higher doses.
The risk is still likely low of taking Cassia cinnamon as demonstrated by numerous clinical studies, but to be safe, choose Ceylon variety.
Dosing of Cinnamon
Most research trials have used supplemental dosing of 1-6 grams per day. Effectiveness appears to be good at lower end of dosing levels.
Cinnamon In Cooking
The problem with cinnamon-rich recipes; they are often loaded with sugar! Look here for a few savory or no-added-sugar cinnamon options. Chef Tip: Cinnamon can replace sugar because of its natural sweetness: use it to sweeten coffee instead of sugar or add it to teas. Add it to recipes to cut back or replace the sugar content. Or just use it to simply increase flavor, since it's awesome.
Try this curry and cinnamon chicken recipe
Mix cinnamon and almond or peanut butter: perfect on apples or carrots, celery etc.
Add to your yogurt, fruit, or smoothie of choice
Add to toast with a sprinkle of stevia
“Sweet” Fruit and Veggie Dip recipe
Add 1- 2 tsp. of cinnamon to oatmeal instead of sugar
Cinnamon-Lemon Chicken recipe
Spicy Broccoli Soup recipe
My knee-jerk reaction was right. Using cinnamon as part of a healthy diet may indeed help with many aspects of diabetes. Add Ceylon cinnamon to your life to enhance both flavor and health!
Keep in mind, however, that cinnamon can't replace the value of an overall healthy lifestyle, so make sure you're still eating well, staying physically active, and taking care of your mental health. Any methods you use to help manage your diabetes will always be most effective when combined with a healthy lifestyle and any medications prescribed by your doctor.
Want to take an online course about blood sugar control & healthy living? Or want to provide one for others? Learn more
Read more from Heidi Moretti