Blood sugar and spice

Last week, I told you about the benefits of ginger. And today, we’ll look at another holiday favorite–cinnamon.

We have known for a long time that cinnamon helps lower blood sugar. But we don’t have actual clinical protocols for managing blood sugar and diabetes with cinnamon. In other words, we don’t have precise schedules, doses, forms, and regimens for administering cinnamon as a blood sugar remedy, as has been done for insulin and Metformin.

So, even though we know cinnamon works to control high blood sugar, we can’t just wing it and guess how much cinnamon a diabetic patient needs, in what form, over how long a time period. It’s just too dangerous.

Of course, the government agency charged with doing this kind of research (NCCAM) claims no evidence exists for using natural approaches to managing diabetes. So, with that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder things are where they stand now.

But in the meantime, new research on cinnamon continues to come in.

Cinnamon (Cinnamonium verum, species C. zeylanicum)–known as Ceylon or “true” cinnamon–has been used traditionally for GI problems and respiratory infections. Clinical trials using various types of cinnamon also show its potential for lowering blood sugar. But studies are conflicting as to its effectiveness.

Recently, researchers published the results of a new, three-part study on cinnamon extract. They found that it reduces blood sugar following a meal. And that finding is especially important. Because controlling high blood sugar after eating is critical to controlling diabetes and the vascular complications associated with the disease.

In the first part of the study, the cinnamon extract inhibited amylase enzyme activity in test tubes. Amylase is the pancreatic enzyme that breaks down starches into sugars. So, in this part of the study, they discovered cinnamon essentially acts as a “starch blocker.”

In the second part of the study, the researchers placed lab animals into groups. Then, they tested how the animals responded to cinnamon following a high-starch meal. They observed a strong dose-response effect. In other words, as they increased the doses of cinnamon, the animals’ blood sugar measurements decreased over time after eating the high-starch meal. Cinnamon decreased both blood sugar and insulin levels in doses of 12.5 mg/kg body weight and above.

In the third and final part of the study, researchers conducted a clinical trial on 22 healthy subjects ages 18 to 45 years. The researchers divided the participants into two groups. One group received a cinnamon extract and the other group received a placebo. Next, participants ate 103 grams of white bread and the researchers measured their blood sugar levels.

Then, the subjects “crossed-over” for a second observation so they could receive the opposite treatment of cinnamon or placebo. Thus, each subject acted as his or her own control.

The researchers found eating cinnamon lowered the participants’ blood sugar levels. But they did not observe any effect on insulin levels. Thus, the effect was independent of insulin and likely related to the “starch-blocking” activity shown in the lab.

The key to managing blood sugar is to slow how fast your body absorbs sugar into the blood. It’s also good to increase sugar’s uptake into muscle and other tissues where it is literally “burned.”

Clearly, cinnamon slows sugar absorption into the blood after a meal by slowing the breakdown of starches. (Other ingredients like rooibos increase the uptake of sugar from the blood into the muscles.)

If you already have Type II diabetes, your doctor may not be ready to prescribe cinnamon for blood sugar control, since we don’t have accepted the clinical protocols I mentioned earlier.

Fortunately, the diabetes drug Metformin derives from French lilac, an ancient herbal remedy. If your doctor tries to put you on any other drug besides Metformin, make sure to ask him why.

And in the meantime, there’s no reason not to spice up your hot coffee or cocoa with some cinnamon as well.


  1. “Acute effect of Ceylon cinnamon extract on postprandial glycemia: alpha-amylase inhibition, starch tolerance test in rats, and randomized crossover clinical trial in healthy volunteers,” BMC Complement. Altern. Med. September 23, 2014; 14: 351