Holiday spice tames blood sugar

Here’s some great holiday diet advice: Eat more cinnamon. Especially if you’re prone to blood sugar problems. Put it on your steel-cut oats. Sprinkle it in your coffee. Use it wherever and whenever you can…because the science on cinnamon looks stronger than ever.

In fact, U.S. researchers recently examined 10 previously published scientific studies. They found that Type II diabetics who took cinnamon supplements significantly improved their blood sugar levels. And it worked even better than a popular, yet dangerous, Type II diabetes drug.

I’ll tell you all about that important analysis in moment. But first, some background on cinnamon.

Cinnamon comes from the dried bark of the Cinnamomum tree. When the bark dries, it curls up into a tight scroll-like stick. Today, we use cinnamon sticks or ground cinnamon to add flavor to hot beverages and baked goods.

But cinnamon first became a coveted spice thousands of years ago…

Arabs began to use cinnamon as early as 2,000 B.C. Then, in the Middle Ages, they brought it to Europe, although in limited supply. It became a symbol of wealth, as it was so precious and difficult to come by.

Cassia cinnamon grew primarily on the hillsides of an isolated volcanic island in the storied Spice Islands. And Portuguese explorers discovered another variety in Ceylon off the southeast coast of India (present-day Sri-Lanka).

To this day, these are the two main types of commercial cinnamon: ceylon and cassia. Ceylon cinnamon is more expensive. It has a milder, sweeter flavor. And most of the world’s supply of this variety still comes from Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, you most often find cassia cinnamon in grocery stores. It has a stronger smell and flavor. Plus, it’s less expensive. In addition, most scientific studies use this form, also known as cinnamomum aromaticum (C. cassia).

Indeed, the latest review, published in the Annals of Family Medicine, looked mainly at studies that used the c. cassia form of cinnamon.

The researchers noted that older studies showed conflicting results when it came to cinnamon and blood sugar control. But as often happens, new clinical research came along. So, the researchers felt it was a good time to review all of the most recent data.

Ten new studies met their criteria for inclusion in the analysis. These studies measured blood levels of glucose, hemoglobin A1C (the measure of long-term blood glucose levels), cholesterol, and triglycerides.

In these studies, patients took 120 mg to 6 grams per day of cinnamon supplements. In seven of the 10 studies, subjects took their cinnamon supplements with meals. In the other three, subjects took them either before or after meals.

Overall, the researchers found that men and women who took cinnamon supplements significantly reduced their fasting blood glucose–by an average of 24.6 mg/dL. That’s about a 25 percent reduction. In addition, subjects reduced their cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

The researchers compared these findings to men and women who took Januvia (sitagliptin), a popular and potentially dangerous new diabetes drug. They found that people who took cinnamon reduced their fasting blood glucose more than those who took Januvia. But unlike cinnamon, Januvia has many dangerous side effects. Including life-threatening pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas.

The researchers also compared cinnamon to the drug Metformin.

They found that diabetic patients who took Metformin reduced their blood glucose of 58 mg/dL. That’s about a 50 percent decrease.

I often report on the benefits of taking Metformin if you have Type II diabetes. It’s a safe and effective drug for lowering blood sugar. It even lowers your risk of developing all the complications of diabetes.

Plus, Metformin derives from French lilac, an ancient herbal remedy. And, best of all, it has only one major “side effect”: It lowers your risk of other chronic diseases, including deadly pancreatic cancer.

I’m certainly glad to see new research coming out that shows the benefits of taking cinnamon to control blood sugar. However, if you have Type II diabetes, I would still use extra caution. And always work with a qualified physician.

In fact, I don’t recommend going it on your own with any natural supplements if you have Type II diabetes. We simply don’t have clear clinical protocols for natural supplements. That means, we don’t have individualized dosing recommendations. So, for example, if your blood sugar is 150 mg/dL, we don’t yet know how much cinnamon you should take, or how often, to keep your blood sugar into an optimal range.

These formal clinical protocols for cinnamon are still probably a long way off. So, until we know more, I recommend using cinnamon as a wonderful, healthy spice that can help support your official treatment regimen. It can’t hurt your blood sugar. And it will probably only help. But don’t count on it as your only “treatment.” And be sure to work closely with a doctor if you have diabetes.


1.    Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis,” Ann Fam Med. 2013;11(5):452-459