If you think cinnamon is simply something to sprinkle on your cookies or cappuccino, think again. The popular spice, once considered more precious than gold, has medicinal value that is making even pharmaceutical companies take notice.
Cinnamon, it turns out, has long been used to cure everything from athlete’s foot to indigestion. Early civilizations recognized its ability to stop bacterial growth. The Egyptians used it in embalming. During the Middle Ages, it was mixed with cloves and warm water, and placed in the sick rooms of victims of the Bubonic Plague.
Recent research indicates that cinnamon can have favorable effects on brain function. Participants in a study chewed cinnamon gum or smelled the sweet spice. Cognitive tests revealed that subjects who used cinnamon had better memory functions and could process information more quickly. Encouraged by these findings, scientists will now conduct studies to see if cinnamon will improve mental skills in the elderly and those prone to anxiety before testing.
That antiseptic power of the spice could also account for a couple of other medical applications for cinnamon. A Japanese study suggests it can not only soothe the stomach, it may even help prevent ulcers. German research claims cinnamon “suppresses completely” the bacteria that causes urinary tract infections and the fungus associated with yeast infections as well.
But few could have predicted its current high profile. Recent headlines about cinnamon are the result of an accidental finding in a Maryland USDA research center. Incredibly, the catalyst was as American as good old apple pie, flavored with -- what else -- cinnamon. Scientists were testing the effects of various foods on blood sugar (glucose) levels. They expected the classic pie to have an adverse effect, but instead they found it actually helped lower blood glucose levels.
The researchers then took their surprising discovery and tested it in a small 60 patient study conducted in Pakistan, reporting in the journal Diabetes Care. All the patients had been treated for type 2, adult onset diabetes for several years and were taking anti-diabetic drugs to increase their insulin output. But they were not yet taking insulin to help process their blood glucose. The subjects were given small doses of cinnamon ranging from as little as a quarter teaspoon to less than 2 teaspoons a day for 40 days.
The results: Not only did the cinnamon reduce their blood sugar levels and increase their natural production of insulin, it lowered their blood cholesterol as well. Even 20 days after the cinnamon treatment had ended, the patients continued to see beneficial effects.
This is good news for the more than 50 million Americans who suffer from diabetes and/or heart disease. All the patients in the study showed better glucose metabolism and natural insulin production when they took cinnamon capsules that delivered less than two teaspoons a day of the spice.
Specifically, their blood cholesterol levels were lowered in the range of 10 to 26 percent, affecting overall cholesterol levels and reducing the LDL (known as the “bad” cholesterol) but not reducing levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol.
This is also potentially good news for the many millions more of us who suffer from insulin resistance, sometimes known as “prediabetes,” or the “Metabolic Syndrome.” Lowering blood sugar levels, and improving cholesterol ratios can help reverse prediabetes and Metabolic Syndrome, and in fact may actually prevent the worsening of health to full diabetes.
In addition, addressing elevated blood sugar levels and helping to combat insulin resistance may be a successful factor in helping you lose weight. The fat cells in your abdomen are particularly sensitive to high insulin levels, and are very effective at storing energy – far more so that fat cells you’d find in other areas such as the lower body (i.e. hips, rear end, thighs). Because abdominal fat cells are so close to your digestive organs, and there is an extensive network of blood vessels circulating in the abdominal area, it’s even easier for fat cells to store excess glucose there. So tactics that help to reduce
If you suffer from elevated cholesterol or diabetes you will want to consult your physician before beginning to use cinnamon in large quantities. And if you are already taking a diabetes medication, you should talk to your physician before trying cinnamon for medicinal uses, because cinnamon may have an impact on your blood sugar.
Some people prefer to use cinnamon as a supplement, and this is certainly a safe and effective way to incorporate cinnamon into your diet. Be sure you pick a quality supplement.
Others would rather get their ½ to 2 teaspoons of cinnamon a day using the spice in their foods. The cinnamon you can pick up off any grocery shelf comes from the bark of the evergreen cinnamon tree, and was probably grown in China. You’ll find it in stick or ground form at most markets and health food stores.
For patients who want to try cinnamon, there are many tasty and simple ways you can enjoy this aromatic spice.
Cinnamon also combines very favorably with many baked fruits like peaches and apples as well as fruit juices and ciders.
- Steep your favorite herbal tea with a cinnamon stick adds flavor to the tea
- Add one-half teaspoon of cinnamon to unsweetened applesauce
- Add cinnamon to your breakfast cereal or oatmeal
- Sprinkle on toast
- Adding cinnamon to butter or cream cheese
- Sprinkle cinnamon on your morning cup of coffee, cocoa or cappuccino
For more ideas, check out this wonderful selection of Cinnamon Recipes from About’s Homecooking Site.
To get the most out of the cinnamon you add to your recipes, make sure it is fresh. The best test is to open the jar in your kitchen and sniff. If the smell is strong and sweet your cinnamon is fresh. If the aroma is weak or non-existent, it’s time to throw it away and restock your spice rack. To keep cinnamon, seal the container tightly and store it away from the light.
After reading about cinnamon, I decided to try it, and began adding cinnamon to my foods. One of my favorite treats is the Sugar Free, Fat-Free General Foods International Coffee Suisse Mocha flavor, with a ½ teaspoon of cinnamon! Cinnamon is also great on the "no-sugar-added" applesauce. But I also decided to try a supplement, and chose the quality Planetary Formulas brand, “Cinnamon Extract.”
I have found after regular use of the Planetary Formula’s Cinnamon Extract is that it definitely has an effect on blood sugar. How can I tell? The first effect is seen in my abdominal area, and regular use of cinnamon helped shrink my abdomen slightly, and also reduced my appetite somewhat when taken right after eating. I’ll report back again in a few months.
For More Information
How to Order Cinnamon
Fran Murphy contributed to this article.
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