Cinnamon: An Ancient Spice for Modern Sugar Control
Supporting Healthy Blood Sugar Levels - Herbally
The introduction of refined sugars into the modern diet has had tremendous negative health consequences on world health. For example, diabetes, especially insulin-independent diabetes (Type 2), is growing rapidly in the United States, particularly among children. This type is partly due to the inability of insulin to effectively transport sugar to receptor sites and into cells, where the sugar can be metabolized. Instead of being "burned up," sugar builds in the blood, creating a potentially serious health problem. This inefficiency can occur for a number of reasons, including: insufficient insulin production due to pancreas dysfunction (though many Type 2 diabetics produce excess insulin); the inability of insulin to carry sugar to receptor sites; a defect in the insulin; or a defect in the receptor that does not allow for the sugar to be transported through the cell membrane.
Even if one does not have diabetes, it is important to maintain healthy blood sugar levels through proper diet, exercise, and weight management. This is especially important in children who were recently found to obtain 14% of their daily calories from sweet drinks (sodas), overtaking white bread as the primary source of total daily caloric intake.
Regardless of the reason, a number of botanicals, in addition to key lifestyle recommendations, have been shown in modern research to support healthy blood sugar levels by enhance sugar metabolization. In recent years, the common spice cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum syn. C. cassia*) is one botanical that has been shown to have a positive effect on potentiating the effects of insulin.
* The study referred to the material used as Cinnamomum cassia. The officially accepted botanical nomenclature has changed and is now Cinnamomum aromaticum.
Ancient Spices for Modern Health
Spices have been used historically to increase metabolism, raise body heat (thermogenesis), improve digestion and assimilation, and potentiate the effects of other substances. For this reason, in many herbal traditions, small amounts of hot pungent spices were added to many traditional compounds. Regarding sugar metabolization, a study by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) looked at the potential effects of 49 spices on insulin function (Broadhurst et al. 2000). These researchers found that cinnamon was the most bioactive in directly stimulating cellular glucose metabolism, i.e. the ability of cells to utilize sugar. The same researchers followed up with constituent studies and determined that it was water-soluble compounds in the extract that had this insulin-potentiating effect. This was followed by a clinical trial (60 subjects), also with involvement of the USDA, on the effects of cinnamon for potentiating insulin. The equivalent of 1, 3, and 6 grams (g) of cinnamon powder (approximately 1/4 to 1.5 teaspoons) reduced blood glucose levels 18-29% in 40 days (Khan et al. 2003).
There was a significant increase in efficacy between the 1 and 3 g doses, but an insignificant increase between the 3 and 6 g doses. One mechanism of action that has been postulated is that cinnamon increases the activity of PI-3 kinase, an enzyme that is critical in regulating the ability of glucose to be transported into the cell, where it can be utilized as energy. In addition to its ability to potentiate insulin, the cinnamon also supported healthy triglyceride and cholesterol levels, both important health benefits in general.
There is an additional benefit of using cinnamon for many Americans; like many spices it is a potent thermogenic agent. This means it can be used as a healthy adjunct to a weight loss program that includes dietary modification and proper exercise. The excessive consumption of simple sugars in conjunction with poor diet and sedentary lifestyles can cause unhealthy blood sugar patterns that can lead to overeating and resistance to insulin. Anything that helps support healthy blood sugar levels while providing thermogenic support can have long-lasting health benefits.
There have been a number of popular articles on the recent studies. This has led some to ask if crude cinnamon powder can be used with the same effect and safety. This has not been tested. As with all spices, cinnamon is rich in essential oils. Essential oils have beneficial effects, but the insulin-potentiating effect was found to occur in the water extract. This would suggest that many of the oil-soluble compounds were lost in the processing. Also, essential oils can be stimulating and irritating, one of the reasons they are generally used in small amounts as flavoring agents. Therefore, it would be best to look for products that contain the water extract to ensure you are delivering the preparation that most closely reflects the preparation us
Weight Loss & Lean Muscle Mass - An Important Key to Increased Insulin Sensitivity
Maintaining healthy weight and increasing lean body mass are key components in the supporting healthy blood sugar levels. Recently it was reported that only two days of inactivity resulted in a decreased level of insulin sensitivity. Therefore, supporting healthy blood sugar levels is extremely important for those wanting to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In obesity, or in those with a significantly higher percentage of body fat over lean muscle (body mass index greater than 25), it is very difficult for insulin to do its job effectively. The reason is quite simple: fat cells can prevent insulin from actually reaching insulin receptor sites; the fat physically blocks the receptor, and the sugar that should have been burned off through cellular function remains in the blood. It is important to know that, in such cases, there is often nothing at all wrong with the pancreas (the insulin-producing organ), the insulin, or the receptor sites. The fat simply prevents insulin and sugar from reaching their target. In many cases, people are over-producing insulin in an attempt to get more sugar to the receptor sites. After awhile, the pancreas can become exhausted and no longer produce adequate amounts of insulin. Therefore, a primary therapy for supporting healthy blood sugar levels is proper weight management through diet and exercise.
Broadhurst CL, Polansky MM, Anderson RA. 2000. Insulin-like biological activity of culinary and medicinal plant extracts in vitro. J Agric Food Chem. 48(3):849-852.
Khan A, Safdar M, Khan M, Khan K, Anderson R. 2003. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 26(12): 3215-3218.
Roy Upton is trained in Western and traditional Chinese herbalism, and has been a professional herbalist for 18 years. He is past president and current vice-president of the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) and is also executive director and editor of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia®, an organization dedicated to the development of authoritative monographs on botanicals used in supplements and medicines. Roy is general manager of Planetary Formulas and a member of the Standards Committee of the American Herbal Products Association. He is the author of several books, including St. John?s Wort and Echinacea in the Keats Publishing Good Herb Series and co-author of the Botanical Safety Handbook, published by CRC Press. Roy lectures and writes extensively.
Disclaimer: The above article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat a particular illness. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of a holistically competent licensed professional health care provider. The information in this article has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.