Four Health Benefits of Cinnamon – One Common Disease
Cinnamon is so delicious and comforting that it might seem strange to consider it a medicine. But cinnamon can’t fool us with its intoxicating aroma and sweet, spicy taste that Grandma loved.
Within cinnamon are a world of volatile oils and phenols, which act on different sites in your body to improve health. And one thing that science agrees on is that cinnamon promotes healthy blood sugar control. In fact, research reveals four distinct ways that cinnamon works to prevent (and even treat) diabetes:
- Scavenges free radicals
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Acts like insulin
- Blocks carbohydrates
In a recent study of 60 individuals diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, researchers found that patients who were given as little as one gram of cinnamon daily (about half a teaspoon) experienced an 18 – 29% decrease in their blood sugar levels.
And according to research, cinnamon acts in a “dose dependent” manner… in other words, the more you take (to a degree, of course) the greater the activity. And it’s delicious, so what better reason could there be?
Health Benefits Of Cinnamon
The spice we know as cinnamon comes from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum Tree. This tree is actually from the same family that gives us avocados, bay leaves and camphor! These trees are all well known for their fragrant culinary and medicinal properties.
However, not all types of cinnamon are equal in terms of their health advantages. They each have unique qualities. Some of the active properties in this plant include cinnamtanins, cinnamylacetate, cinnamylalcohol and cinnamaldehyde (the oil that gives cinnamon its distinctive aroma and flavor).
Cinnamon: The Spicy Scavenger of Free Radicals
Cinnamon is a potent antioxidant. Out of all foods, it ranks among the top ten with a score of 131,000 on the ORAC scale.
It has been shown to fight against advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which are strong contributors to chronic illness. AGE’s are the by-product of a chemical reaction between sugars and fats or protein. This is actually a normal part of your metabolism. But the formation of these damaging compounds rapidly accelerates when blood sugar levels increase.
These compounds are also produced when certain foods are cooked at high temperatures - especially meats marinated with sugar and then chargrilled as well as foods that are processed to add browning or caramelization.
But you can fight AGE’s with cinnamon…
In a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers found that cinnamon inhibited the formation of AGEs. Cinnamon also shows a scavenging effect on one particularly nasty type of AGE – methylglyoxal.1
So, eat a daily dose of cinnamon to fight AGEs – especially if you have metabolic or health concerns related to blood sugar.
Cinnamon for Improved Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance is among the first warning signs on the road to diabetes. Insulin helps to shuttle glucose inside our cells. But if you are insulin resistant, your cells can’t ‘see’ it. Cinnamon increases enzyme activity in the insulin signaling pathway. In other words, it helps your cells to recognize insulin again.
From a review posted in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.
“… when compared to [other] herbs, spices, and medicinal extracts, aqueous cinnamon extracts (CE) potentiated insulin activity more than 20-fold, higher than any other compound tested at comparable dilutions.”2
Yet another great reason to go heavy-handed on this spice in your cooking.
Cinnamon… Acts Just Like Insulin?
Not only does cinnamon help your body to recognize insulin, it also acts like insulin! This is the result of a phytochemical called cinnamtannin B1 (cb1). Research shows that cb1 binds to insulin receptors and activates a process called phosphorylation. This encourages glucose uptake (thus helping to reduce blood sugar).
Researchers in Malaysia isolated cb1 and added it to 3T3-L1 fat cells. Surprisingly, the cells treated with cb1 were higher in activity than those treated with insulin itself. Cb1 even outperformed both mixed together.3
Cinnamon: The Natural ‘Carb Blocker’
Cinnamon is rich in active compounds which help decrease the amount of carbs digested and absorbed by the gut. These include tannins, flavonoids, terpenoids, anthraquinones and glycosides.
Research published in 2011 in Nutrition and Metabolism put cinnamon to the test. The scientists found that cinnamon inhibited the digestive enzymes responsible for breaking starches into smaller units.
The result of this would be a lower blood glucose reading after a meal.4
Another study conducted by Thai researchers found various species acted on different enzymes. One species of cinnamon targeted maltase (the enzyme that breaks down maltose). Another inhibited amylase and sucrase.5
Selecting the Right Cinnamon
When selecting cinnamon use organic Ceylon instead of Cassia.
Most cinnamon found in supermarkets is Cassia. This type of cinnamon contains significant amounts of the anti-nutrient, coumarin, which can be harmful in high doses. If you are using Cassia, use less and not too often.
Experience for yourself the many health benefits of cinnamon. Mix it into broths, soups and marinades to boost flavor, balance blood sugar, and ward off age-promoting compounds.
Cinnamon is best consumed alongside a healthy ancestral diet. But here are a few sweeter ideas for you.
- Poached pear with cinnamon, erythritol and a little coconut cream
- Make a protein packed smoothie! Add half a teaspoon of cinnamon to the mix and antioxidants like cacao, turmeric and ground ginger.
- Cinnamon Paleo pancakes! (Go easy on the browning).
- Soak a cinnamon stick in a cup of tea before drinking
- Make a ‘cinnamon sugar’. Combine equal parts: erythritol and cinnamon. Sprinkle on top of Paleo breakfast granola orlow-glycemic organic fruit like berries and apples.
- Add a cinnamon twist to your morning Joe. Simply add to your freshly ground java beans, then brew as usual.
- Slow roast your favorite grass-fed beef or lamb and pair with an Indian- inspired chutney or yogurt-based sauce spiked with cinnamon, turmeric and coriander.
And don’t forget, cinnamon is a warming spice! It is a great addition to hearty winter foods, like curries, chilis and stews. Make it a goal to include cinnamon daily for all its wonderful health benefits. Especially those for diabetes and healthy sugar metabolism!
Kelley Herring is the author of the new book Better Breads – which includes more information you need to know about why it is so important to avoid wheat and grains in your diet, plus how to use healthy replacements for these foods to create all the breads you love… without the gluten, carbs and health-harming effects. Click here to learn more about Better Breads…
- Peng X, Ma J, Chao J, et al. Beneficial effects of cinnamon proanthocyanidins on the formation of specific advanced glycation end products and methylglyoxal-induced impairment on glucose consumption. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 2010;58(11):6692-6696
- Bolin Q, Panickar KS, Anderson RA. Cinnamon: Potential Role in the Prevention of Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, and Type 2 Diabetes. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology. 2010;4(3):685-693.
- Taher M, Majid FAA, Sarmidi MR. A proanthocyanidin from cinnamomum zeylanicum stimulates phosphorylation of insulin receptor in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes. Jurnal Teknologi. 2006;44(F):53-68.
- Mohamed Sham Shihabudeen H, Hansi Priscilla D, Thirumurugan K. Cinnamon extract inhibits alpha-glucosidase activity and dampens postprandial glucose excursion in diabetic rats. Nutrition and Metabolism. 2011;8(1):46.
- Adisakwattana S, Lerdsuwankij O, Poputtachai U, Minipun A, Suparpprom C. Inhibitory activity of cinnamon bark species and their combination effect with acarbose against intestinal alpha-glucosidase and pancreatic alpha-amylase. Plant Foods For Human Nutrition. 2011;66(2):143-148.