Cinnamon has been used for thousands of years as a spice and medicine. It’s mentioned in the Bible as an ingredient in the oils used to anoint Moses, and as a token of friendship. Mourners burned cinnamon on funeral pyres in ancient Rome in order to cover up the smell of burning flesh.
In ancient Egypt, cinnamon was used as a medicine and an embalming agent, and at times it was even considered more precious than gold. It was also popular in China, and is mentioned in one of the earliest books on Chinese botanical medicine. 1
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Today cinnamon is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine (traditional Indian medicine) to treat diabetes in India. And recently Richard Anderson and his team at the US Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, discovered the scientific evidence that demonstrates how cinnamon serves as an important antioxidant, and is beneficial in the prevention and control of glucose intolerance and diabetes. 2
How does cinnamon work?
Data from the Agricultural Research Unit in Maryland was first published in the New Scientist in August 2000. The researchers found that cinnamon triggered the ability of fat cells in diabetic individuals to respond to insulin, and it also enhanced the removal of glucose.
Cinnamon contains a water-soluble polyphenol compound called MHCP (methylhydroxy chalcone polymer), which is partly responsible for its health benefits. In unpublished test tube experiments, researchers found that MHCP mimics insulin, activates its receptor, and works synergistically with insulin in cells. When mice were given MHCP, their glucose levels fell dramatically. 3
Then, to see how it would work on humans, Alam Khan, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Anderson’s lab, organized a study in Pakistan. Volunteers with type II diabetes were given one, three, or six grams of cinnamon powder a day in capsules after meals.
All responded within weeks, with blood sugar levels that were on average 20% lower than a control group. Some even achieved normal blood sugar levels. Blood sugar started creeping up again after the diabetics stopped taking cinnamon.
“The researchers found that cinnamon triggered the ability of fat cells in diabetic individuals to respond to insulin, and it also enhanced the removal of glucose.”
Cinnamon has additional benefits. It also lowered blood levels of fats and “bad” cholesterol, which are also partly controlled by insulin. And in test tube experiments, it neutralized free radicals which are elevated in diabetics. 4
Anderson’s team found that cinnamon contains antioxidants called polyphenols that boost levels of three key proteins. Those proteins are important in insulin signaling, glucose transport, and inflammatory response. In another study, the scientists investigated cinnamon’s chemistry and found that proanthocyanidin—a type of polyphenol—may have insulin-like properties. 2
“The researchers concluded that cinnamon might be a valuable candidate for a new anti-diabetic drug. 5”
Additionally, a group at the University of Calgary, Canada, found that phenolic acids, which are a major component of cinnamon extract, lowers blood glucose levels by enhancing glucose transport. The researchers concluded that cinnamon might be a valuable candidate for a new anti-diabetic drug. 5
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Corn, Charles. The Scents of Eden: A Narrative of the Spice Trade (New York: Kodansha International, 1998), p. 202.
Anderson RA, Broadhurst CL, Polansky MM, Schmidt WF, Khan A, Flanagan VP, Schoene NW, Graves DJ. Isolation and characterization of polyphenol type-A polymers from cinnamon with insulin-like biological activity. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jan 14;52(1):65-70.
Cinnamon spice produces healthier blood, Nov. 24, 2003, Newscientist.com.
Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2003 Dec;26(12):3215-8.
Kim W, Khil LY, Clark R, Bok SH, Kim EE, Lee S, Jun HS, Yoon JW. Naphthalenemethyl ester derivative of dihydroxyhydrocinnamic acid, a component of cinnamon, increases glucose disposal by enhancing translocation of glucose transporter 4. Diabetologia. 2006 Oct;49(10):2437-48. Epub 2006 Aug 9.
Subash Babu P, Prabuseenivasan S, Ignacimuthu S. Cinnamaldehyde-A potential antidiabetic agent. Phytomedicine. 2007 Jan;14(1):15-22. Epub 2006 Nov 30.
Kannappan S, Jayaraman T, Rajasekar P, Ravichandran MK, Anuradha CV. Cinnamon bark extract improves glucose metabolism and lipid profile in the fructose-fed rat. Singapore Med J. 2006 Oct;47(10):858-63.
Kim SH, Hyun SH, Choung SY. Anti-diabetic effect of cinnamon extract on blood glucose in db/db mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Mar 8;104(1-2):119-23. Epub 2005 Oct 5.
Prabuseenivasan S, Jayakumar M, Ignacimuthu S. In vitro antibacterial activity of some plant essential oils. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2006 Nov 30;6:39.
Quale JM, Landman D, Zaman MM, Burney S, Sathe SS. In vitro activity of Cinnamomum zeylanicum against azole resistant and sensitive Candida species and a pilot study of cinnamon for oral candidiasis. Am J Chin Med. 1996;24(2):1039.
Ooi LS, Li Y, Kam SL, Wang H, Wong EY, Ooi VE. Antimicrobial activities of cinnamon oil and cinnamaldehyde from the Chinese medicinal herb Cinnamomum cassia Blume. Am J Chin Med. 2006;34(3):511-22.
McCarty MF Toward prevention of Alzheimers disease--potential nutraceutical strategies for suppressing the production of amyloid beta peptides . Med Hypotheses. 2006;67(4):682-97. Epub 2006 Jul 7.
Preuss HG, Echard B, Polansky MM, Anderson R. Whole cinnamon and aqueous extracts ameliorate sucrose-induced blood pressure elevations in spontaneously hypertensive rats . J Am Coll Nutr. 2006 Apr;25(2):144-50.