Dr. Julian Whitaker
From cinnamon rolls and coffee cake to chewing gum and spicy red-hot candies, cinnamon’s distinctive taste and odor make it a popular flavoring. Yet, there’s more to this common spice than you may realize. Cinnamon also helps lower blood sugar. A Remarkable Study I first learned about cinnamon’s ability to reduce blood sugar back in 2003, when a clinical trial was published in Diabetes Care. Patients with type 2 diabetes were randomly divided into groups and given capsules containing 1,000, 3,000, or 6,000 mg of cinnamon (Cinnamomom cassia) or a placebo to take daily for 40 days. When they were retested, the average fasting glucose level in the groups taking cinnamon declined by 18–29%. Interestingly, the lower dose of cinnamon was as effective as the higher dose. There were also notable improvements in triglycerides and total/LDL cholesterol. No significant changes were reported in the placebo group. Cinnamon supplements were unavailable at that time, so I began advising my patients with diabetes to add one-half to one teaspoon (about 1,300–2,600 mg) of ground cinnamon daily to their tea, coffee, yogurt, oatmeal, or other food. (I specifically ruled out cinnamon rolls and coffee cake.) I can’t quantify the effects of cinnamon because these patients were also on a therapeutic diet, exercise, and supplement program. However, they were getting excellent results, and the research was compelling. So, when cinnamon supplements became available, I made them a standard part of my diabetes treatment program. How Cinnamon Lowers Blood Sugar Since then, thousands of scientific papers have been published on cinnamon, including nearly 200 articles on its effects on blood sugar. Not all of the clinical trials have replicated earlier findings—some found significant reductions in blood sugar and other markers of diabetes while others showed little effect. Nevertheless, the evidence tilts in favor of cinnamon’s role in managing blood sugar. Cinnamon contains a number of resinous compounds and essential oils. Among the best studied are cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, which support normal blood sugar metabolism in the following ways:
Improve insulin sensitivity: Cinnamon makes your cells more responsive to insulin—the hormone secreted by the pancreas that enables glucose to move from the blood into the cells, where it is used to produce energy. It increases insulin sensitivity by improving the responsiveness of insulin receptors on the cells as well as the activity of proteins that transport glucose into the cells.
Slow glucose release: Cinnamon inhibits enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract that convert starches into glucose. Slowing the release of glucose into the bloodstream blunts the spike in blood sugar that typically occurs after eating—and is particularly problematic in patients with diabetes.
May Also Help Prevent Diabetic Complications Research suggests that cinnamon may also help protect against diabetic complications. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that guard against oxidative stress and chronic inflammation—underlying factors in most degenerative disorders, including diabetes-related damage to the nerves, kidneys, eyes, and arteries. Lab studies suggest that cinnamon also inhibits the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Formed when sugar molecules bind to proteins and fats in a process called glycation, AGEs interfere with normal cellular function. Chronically elevated blood sugar accelerates glycation, which leads to an accumulation of AGEs and contributes to the development of diabetic complications. Heart disease is the most serious complication of diabetes. According to a 2021 meta-analysis, cinnamon supplementation improves several cardiovascular risk factors in patients with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This review of 35 clinical trials concluded that supplemental cinnamon was associated with meaningful reductions in total/LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, waist circumference, and blood sugar. Another recent meta-analysis confirmed benefits for reducing waist circumference, BMI, and other markers of obesity. Common Questions About Cinnamon As you delve into cinnamon, you will discover that there are several types, varying dosage recommendations, and conflicting information regarding safety. I’ll close by addressing these important concerns. What type of cinnamon is best for lowering blood sugar? Most of the cinnamon sold in grocery stores and used in cooking is Cinnamomom cassia. It is also the type used in much of the research, including the initial study that kicked off interest in cinnamon and blood sugar. The other main type is Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), sometimes referred to as “true” cinnamon. These varieties have more similarities than differences, and both have been shown to improve blood sugar. Because Cinnamomom cassia is more common in the United States—in powdered form and in supplements—and is considerably less expensive, it is the type I recommend for blood sugar concerns. Can you just add cinnamon to your food? Adding cinnamon to your food is perfectly acceptable. The 2003 study showing dramatic reductions in blood sugar simply used capsules containing ground cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia). Stirring cinnamon into your tea or adding ground cinnamon to your coffee before brewing is another easy option. The suggested dose of powdered cinnamon is one-half teaspoon (1,300 mg) per day. How much cinnamon do you need to help blood sugar? The bulk of the studies used 1,000–2,000 mg per day. Note that some cinnamon supplements contain concentrated extracts. For example, the extract I recommend is a 10:1 concentration with a suggested daily dose of 200 mg—the equivalent of 2,000 mg per day. Select a product from a reputable manufacturer and use as directed. How long does it take cinnamon to lower blood sugar? In most of the clinical trials, improvements were noted within 40 days. Is cinnamon safe? Cinnamon contains a natural compound called coumarin that can be toxic to the liver when consumed in high doses. One of Ceylon cinnamon’s claims to fame is that it has less coumarin. This is true, but the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that Cinnamomum cassia is safe when used in amounts commonly used in foods or as a flavoring agent. “In most cases, consuming cassia cinnamon doesn’t provide enough coumarin to cause significant problems.” To err on the side of caution, do not exceed the recommended dose, and avoid cinnamon supplements if you have liver disease, are pregnant, or are allergic to cinnamon.