Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum and cinnamon cassia) is one of the commonly used spices in the world.
There are several bioactive compounds in cinnamon, such as cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamate, and cinnamic acid (1).
These compounds have been reported to have a number of health benefits, and it has long been used in traditional medicine to treat chronic diseases, in particular type 2 diabetes.
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What is cinnamon?
Cinnamon is an aromatic spice derived from the bark of several species of Cinnamomum trees. Several different varieties of cinnamon are sold in the US, and they are typically categorized by two different types:
- Ceylon: Also called “true cinnamon,” it’s the most expensive type.
- Cassia: Less expensive and found in most food products containing cinnamon.
Although both types are sold as cinnamon, there are important differences between the two.
Ceylon vs Cassia: Which is better?
Cassia cinnamon can be derived from a few different species of Cinnamomum trees. It’s generally inexpensive and is found in most food products and the spice aisle of your grocery store.
Ceylon cinnamon, on the other hand, is specifically derived from the Cinnamomum verum tree. It is usually more expensive and studies have shown that Ceylon cinnamon contains more antioxidants.
Because it contains more antioxidants, it’s possible that Ceylon cinnamon may provide more health benefits.
The effects of cinnamon on blood sugar levels
Reduces HbA1c & fasting blood sugar
A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of cinnamon supplementation on people diagnosed with metabolic syndrome was carried out for 16 weeks (2).
All the participants were encouraged to follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Half the participants were received 6 grams of cinnamon extract, and the rest were given 6 grams of a placebo.
There was a reduction in HbA1c and fasting blood sugar in the cinnamon group compared to placebo by week 16. There was also a greater reduction in waist circumference and BMI compared to placebo. This may explain the greater reduction in blood sugar.
Lowers post-meal blood sugar
Another study looked at the effects of cinnamyl isobutyrate, which is one of the bioactive compounds in cinnamon, on blood sugar levels and calorie intake (3).
The supplementation group consumed a lower amount of calories during subsequent breakfast, which indicated a reduction in appetite. There was also a reduction in blood glucose after the meal.
Another study showed that 6 grams of cinnamon with rice pudding reduced the rise of blood sugar after carbohydrate intake compared to consuming rice pudding with a placebo.
There was a reduction in gastric emptying, which may explain the lower blood sugar level (4).
Additional health benefits
- Reduces triglycerides
Cinnamon may also the risk of heart disease. A systematic review found strong evidence showing that cinnamon can lower blood triglyceride (fat) levels (5).
High blood triglycerides increase the risk of atherosclerosis which may lead to a heart event (6). Research suggests that cinnamon may reduce the absorption of fat.
- Reduces blood pressure
A randomized control trial has taken place in the UK to examine the effects of 2 g of cinnamon on multiple markers of metabolic health in type II diabetes (7).
Not only was HbA1c reduced, but there were also reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
- Protects against oxidative stress
Cinnamon is rich in antioxidant compounds (8). Antioxidants nullify free radicals, and this may protect against chronic disease. 1 g of cinnamon per day for 12 weeks has shown to reduce oxidative stress in type II diabetes (9).
- May protect against Alzheimer’s disease
Cinnamon’s ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation may also help protect the brain from degeneration.
Test tube studies have shown that cinnamon can inhibit the accumulation of a called amyloid beta (10).
A high level of amyloid beta in the brain is thought to be the trigger of Alzheimer’s disease. However, human clinical trials are required to confirm this benefit.
To conclude, research has consistently demonstrated that 1-6 grams of cinnamon are able to regulate blood sugar and improve metabolic health in type II diabetics.
Caution when using cinnamon
Cassia cinnamon is not only lower in antioxidants, it’s also high in a potentially harmful substance called coumarin, an organic substance found in many plants.
Several studies in rats have shown coumarin can be toxic to the liver, leading to concern that it can cause liver damage in humans as well (24).
Accordingly, the European Food Safety Authority has set the tolerable daily intake for coumarin at 0.045 mg per pound (0.1 mg/kg).
How much cinnamon should you take?
Despite the benefits of cinnamon for lowering blood pressure being well studies, there remains no research as to how much you should consume.
Studies have typically used 1–6 grams per day, either as a cinnamon supplement or powder added to foods.
One study reported that the blood sugar of people taking either 1, 3 or 6 grams daily all decreased by the same amount.
Cinnamon is a powerful spice that has been shown to have many benefits, especially for diabetic patients. As well as lowering blood sugar levels, cinnamon can help manage common diabetes complications, such as insulin sensitivity and high blood pressure.
If you want to take cinnamon supplements or add it to your meals to help lower your blood sugar, it would be wise to use Ceylon instead of Cassia.