Cinnamon can no longer be considered a safe and effective treatment for diabetes.
The spice nutmeg may have a relatively narrow margin of safety.
The use of cinnamon to help treat diabetes remains controversial. We know that cinnamon is so good at controlling one's blood sugar that you can cheat on a diabetes test by consuming 2 teaspoons of cinnamon the night before your glucose tolerance test. Basically they make you drink some sugar water and see how well your body can keep your blood sugar levels under control, and if you eat those two teaspoons right when the test starts or 12 hours before you can significantly blunt the spike. A half teaspoon doesn't seem to be enough… but about a teaspoon a day appears to make a significant difference. A review of the best studies done to date found that the intake of cinnamon by type 2 diabetics or prediabetics does lower their blood glucose significantly. So what's the controversy? Well, as I described before, cassia cinnamon, also known as chinese cinnamon, or probably what you're getting at the store if it just says cinnamon contains a compound called coumarin which may be toxic to the liver in high enough doses. Originally, the concern was mainly for kids during Christmas-time, where they might get an above average exposure, but more recently some researchers suggest that kids just sprinkling some cassia cinnamon on their oatmeal a few times a week might exceed the recommended safety limit. The bold values here are above the recommended upper limit. For little kids, just a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon a few times a week may be too much, and if they're eating that cinnamon sprinkled oatmeal more like every day even adults can bump up against the limit. So a teaspoon a day of cassia cinnamon might be too much for anyone, but no problem, just switch from cassia cinnamon to Ceylon cinnamon and you can get the benefits without the potential risks, right? Without the risks, yes, but we're not sure about the benefits. Nearly all of the studies showing blood sugar benefits of cinnamon have been done on cassia. We've just assumed that the same would apply for the safer cinnamon, Ceylon, but only recently was it put to the test. Owing to the presence of that toxic component, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Europe has warned against consuming large amounts of the cassia cinnamon, suggesting a switch from cassia cinnamon to Ceylon cinnamon, also known as true cinnamon. But we don't know whether or not the true cinnamon has similar benefits, until now. We saw that nice blunting of blood sugars in response to cassia cinnamon, but in response to Ceylon cinnamon, nothing. Bummer. In fact they're thinking maybe that potentially toxic coumarin stuff was the active ingredient in the cassia cinnamon all along, so take out the toxin, you take out the benefit. So they conclude yeah, it's great that health authorities are recommending the switch, however, the positive effects seen with cassia could then be lost. So should we just give up on going out of our way to add cinnamon to our diet? No, I think it's still a good idea to shoot for a teaspoon a day of Ceylon cinnamon, since there's a bunch of other benefits linked to cinnamon besides blood sugar control, not the least of which is it's potent antioxidant content, in fact one of the cheapest food sources of antioxidants, beating out cloves, and just under purple cabbage. But cinnamon can no longer considered a safe and effective treatment for diabetes. Either you're using cassia cinnamon and it's effective but may not be safe; or you're using Ceylon cinnamon which is safe, but does not appear effective. But look, even the cassia cinnamon only brought down blood sugars modestly. In other words, only as good as the leading diabetes drug in the world, metformin, sold as Glucophage. Yeah it may work as good as the leading drug, but that's not saying much. The best way to treat diabetes is to attempt to cure it completely, reversing diabetes with a healthy diet.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Jonathan Hodgson.
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Hlebowicz J, Hlebowicz A, Lindstedt S, Björgell O, Höglund P, Holst JJ, Darwiche G, Almér LO. Effects of 1 and 3 g cinnamon on gastric emptying, satiety, and postprandial blood glucose, insulin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, glucagon-like peptide 1, and ghrelin concentrations in healthy subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Mar;89(3):815-21. Epub 2009 Jan 21.
Solomon TP, Blannin AK. Changes in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity following 2 weeks of daily cinnamon ingestion in healthy humans. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 Apr;105(6):969-76. Epub 2009 Jan 22.
The Antioxidants in a Pinch video I'm so proud of can be found here. The Safer Cinnamon is where I originally brought up the coumarin issue. What about the Oxalates in Cinnamon? Not a problem, but the oxalates in too much turmeric may be a concern. Superfood Bargains is where I ranked foods in terms of antioxidants per unit cost.
I talk more about the potential potency of plants in general in Power Plants and more about spices in particular in videos such as:
Amla Versus Diabetes explores the use of Indian gooseberries as a way to help control blood sugar, though the best way to deal with diabetes is to prevent and treat it with a healthy diet. Books I would recommend (in order of publication) are Defeating Diabetes, Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes, and The End of Diabetes.
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Two theories about the build-up of subcutaneous fat, involving the chemical spermine and the hormone adiponectin, suggest a plant-based diet may help with cellulite.
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