Medical review by Dr. Mike Natter
If you live with diabetes, it is pretty much a guarantee that someone has tried to sell you a miracle cure. Working for Diabetes Daily, I get spam messages daily in my inbox, whether it’s for okra water, a fad diet, or some new type of supplement. And so many friends have tried to add years to my life with their non-scientific suggestions.
I usually just nod and say “thank you” or “yes, I’ve heard of that one before” while trying not to chuckle, or I just change the conversation. But where do these claims come from? Is there any truth behind them?
If there’s one miracle cure everyone with diabetes is familiar with, it’s cinnamon. The diabetes online community is full of jokes and memes mocking cinnamon’s supposedly magical powers. Believe it or not, there’s actually an over-the-counter supplement named CinSulin, a name that implies that a cinnamon extract capsule might replace insulin, the drug that people with type 1 diabetes need to stay alive.
But here’s the thing: I love cinnamon! It’s a delicious spice, and if having more can improve my health effortlessly, why wouldn’t I be in favor of that?
So I decided to look into the science behind cinnamon claims. There have been many studies of its potential health benefits.
The Many Supposed Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is a great source of essential nutrients. It is about 50% fiber, and contains calcium, Vitamin K, magnesium and potassium, among other vitamins and minerals.
Cinnamon is chock full of antioxidants, which combat free radicals, contaminants that contribute to diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Cinnamon may be a potent anti-inflammatory. Excessive inflammation, which is extremely common in people with diabetes, is strongly associated with the development of chronic disease. Inflammation may combine with hyperglycemia and accelerate the onset of diabetic complications, including the heightened risk of cardiovascular disease.
None of those things mean that cinnamon is a miracle drug, or even that you should be supplementing with cinnamon extracts. But I think it’s fair to say that cinnamon is, generally speaking, a healthy ingredient.
People use cinnamon for a variety of other health reasons – from treating bug bites to treating tooth decay. However, there’s very little data to back up these sorts of claims.
The Science of Cinnamon and Diabetes
So what about cinnamon and diabetes? The claims don’t come from nowhere. There is at least some evidence that cinnamon can help manage blood sugar levels. For example:
A 2003 study published in Diabetes Care found that when adults with type 2 diabetes swallowed capsule pills filled with pure cinnamon for 40 days, they enjoyed impressive improvements in cholesterol (lower LDL and triglycerides) and fasting blood glucose (an incredible decrease around 50 mg/dL).
A 2009 study found that cinnamon supplementation brought down the A1C levels of adults with type 2 diabetes.
Those two actually just scratch the surface – check out this 2010 review that identified nearly a dozen studies asserting that cinnamon improved blood sugar or insulin resistance.
As you might expect, though, there are also many other studies that have argued the very opposite. This 2013 experiment, for example, found that cinnamon has zero blood sugar impact. It also argued that it was more rigorously controlled than several of the studies mentioned above.
When science shows conflicting results, it can be difficult to know who to trust. In 2013, the Annals of Family Medicine published a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, to try to separate the wheat from the chaff. After lumping together 10 different trials, the researchers concluded that cinnamon supplementation (from 120mg to 6g daily) does significantly improve fasting glucose, an average reduction of about 25 mg/dL. It also improved cholesterol numbers across the board. However, this did not create a significant improvement in A1C, the most important benchmark for glycemic control.
That wasn’t the only review. A different 2012 review, however, concluded that cinnamon resulted in precisely zero statistically significant effects.
Confusing results, to say the least! It’s tough to know how to interpret all of this. But here’s what two major medical authorities say on the matter:
The United States National Institutes of Health states: “Studies done in people don’t clearly support using cinnamon for any health condition.”
And the American Diabetes Association simply states that “Cinnamon supplements do nothing to help people with type 2 achieve treatment goals or provide a reliable drop in blood sugar”.
If cinnamon has any beneficial effects, they’re probably very small.
A single teaspoon of cinnamon weighs 2.6 grams – which is about the dosage used in most of the studies that did find glycemic control benefits. There probably isn’t much harm in dumping a some cinnamon into your smoothie every once in a while, if you like the flavor, that is. I wouldn’t bet on noticeable health improvements, but you might as well pay attention to your glucose meter and see what happens. There’s no good reason to try any more than that – in fact, there may be a danger associated with a daily intake of greater than one teaspoon.
What we do know is that there is no single ingredient that will manage your diabetes for you. Cinnamon is not a miracle. While there are plenty of studies out there claiming many benefits for cinnamon, there are just as many that do not see any benefits at all.
Make sure you are eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, keeping current with insulin and other medications, and staying on top of your blood sugar. That’s the closest we have to a cure!