For more than 5,000 years, a spice has lured humans with its ability to stimulate the senses: cinnamon.
The name alone evokes thoughts of home, where the smell of savory stews and scrumptious desserts fills the air and calms the mind. The desire to experience cinnamon's exotic aroma, taste its sweet sensation and employ its health benefits has spawned wars and, according to some, was an inspiration for Christopher Columbus' world exploration.
Today, there is renewed enthusiasm for this ancient botanical, which emerging science suggests may help maintain healthy blood sugar levels already within a normal range and help prevent unwanted weight gain when accompanied by diet and exercise.
Not Your Average Tree Bark
Cinnamon has been used as a culinary and health-promoting spice for thousands of years. It's mentioned in ancient Chinese texts and was part of a holy anointing oil described in the Bible.
There are two main varieties of cinnamon, Cinnamonum verum and Cinnamomum aromaticum, which are native to Sri Lanka and China, respectively. The bark of these evergreen trees has been used throughout history to flavor and preserve foods as well as warm the body, ease childbirth and provide relief from digestive complaints.
The USDA's Sweet Surprise
The recent revival of cinnamon as a prized health-promoting herb with particular benefits for the metabolic system can be largely attributed to work done by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center more than a decade ago.
In studying the effects of different foods on blood sugar levels, the researchers made a surprising discovery. Good, old-fashioned apple pie, despite its high sugar content, didn't dramatically alter blood sugar levels. Through process of elimination, cinnamon was identified as the ingredient in the pie responsible for the desirable effect. Further research from the USDA and other prestigious institutions has since elucidated several impressive mechanisms by which this effect occurs.
But first, a biochemistry lesson . . .
The Importance of Healthy Insulin Response
All cells in the body are required to have a constant source of fuel for energy production. For most cells, the preferred fuel is glucose, which is easily obtained from sugars and starches in the diet. Since excess glucose in the blood can wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system, nerves, kidneys and eyes, the body has developed a metabolic response system that ensures blood sugar levels are kept relatively stable.
Crucial to this balancing act is insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas and released in response to a meal. Insulin delivers a message to the body's cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy production. The ability of cells to respond to insulin is critical for not only maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar, but for preventing excessive fat production, inflammation, food cravings and fatigue.
Now, back to cinnamon . . .
Cinnamon's Key Chemistries
Cinnamon contains a unique group of phytonutrients known as polyphenol polymers which have been shown in laboratory studies to both enhance and mimic insulin activity, increasing insulin-dependent glucose metabolism roughly 20 times. In other words, these laboratory studies indicate that, in the presence of these phytonutrients, glucose may convert more efficiently into energy rather than be stored as potential energy in the form of fat. Additional research conducted at Iowa State University suggests the polyphenol polymers actually up-regulate the expression of genes involved in activating the insulin receptor on the cell surface, and thus may enhance glucose absorption and utilization.
Cinnamon's polyphenol polymers can't take all the credit though. A phytochemical present in the fat-soluble fraction of cinnamon called cinnamaldehyde has also been shown to support blood sugar and cholesterol metabolism in animals prone to blood sugar imbalances, most likely via its ability to modulate inflammation and quench free radicals, both of which can affect insulin sensitivity.
Taken together, these studies underscore the importance of using whole cinnamon rather than its isolated nutrients for optimally supporting a healthy blood sugar response. One study found as little as 1 g (1/4 tsp) a day of whole cinnamon for 40 days significantly improved markers of blood sugar metabolism and cholesterol metabolism. The subjects also continued to experience the benefits almost three weeks after stopping the cinnamon In other words, it's OK to miss a serving every now and then.
In addition to supporting normal insulin sensitivity, a recent clinical study suggests taking cinnamon with a meal high in carbohydrates may lessen the meal's impact on blood sugar metabolism by helping slow the rate at which the stomach empties after meals. The slower the stomach empties, the slower sugar is released into the bloodstream, and the easier it is to utilize. In the study, researchers gave 14 healthy subjects 300 g (1 1/5 cups) of rice pudding alone or seasoned with 6 g (1 1/2 tsp) of cinnamon. The addition of cinnamon lowered the rate at which the stomach emptied from 37 percent to 34.5 percent and resulted in more stable blood sugar levels after eating.
Cinnamon Force -- Support for Blood Sugar
Whether your health goal is to maintain normal blood sugar balance already within a normal range, healthy wight or support cardiovascular health, which is linked to both of these things, this ancient spice may be your best herbal ally.
But don't worry, you need not sprinkle it on everything you eat. New Chapter's Cinnamon Force features a unique blend of Cinnamonum verum and Cinnamomum aromaticum cinnamon, both of which are Potency Assured for bioactive polyphenols and cinnamaldehyde. New Chapter's unique supercritical extract process gently concentrates the full spectrum of phytonutrients available in cinnamon without the use of harsh solvents or heat. Two capsules provide the equivalent of 1 g of the world's finest cinnamon blend.
Now you can have your sugar and use it, too!
Anderson RA, Broadhurst, CL, Polansky MM, et al. 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.
Imparl-Radosevich J, Deas S, Polansky MM, et al. Regulation of PTP-1 and insulin receptor kinase by fractions from cinnamon: implications for cinnamon regulation of insulin signaling. Horm Res. 1998 Sep, 50(3): 177-82
Subash Babu P, Prabuseenivasan S, Ignacimuthu S. Cinnamaldehyde – a potential antidiabetic agent. Phytomedicine. 2007 Jan; 14(1): 15-22. Epub 2006 Nov 30.
Khan A. Safdar M, Muzzafar Ali Khan M, Nawak Khattak K, Anderson RA. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2003 Dec; 26(12): 3215-8.
Hlebowicz J, Darwiche G, Björgell O, Almér LO. Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying and satiety in healthy subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jun; 85(6): 1552-6