04/23/2019 Nutrition and Recipes
Many spices have been used through the years, but folklore and old wives’ tales don’t always equate to scientific proof of health benefits. Consider cinnamon.
Cinnamon, a spice derived from the bark of the cinnamon tree, has maintained its popularity for thousands of years. This valuable spice originated in Asia, having particular popularity in Sri Lanka and India. Today it is grown in several climates worldwide, and available in nearly every supermarket.
Cinnamon is used in several forms:
- Cinnamon capsules as supplements
- Cinnamon added as a spice to foods and beverages
- Cinnamon oil as both a vehicle of scent and flavor
Is cinnamon good for you? This article examines the health benefits of cinnamon in all its forms—supplementation, seasoning, and as an essential oil.
Cinnamon supplementation is used by many as a way to balance blood sugar levels, in hopes of either preventing or managing diabetes.
Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot absorb glucose, or sugar broken down from food, into the body’s cells. Diabetes can be dangerous—it plays a role in an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, retinopathy (eye disease), neuropathy (nerve dysfunction), kidney disease, sexual dysfunction, and tooth decay.
Improvements in blood sugar control may help reduce the risk of diabetic complications. The American Diabetic Association recommends the following general blood glucose goals in those with diagnosed diabetes:
- Pre-prandial (before a meal, or fasted) blood glucose of 70–130
- Post-prandial (two hours after beginning a meal) blood glucose of 180
- HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin) level of less than 7 percent. This is a great indicator of average glycemic control, as the Hba1c provides a look at your average glucose level over three months rather than from day to day.
Although the above are general blood glucose goals, ideal glucose levels are individualized according to age and other conditions. Talk with your physician about a goal that is realistic for you.
Articles abound regarding the recommendation for cinnamon supplementation for assistance with blood glucose control, though the research as a whole is inconclusive at best.
Compared to Medical Glycemic Management
Medications including metformin, sulfonylureas, and thiazolidinediones are the oldest and most widely prescribed classes of blood sugar lowering medications. Metformin is considered to be a first-line medication management for those with type 2 diabetes unless contraindicated or poorly tolerated. Oral medications, however, can only go so far. Realistically, oral medications such as metformin can be expected to reduce HbA1c, or average blood glucose levels over three months, by up to 1.5 percent.
How Does Oral Medication Compare with Cinnamon Supplementation?
One analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials examined a total of 577 participants. The studies compared the results of blood glucose lowering efficacy in diabetic individuals using:
- Solely oral cinnamon supplementation
- Solely oral medication management
- No treatment at all
The group taking oral cinnamon supplementation took a mean dose of 2 grams daily, for 4–16 weeks.
Results showed that the effect of solely cinnamon supplementation was inconclusive. No statistically significant difference between post-prandial blood glucose (blood glucose following a meal) or HbA1c levels was observed for those with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It should be noted, however, that any adverse reactions from taking cinnamon were infrequent and mild in nature, making cinnamon generally safe—though unreliably beneficial—in lowering blood glucose as a sole therapy.
Combined with Medical Management
Although evidence does not exist to support using cinnamon supplementation in place of medical management, it deserves a seat at the table as a complementary therapy, used in addition to medical management.
As explained above, oral medication for diabetes can only lower blood glucose so far. The question remains, then: Can cinnamon used in addition to medication provide greater benefits than medication alone?
- An article published by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics examined 11 randomized controlled trials in which 694 adult participants took cinnamon at a dose of 1.2-6 g/day for 4–16 weeks. These participants continued with their typical medical management at the same time as taking the cinnamon supplements. All the studies examined reported some degree of reduced fasting plasma glucose for cinnamon compared with placebo groups that continued with solely medical management. The researchers concluded that, combined with medical management for diabetes, cinnamon supplementation could offer an additional, though small, benefit.
- Another study, published in Diabetic Medicine, examined the effects of cinnamon supplementation in adults with type 2 diabetes. The study’s participants included type 2 diabetic patients taking daily oral blood glucose medication. Results showed that daily supplementation of 2 g cinnamon for 12 weeks, in addition to medication adherence, resulted in improvements to HbA1c levels beyond those who took medication alone.
Do No Harm
Though the benefits of cinnamon for treating any chronic disease are small at best and nonexistent at worst, most people can safely take cinnamon supplementation for short-term use. Just remember—cinnamon should not be used as replacement for—or as a reason to delay the seeking out of—traditional medical management. If you are considering daily cinnamon supplementation, especially if you have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or liver disease, make sure to loop in your healthcare provider (some individuals with liver damage or liver disease cannot safely take cinnamon as a supplement). She or he can set you up for success with conjunctive therapy—both medical and alternative.
Cinnamon as an Ayurvedic Seasoning
Aside from the perceived medicinal benefits, cinnamon adds a delicious touch of earthy spice to both foods and warm beverages. Just a taste or sniff of cinnamon elicits a cozy feeling. Ayurveda has long acknowledged the effects of cinnamon, both as a flavor and as a scent.
Cinnamon, smelled through the olfactory system or tasted through the digestive system, has an effect of balancing Vata and pacifying Kapha. What does this mean?
Ayurveda recognizes three mind-body types:
- Vata: Comprised by elements of air and space
- Pitta: Comprised by elements of fire and water
- Kapha: Comprised of the elements earth and water
Symptoms of imbalanced Vata include anxiety, insomnia, poor temperature regulation, weight loss, gas, constipation, and dry skin or nails and hair. Though Vata imbalance is most likely to occur during winter (a month dominated heavily by Vata qualities), individuals with high Vata constitutions are prone to imbalances year-round.
Kapha, on the other hand, is the predominant quality associated with spring. Individuals with high Kapha in their constitutions may feel especially prone to Kapha imbalance during this time of year. Symptoms of Kapha imbalance include depression, sluggishness, brain fog, weight gain, excessive congestion/mucus, or thick/sluggish bowel movements.
Cinnamon has qualities of pungency, warmth, and spice—all of which are balancing to both the Kapha and Vata doshas. Ayurveda considers cinnamon to be a vehicle of warmth and balanced stimulation for sex drive, circulation, mood, and digestion.
Some ways to incorporate cinnamon into your diet:
- Garnish warm beverages with cinnamon. Cinnamon especially pairs well with dairy or dairy alternative beverages such as milk, almond milk, cashew, or coconut milk.
- Add cinnamon as a spice to your favorite dishes: desserts, grains such as oatmeal, curries, and tomato-based dishes all gain a unique warmth from the addition of cinnamon.
Looking to incorporate cinnamon into your daily routine? A great friend of mine drinks the following beverage daily, and has granted me permission to share her tried-and-true recipe. You may grate or slice your ginger, though she says, “If you’re going with my recipe, it’s definitely sliced. I still very much believe in courting the day, and there’s nothing gentle about grating.”
- 16 oz water
- 1/2 Meyer lemon
- 3–4 thin slices of fresh ginger
- Ground cinnamon, to taste
Place the sliced ginger into water and bring water to a boil.
Once boiling, remove from heat and pour into a cup.
Add the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and finish off by sprinkling with cinnamon. Drink warm.
Cinnamon Essential Oil
The unique, cozy scent of cinnamon essential oil is derived from the organic compound cinnamonaldehyde. Proponents for cinnamon oil tout benefits including:
- Antifungals/antifungal antibacterial properties
- Improved circulation
- Increased brain function
- Improved digestion
- Improved weight management
- Pain relief
Cinnamon is a strong oil, therefore it is recommended to dilute it—typically 1 drop of essential oil is recommended to at least every 3 drops of a carrier oil before using topically. If diffusing, it is recommended to practice caution, as cinnamon can sometimes irritate the nasal membranes if inhaled directly from the diffuser.
Some also take food-grade cinnamon essential oil orally. The FDA does consider cinnamon oil to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for oral consumption. Still, the oil is a concentrated form of the bark and, therefore, is best when used diluted. If ingesting, dilute one drop in 2 teaspoons honey or 8 oz of fluid such as milk or milk alternative (almond, coconut, or cashew). You may find that you need to further dilute based on your individual response.
Seek a Healthy Lifestyle
In order to safely benefit from possible benefits of cinnamon—in supplement, spice, or oil form—navigate using the following rules of thumb:
Cinnamon nutrition—when used as a seasoning—is in a dosage that it is safe as long as you are not allergic. Incorporate this spice into your daily meals and beverages, and enjoy its balancing mood benefits (not to mention the pleasant aromas).
When it comes to cinnamon as a supplement or oil, it should not be looked to as a primary therapy. If you have diabetes, infections, inflammation, depression, or a variety of other ailments, seek out the assistance of your trusted healthcare professional. He or she can recommend the best management for you, which may include cinnamon as a great complement to your healthy lifestyle and/or traditional medication management.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.