On the Spice Trail: Cinnamon to thwart diabetes and heart disease


By Allison J. Cleary

Once traded like gold, cinnamon is proving its worth all over again in the world of medicine and prevention.

Once traded like gold, cinnamon is proving its worth all over again in the world of medicine and prevention. A study from 2004 has linked the spice to health benefits for people with type 2 diabetes and anyone vulnerable to heart disease.

Researchers at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland found that when people with type 2 diabetes consumed between 1⁄2 teaspoon and 3 teaspoons of cinnamon a day, they experienced significant improvements in blood glucose (sugar), triglycerides (fats) and cholesterol after only 40 days.

“When you get diabetes, your risk of cardiovascular disease goes up two- to fivefold,” says Richard Anderson, lead scientist at the Center. Blood glucose, triglycerides and cholesterol, risk factors for heart disease, are all controlled by insulin, the hormone that is jeopardized by diabetes. “Because cinnamon can improve the functioning of insulin, it works to improve these three risk factors,” Anderson concludes.

“We think it is the polyphenols in the cinnamon that are at work. Polyphenols are natural products in plants that are used for protection,” Anderson says. In humans they also act as protective agents.

Even people without diabetes can benefit from the spice. “Typically, the older we get, the worse our blood glucose profile becomes—but it doesn’t have to,” says Anderson. “If you fortify your body’s ability to produce and regulate insulin, you decrease your risk of long-term chronic disease like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Anderson himself shakes cinnamon on his morning orange juice every day. “A lot of people like to brew it with their coffee. And you can shake it on salads or meats, or on oatmeal, which is already good for you.

“But you have to think of your whole diet,” Anderson warns. “Some people hear this news and think, ‘Great! I can eat more apple pie because of the cinnamon in it.’ But apple pie has a lot of other ingredients that can be detrimental to your health.”