Cinnamon for healthy blood sugar
Medicinally, cinnamon boasts a long list of health benefits, from anti-microbial (cinnamon is sometimes used in breads as a preservative), a digestive stimulant, and even some early evidence of inhibiting melanoma (cancer) cells in animal trials (Braun and Cohen, 2015). What I want to focus on in this article is the growing evidence of cinnamon’s ability to help regulate blood sugar.
With the prevalence of Type 2, or insulin-resistant, diabetes in the United States today (34.2 million, or 10.5% of the US population per the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, 2020), there is quite the interest in studying cinnamon’s traditional use to lower blood sugar. Allen, et al (2013) completed a meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with a total of 543 adults with Type 2 diabetes. They concluded that taking cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) at doses ranging from 120mg up to 6g daily for 4-18 weeks reduced fasting blood glucose by an average of 25 mg/dL. As a bonus, improvements in cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels were also reported. What’s not to love?
Unfortunately, the review further concluded that cinnamon did NOT have a significant impact on HbA1c – the blood marker that characterizes the long term (3-4 month) picture of glucose present in the blood. Allen, et al (2013) suggest that this may be because many of the trials included lasted less than 12 weeks, which may not have been enough time to influence the A1c.
Cinnamon is so tasty, though, so what do you have to lose by shaking some on your oatmeal in the morning?
Please do prepare your cinnamon shaker, but continue reading for some additional clarifications and caveats.
I mentioned above that the meta-analysis was for a particular species of cinnamon – Cinnamomum cassia, also known as cassia cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is readily available on the market, but it does come with a slight warning that it contains a small amount of coumarin – a natural blood thinner – that, in high doses, can cause liver damage. Please read my Green Haven Living blog post on this topic for more details about cinnamon and coumarin.
C. verum, also known as true cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon, contains only negligible amounts of coumarin. However, in terms of blood sugar regulation, the evidence is not as strong for Ceylon cinnamon as it is for cassia cinnamon. Natural Medicines (2020), a subscription-based database of ‘just about any medicinal herb you can think of’ summarizes that the clinical research currently does not support efficacy of Ceylon cinnamon to significantly lower blood glucose. Still, Natural Medicines reports fewer studies using Ceylon cinnamon as compared to cassia cinnamon, so this may just be a case of lack of evidence.
Nevertheless, warming cinnamon is a safe herb for culinary use. For general health I recommend adding it liberally to flavor foods from baked goods to your breakfast cereal to vegetables (it’s particularly good sprinkled on winter squash or carrots before roasting).
If you are looking to use cinnamon for a specific medicinal purpose, it is also generally safe to use at appropriate therapeutic doses. Please consult with your local herbalist if you have any concerns or questions about how much to take (and what kind) for your particular situation and need.
Allen, R., Schwartzman, E., Baker, W., Coleman, C., & Phung, O. (2013). Cinnamon Use in Type 2 Diabetes: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Annals of Family Medicine. 11(5) 452-459. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1370/afm.1517
Braun, L. & Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs and Natural Supplements: An Evidence-Based Guide. 4th Ed. Elsevier.
Diabetes Research Institute Foundation (2020). Diabetes Statistics.
Natural Medicines (2020). Cassia cinnamon monograph. Retrieved from: https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/
Natural Medicines (2020). Ceylon cinnamon monograph. Retrieved from: https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/
Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.