One of the tastiest and most popular spices in your spice rack may just be one of the healthiest for you, too.
The ever-popular cinnamon, known for adding some extra sweetness and zing to lattes, cookies and other pastries, has been shown to have some wonderful health-enhancing characteristics.
First, it’s a natural antimicrobial and antibacterial agent, with the ability to kill dangerous pathogens like E.coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella anatum and Staphylococcus aureus — all of which can cause food poisoning and food-borne diseases.
Cinnamon also has been shown to help control blood sugar and may help prevent type 2 diabetes — an exciting revelation considering the widespread incidence of diabetes in light of the obesity epidemic.
In one recent meta-analysis, researchers reviewed six studies that examined the effects of cinnamon on type 2 diabetes. There were a total of 435 patients, all of whom were given the same cinnamon species (Cinnamomum cassia) at a dosage of 1 to 6 grams per day. Five of the studies administered cinnamon powder, while one used extract.
The researchers noted what effect cinnamon had on two factors, in particular: fasting plasma glucose, which is the amount of glucose in the blood after an eight-hour fast; and HbA1c levels, a test that shows, on average, how much sugar is in your blood over a three-month period.
Three of the studies showed that the use of cinnamon significantly decreased fasting plasma glucose, while two of the studies indicated a reduction in HbA1c.
The final study didn’t reveal any effect on plasma glucose levels or HbA1c, but researchers believe this was because the trial included overweight postmenopausal women who were using prescription diabetes medications. Also, that study only lasted six weeks, and because the lifespan of red blood cells is about 120 days, researchers stated that at least two to three months are necessary to accurately measure the effects of cinnamon on HbA1c.
The Cinnamon Diabetes Connection
Cinnamon works by mimicking insulin and its effects, specifically by improving the uptake and metabolism of glucose. It reduces the insulin resistance of fat cells, which makes their insulin receptors more responsive. This allows the cells to better absorb glucose.
Researchers note that it isn’t clear whether cinnamon powder or extract do the job better, but both are effective.
Spice Up Your Health
Of all spices to help with diabetes, cinnamon is perfect! Since diabetics should avoid sugar, they are always on the lookout for alternative sweeteners.
Most artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose have less-than-desirable effects on the body, so they should generally be avoided. This is where a sweet spice like cinnamon can really be a godsend.
You can substitute cinnamon for sugar in coffee, and sprinkle it on toast and in cereal and oatmeal, and include it certain recipes to add a little zing.
Of course, to achieve therapeutic benefits from cinnamon, you’ll need more than a sprinkle or two. According to the research, about 1/4 to 1 teaspoon a day should suffice (1 teaspoon equals about 5 grams).
However, consuming this amount of cinnamon on a daily basis can be difficult, no matter how much you like its taste. Fortunately, you can take cinnamon in supplement form too.
The most potent supplemental form of cinnamon is the extract powder, which you can buy in bulk. You can also buy cinnamon extract that’s already encapsulated. Many brands can be found at online supplement retailers and at your local health food store.
Start by taking about 250 mg two to four times per day, which should get you in the 1/4-to-1-teaspoon range. Ideally, you should consume your cinnamon with your meals to help keep your blood sugar levels from spiking after eating.
 Shan B, Cai YZ, Brooks JD and Corke H. Antibacterial properties and major bioactive components of cinnamon stick (Cinnamonum burmannii): activity against foodborne pathogenic bacteria. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Jul 11;55(14):5484-90.
 Akilen R, Tsiami A, Devendra A and Robinson N. Cinnamon in gycaemic control: Systematic review and meta analysis. Clin Nutr. 2012 May 12. [Epub ahead of print.]