Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a variety of evergreen trees and shrubs. It is typically used to add flavor to dishes like sweet potatoes, desserts and sweets like donuts and cakes, and breakfast foods like french toast and cereal. Cinnamon is a common flavoring agent typically found in breath-mints, chewing gum and essential oils.
Cinnamon is also of great interest medicinally. It has a positive reputation for treating bronchitis, decreasing inflammation and improving cholesterol. The most common use of cinnamon supplements is to aid in lowering blood sugar in diabetes or pre-diabetes.
It is important to note that there are many varieties of cinnamon including Cassia cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon. Most studies that evaluated the medical benefits of cinnamon used Cassia cinnamon.
The answer is unclear as to whether or not cinnamon truly has a positive benefit for diabetics, as there is conflicting evidence. There have been many studies focused on the positive effects of cinnamon and a few have concluded that yes, people who take cinnamon over time can lower their blood sugar levels. Many studies unfortunately state that cinnamon does not improve your blood sugar levels. There simply is not enough significant evidence to suggest that cinnamon helps with blood sugar.
Part of the problem with studies evaluating natural/herbal supplements is the lack of standardization. Unlike medicinal trials, where one standardized product is used, natural products come in a variety of forms, and may be extracted or cultivated in a variety of ways, leading to differences in how our bodies react to them. In addition, studies for natural products often lack the scale, design and analysis of more well funded studies.
Having said that, we have listed a few studies below that found some positive evidence of the benefits of cinnamon.
In a small sample of patients in a 2003 study, patients received either placebo, 1,3, or 6 grams of ground cinnamon each day. After 40 days of this regimen, those receiving placebo had no improvements while those taking cinnamon daily showed improved cholesterol as well as blood glucose levels.
Another study in 2012 in China with 69 patients taking cinnamon had similar findings after 3 months in regards to sugar levels; patients HbA1c levels were lower while placebo groups were unchanged.
Perhaps one of the largest studies on cinnamon was a 2013 systemic review that found an overall benefit to cinnamon use. It reviewed 10 studies, with a total of over 500 people and their results showed statistically significant benefits in patient outcomes for those taking cinnamon-cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood glucose all improved. Specifically, blood glucose decreased by an average of 24.59 mg/dL, total cholesterol decreased by an average of 15.6 mg/dL, LDL (bad cholesterol) decreased by an average of 9.42 mg/dL and triglycerides decreased by an average of 29.59 mg/dL. The problem with the study was the extreme range of dosages evaluated. The dosages used in the review ranged from 120 mg to 6 grams daily which were used over a range of 4 to 18 weeks. One important note is that benefit was only seen in patients with type 2 diabetes as patients with type 1 diabetes did not see an improvement in blood glucose.
Cinnamon appears to be generally safe and has been used in clinical trials of up to 4 months with minor side effects. It is 'Generally Recognized As Safe' (GRAS) by the FDA as well. As always, please speak with your doctor before adding and changing anything regarding the treatment of your diabetes.