Learn More About Cinnamon

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What is cinnamon?

One of the oldest and best known spices, cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a tree, Cinnamomum cassia, that grows over much of the world, from Egypt to India to Vietnam. Cinnamon’s characteristic flavor comes from a compound in its essential oil, cinnamonaldehyde.

What is cinnamon used for?

Aside from its use as a spice in both sweet and savory dishes, cinnamon has long been held by many cultures to have significant health benefits. Chinese herbalists use cinnamon for colds, flatulence, nausea, diarrhea, and painful menstrual periods, as well as to improve energy, stamina, and circulation. In India, traditional healers use cinnamon for diabetes, indigestion, and colds.

Recent studies in the West point to cinnamon’s possible use as an agent to lower blood sugar in both near-diabetics and diabetics. For instance, a joint 2003 Pakistani-American medical study in which sixty diabetics took cinnamon in pill form led to reductions in fasting blood glucose of 20 to 30%, as well as a drop of approximately 20% in LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol and 25% in triglyceride levels. Researchers were also intrigued to note that the reductions in lipid levels continued for up to 20 days after administration of cinnamon had ceased.

The scientists in this and other cinnamon studies believe that the active component in the herb responsible for its insulin-like activity is a water-soluble chemical compound referred to as MHCP, short for methylhydroxychalcone polymer. The MHCP found in cinnamon appears to mimic the effects of insulin and to increase insulin sensitivity, boosting the uptake of cellular glucose as well as stimulating the production of glycogen, a special form of glucose stored in the liver needed by the body during times of peak energy demand, such as exercise.

Also of interest was a 2004 double-blind study involving rats administered cinnamon plus chromium, and then fed a very high-sugar diet that (unfortunately) approximates one eaten by many Americans. While both groups of overfed rats, supplemented and unsupplemented, gained weight and saw increases in blood pressure, the increases were significantly less in the rats given cinnamon plus chromium.

In another remarkable study, this one involving malignant cell cultures involving both lymphoma and leukemia, USDA scientists administered cinnamon to the samples and in a 24-hour period saw drastic blockage of cancer proliferation. In other words, the division of cancerous cells was inhibited by up to 50%, possibly by stopping the action of an enzyme that aids in the growth and reproduction of cancer. Much more work in this area is needed before any firm conclusions can be draw, however.

Cinnamon may have other, humbler uses, although still very important ones, such as its seeming ability to inhibit the growth of yeast, molds, fungi, and even H. Pylori, the bacteria implicated to cause ulcers. This possibly, in conjunction with cinnamon’s inhibition of pain-causing prostaglandins, help to explain why herbalists and folk healers have used cinnamon to treat various digestive disorders for centuries.

How is cinnamon taken?

While cinnamon can be used directly as a spice, in large amounts some people find it irritating to the mucous membranes. Standardized cinnamon extracts in capsule form are generally easier and more convenient to use. Follow label directions, although in most cases one to two capsules per day will be the recommended amount. It may work better if taken with other blood-sugar regulating nutrients such as chromium.

Is cinnamon safe?

If you have diabetes, speak to your physician before using this or any other supplement that may alter your blood sugar levels. Also, it is very important to keep in mind that in large amounts cinnamon may have a blood-thinning effect, a fact that is very import for those who may be on certain prescription drugs.

Otherwise, this good-tasting herb appears to be very safe and enjoys a history of use going back for thousands of years.

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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