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You’ve probably been hearing a lot about cinnamon lately: “It’s a blood-sugar-regulating super ingredient!” “I add it to my coffee every morning as a sugar substitute!” “It’s soooo good for people with diabetes!”
But as always, we can’t help but wonder what’s fact and what’s gossip spread by the wildfire of social media.
Since keeping your blood sugar stable is pretty important (especially for anyone with diabetes), we checked out which benefits are legit and which ones belong in the debunked folder.
While numerous small studies have explored cinnamon’s effect on blood sugar, the results have been mixed.
A 2013 study of 70 people with type 2 diabetes found that people who took 1 gram of cinnamon a day (equivalent to about 1/2 teaspoon of the ground spice) for 60 days in addition to their regular diabetes treatment saw no improvements in blood sugar compared to participants in a placebo group.
And according to the nutrition guidelines of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), there’s no good evidence that the spice — or any other supplement or herb — can treat diabetes.
But a 2016 review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reached a different conclusion.
The researchers looked at 11 existing studies on cinnamon and diabetes management and found that all of them showed a small but statistically significant reduction in fasting blood sugar levels.
They also noted modest improvements in hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C), a longer-term measurement of blood sugar.
In most of the studies, the spice was used in conjunction with the participants’ diabetes medication. Doses varied widely among the studies, from 120 milligrams to 6,000 milligrams per day.
It’s also important to note that only four of the studies showed reductions in fasting blood glucose and HbA1C that met the ADA’s treatment goals.
So what does that mean? Cinnamon appears to contain compounds that activate insulin receptors in your body and improve insulin sensitivity, though we’re not really sure how they work.
It also slows gastric emptying after a meal, preventing the roller coaster of a blood sugar spike followed by a steep drop. But these results are often mild and vary from person to person.
Cinnamon could be worth a try if you’re looking for alternative ways to keep your blood sugar regular. Just chat with your doctor to figure out the best way to spice up your life. (Sorry, had to).
In addition to cinnamon’s possible benefits for those with type 2 diabetes, there’s some evidence it may help stave off the disease in the first place.
A recent study in the International Journal of Food Science divided 41 healthy adults into three groups and gave them varying daily doses of cinnamon: 1 gram, 3 grams, and 6 grams.
After 40 days, all three groups had significant improvements in blood glucose levels after eating a meal, particularly those who took the 3- and 6-gram doses.
The researchers noted that cinnamon appears to have a regulatory effect, keeping blood sugar within normal limits.
Even more promising, research suggests that cinnamon’s spicy mojo goes beyond blood sugar control. It can actually reduce the odds of heart disease, obesity, and other health problems linked to diabetes.
In a 2019 study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, participants were divided into two groups. One group consumed 1 gram of cinnamon a day for three months, while the other group took a placebo.
The cinnamon group saw improvements in fasting plasma glucose, HbA1C, fasting insulin, and insulin resistance compared to those given a placebo — as well as reductions in BMI and body fat.
And according to a 2013 review of 543 diabetes patients published in the Annals of Family Medicine, cinnamon lowered LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides while at the same time increasing levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
Other research has found that the spice can significantly decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
And since cinnamon is rich in antioxidants like polyphenols and flavonoids, you get an extra boost of free radical- and inflammation-fighting power. (Reminder: If left unchecked, high levels of inflammation can lead to a host of diseases, from cardiovascular disease to cancer.)
There are no hard-and-fast recommendations on how much cinnamon may help control blood sugar.
Studies vary in the amounts they give participants, although 1 to 6 grams a day is fairly typical. The spice can either be taken in supplement form or added to food.
The good news is that there’s no evidence that cinnamon can negatively affect blood sugar, so it’s OK for most people with diabetes to take. (And it can be a great way to add sweetness to foods without adding sugar.)
But talk to your doctor before trying it — especially if you’re taking other drugs or supplements. Cinnamon may interact with some supplements, such as bitter melon and garlic.
Certain people who have liver disease or are at risk for liver disease may also need to avoid cinnamon.
Of the two main varieties of the spice, cassia and Ceylon, cassia cinnamon is more widely available in the United States. It contains a substance called coumarin that can lead to liver disease in some people, especially if cinnamon is taken in high doses.
A growing body of evidence suggests that cinnamon may lower blood sugar and help control diabetes — or even prevent the onset of the disease in the first place.
Studies have used doses ranging from 1 to 6 grams per day.
Cinnamon’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers have also been shown to guard against other diabetes-related diseases, such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
But as with any drug or supplement, it’s important to talk to your doctor or diabetes specialist before you start taking cinnamon to avoid any possible adverse interactions.