Saturday, June 24, 2006

Cinnamon for Cholesterol, Blood Sugar Control?

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Q: I have been reading that several studies have shown that a daily dose of cinnamon may delay the onset of type II diabetes and help regulate blood sugar levels of existing type II diabetics. I've also heard that taking a half-teaspoon of cinnamon a day can help to lower cholesterol. -- Besty B.

A: Some recent research does suggest that cinnamon may have a beneficial effect on blood sugar and may also help lower cholesterol, but the study in question was small and its findings need to be confirmed before we can start recommending cinnamon to patients.

The news about cinnamon's effect on blood sugar and cholesterol came from a small study in Pakistan. Results were published in the December 2003 issue of Diabetes Care. The study ran for only 40 days and included 60 patients with type 2 diabetes. It showed that one, three or six grams of cinnamon daily, divided into two doses (that amounts to between a quarter of a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon a day), lowered fasting glucose by 18 to 29 percent, triglycerides by 23 to 30 percent, LDL cholesterol by 7 to 27 percent, and total cholesterol by 12 to 26 percent.

Cinnamon's effect on blood sugar is believed to be due to a proanthocyanidin, an active ingredient that increases sensitivity of receptors to insulin.

A word of caution: cinnamon in large doses may be toxic, so don't assume that if the relatively small amounts used in the study help, larger amounts will work better. There's also the possibility that adding cinnamon to your diet will change the dose of medication you need, so you should monitor your blood sugar carefully.

As for cholesterol control, the effects seen in the Pakistani study don't equal those of better-studied statin drugs. So if your cholesterol is high and you're taking a statin, don't assume that you can substitute cinnamon. The results of the Pakistani study are very interesting, but we need to know more. In the meantime, there's no harm in sprinkling cinnamon on your oatmeal or using it in cooking.
Andrew Weil, MD

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