Cinnamon: Can Eating Apple Pie Lower Your Blood Sugar?
Is it possible that eating apple pie can actually lower your blood sugar? The answer is yes, but ONLY if it contains this one critical ingredient.
The idea of using this special ingredient medicinally is far from new. Chinese, Ayurvedic and naturopathic medicine all utilize it for a variety of conditions, including nausea, bloating, GI upset, and libido enhancement.
However, it was the accidental discovery of its benefits for treating and preventing type 2 diabetes that has made this special ingredient one of the world’s most celebrated spices.
You may be surprised to learn that this special ingredient is something that you’ve likely used dozens, if not hundreds of times before: cinnamon.
Dr. Anderson’s Accidental Discovery…
While cinnamon was deemed to be more precious than gold by the ancient Egyptians and considered to be a gift fit for a king by the Romans and Greeks, it was Dr. Richard Anderson, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who made this sweet spice truly valuable.
Dr. Anderson was trying to discover the effect that apple pie had on blood sugar levels. In fact, he was hoping to show that apple pie would dramatically increase blood glucose levels. Instead, they were lowered1. Yep, lowered…as in, eat dessert and decrease your glucose levels.
Dr. Anderson was as baffled as you likely are. How on earth could a sweet, baked pie lower blood sugar levels?
He quickly realized that it was the cinnamon in the apple pie that was responsible for the lowering of blood glucose levels by acting on the true underlying cause of type 2 diabetes.
Cinnamon Improves Insulin Sensitivity…
More specifically, Dr. Anderson discovered that cinnamon contains a polyphenol called methylhydroxy chalcone polymer (MHCP)2 that can improve the metabolism of glucose in fat cells twentyfold3.
It does this by reducing the insulin resistance of fat cells, making their insulin receptors more responsive.
To explain how this works, imagine trying to talk to your spouse while the kids are screaming, the television is blaring, and the dog is barking to go outside. Pretty unlikely your spouse can pay attention, right?
Now, let the dog out, turn off the television, and settle the kids down with a snack and a game and your spouse will finally be able to hear you!
That’s how insulin resistance/insulin responsiveness works. If there is too much insulin or “noise” in your bloodstream, your cells cannot hear the message.
But if you turn down the noise (i.e. improve glucose metabolism), your cells can hear the message and allow the insulin receptors to be more responsive. Of course, we can’t promise the same results with your spouse!
And, when cells are better able to hear insulin’s message; and can better absorb and use glucose, the result is lower blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes is caused by your body becoming resistant to the effects of insulin. The bottom line here is that cinnamon appears to help reduce this resistance.
Though this sounds great in theory, let’s see if the studies support the hypothesis.
Diabetes Studies Abound…
As you can imagine, Dr. Anderson’s accidental discovery unleashed a whole host of studies on the connection between cinnamon, glucose, insulin, and diabetes. Since it would be unreasonable for us to list and you to read them all, here are a few of the most intriguing.
In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study4, researchers gave 60 volunteers with type 2 diabetes either 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon powder (or placebo) in capsules after meals each day for 40 days.
At the end of the study period, those taking the cinnamon (in any amount) enjoyed a decrease in blood sugar levels ranging from 18 to 29 percent.
In fact, the blood sugar levels of the volunteers who received cinnamon were an average of 20 percent lower than were those of volunteers in the placebo group. Some members of the cinnamon groups even achieved normal levels.
Interestingly, researchers also found that those participants taking the cinnamon also showed a decrease in triglycerides by as much as 30 percent and a decrease in total cholesterol ranging from 12 to 26 percent—and without any toxicity problems.
In other words, less than a tablespoon of cinnamon lowered blood sugar levels, decreased triglycerides, and reduced total cholesterol in just over one month without any negative side effects.
Sounds good, but it was only 40 days. What if the study was longer?
German researchers wondered the same thing. In their double-blind, placebo-controlled study, they tested the effect of cinnamon on patients with type-2 diabetes who were taking oral diabetes medication5.
They divided the participants into two groups. The first group received an aqueous extract of cinnamon (the equivalent of 3 g of cinnamon powder) while the second group was given a placebo.
After four months, the group taking cinnamon experienced a 10.3 percent reduction in blood sugar, compared to the placebo group’s drop of 3.4 percent.
Once again, less than a tablespoon of cinnamon seems to reduce blood sugar levels. That’s about the amount you would sprinkle on your oatmeal in the morning. Not a bad way to start the day.
Finally, researchers2 also tested the use of cinnamon versus insulin to encourage glucose metabolism. Using an in vitro (think test tube) cell culture, researchers found that the bioactive polymer in cinnamon stimulated glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis to a level comparable to that achieved by insulin.
In other words, the tasty spice worked as well as the medication…at least in a laboratory. It would be interesting to see this repeated in humans to determine if cinnamon would still perform as well as insulin in type 2 diabetics.
The News Isn’t All Good…
While the research on cinnamon and its ability to lower blood sugar levels is fairly well established and accepted, even in conventional circles, there are some potential problems having to do with precisely which form of cinnamon is safe and effective to use.
The main issue has to do with numerous oil-based compounds—as well as such water-soluble ones such as MHCP—found in cinnamon bark. The key terms here are “oil” and “bark”.
These oil compounds from the bark are known to be toxic when taken at high doses for long periods of time. Oils extracted from the cinnamon leaf are non-toxic.
Similarly, cinnamon powder has been shown to be safe, even when used often and regularly, with no shown toxicity or negative side effects. This is due, in large part, to the fact that cinnamon powder has much of the essential oils removed during processing.
To be even safer, you may choose to use a water-soluble versus oil-based form of cinnamon.
Putting Cinnamon to Use…
Cinnamon is so common, and so delicious, you are likely already using it. But, to help you incorporate it into your everyday life, here are a few suggestions:
- You can add cinnamon to a hot liquid that you drink every day such as coffee, or preferably green tea, to make it more of an extract.
- Use cinnamon sticks to make tea.
- Add cinnamon powder to coffee beans before grinding to give your morning java a blood sugar reducing boost.
- Add ½ to 1 teaspoon to oatmeal or any hot cereal.
- Add ½ to 1 teaspoon to your favorite smoothie.
- Make sweet potato cinnamon “fries.” Cut a sweet potato into disks. Spray a cookie sheet with olive oil and place potato disks in single layer on the cookie sheet. Spray the potatoes with the olive oil. Sprinkle potatoes with cinnamon and bake at 425°F for 20–25 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time.
- Finally, replicate Dr. Anderson’s apple pie experiment…sort of. Core an apple, then it cut in half from top to bottom. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until the apple is soft.
No matter how you use cinnamon, if you are either at risk for or have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it is one spice you should get to know.
Just remember that cinnamon should be a tasty addition to your diabetes program…not the starring role. The most powerful method for reversing your type 2 diabetes requires substantial changes to your lifestyle including eating a diet chock full of nutrient-dense, low glycemic-load whole foods and to engage in moderate daily exercise.
And as always, check with your doctor when adding any herb, spice, or supplement to your medical regimen.
1MacKenzie, Debora. “Cinnamon spice produces healthier blood.” New Scientist. November 24, 2003.
2Jarvill-Taylor, KJ, et al. “A hydroxychalcone derived from cinnamon functions as a mimetic for insulin in 3T3-L1 adipocytes.” J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Aug; 20(4): 327-36.
3McBride, Judy. “Cinnamon Extracts Boost Insulin Sensitivity.” Agricultural Research Magazine. 2000 July; 48(7): 21.
4Khan, MS, et al. “Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care 26 (2003): 3215-18.
5Mang, et al. “Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA, and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2.” Eur J Clin Invest. 2006 May; 36(5): 340-4.
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