Does Cinnamon Help Control Blood Sugar?

Tom Rifai, MD, FACP
Newspaper with headline,

IN TODAY’S MEDICAL NEWS: Does Cinnamon Help Blood Sugar Control? NOTeD Asks … Again?

A July 21, 2020 article on the ABC 7 KVIA.com website informs us: “Cinnamon linked to blood sugar control in prediabetes, study finds.” Is it true that cinnamon helps control blood sugar levels?

Sorry cinnamon lovers! Cinnamon (whether cassia or Ceylon) is a wonderful spice but it is still too early for it to be considered a miracle drug. The study being reported on here was very small but high quality: a randomized controlled trial (RCT) investigating cinnamon’s effect on diabetes prevention in 51 people with prediabetes who were not taking other medications. Results of similar trials in full blown type 2 diabetics have been mixed, probably because the effect of cinnamon is too weak to make a difference in blood sugar control consistently when patients are already on other glucose lowering medications. Not discussed in the article but important to note is that having to take anything three times per day as the cohort in this RCT did over the long term is virtually assured to result in low adherence.

If, as this report leads us to understand, cinnamon is found to have enough benefit to warrant medical support in follow up RCTs on prediabetics, it should go through FDA oversight, including a study of its impacts more broadly than a RCT on less than 100 people. Such oversight would assure purity and coumarin risk, allowing pharmacy data banks the capacity to flag it for drug to drug interactions just like any other drug. As mentioned in this article, we know that cassia cinnamon is a source of coumarin and need to be alert for problematic food to drug interactions and/or possible liver toxicity at pharmaceutical doses.

Not discussed in the article but important to note is that having to take any pill(s) three times per day, as the cohort in this RCT did, over the long term is virtually assured to result in low adherence.

Kudos to this article for pointing out what I repeat regularly, which is that the BEST method for type 2 diabetes prevention is lifestyle medicine. This has been proven in three massive randomized controlled trials on three different continents: the Diabetes Prevention Program (USA), the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study and the Asian Da Qing Diabetes Prevention Study. All of them were consistent in reporting a 50-85% risk reduction of converting to full type 2 diabetes in prediabetics over the course of several years via weight reductions of as little as 5%.

BOTTOM LINE: THIS SMALL STUDY IS NOT PROOF THAT CINNAMON SHOULD BE RELIED UPON TO SAFELY CONTROL BLOOD SUGAR

Cinnamon is a great spice! Use it within reason to cut down on food sugar and salt content. But does a small study using heavy doses in a capsule three times per day prove it helps reduce type 2 diabetes risk? No. And certainly not definitively nor nearly as proven as lifestyle. Let’s wait (or better yet walk) and see if more, and larger studies come along to give us the definitive data that we need.

 

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