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A 65-year-old woman with diabetes, heart disease and hypertension told me that she had taken to including plenty of herbs, particularly cinnamon, in her diet. I explained to her how cinnamon would work best for her.
Cinnamon (Dalchini in Hindi) was originally cultivated in Sri Lanka and India. It is brown, mildly bitter and a spicy cooking herb, popularly used in traditional Indian, Persian and Turkish cuisines as a flavouring agent to curries. In Western countries, it is sprinkled on toast and lattes, cinnamon rolls being quite popular. Although many varieties exist, most commercial preparations are derived from Cinnamomum cassia. The aroma and flavour of cinnamon are derived from its essential oil and principal component, cinnamaldehyde. Its use has been mentioned in the Bible and ancient Chinese texts. In Egyptian history, cinnamon was used to embalm mummies.
WHAT’S THE NUTRIENT BREAK-UP?
The composition of cinnamon is 11 per cent water, 81 per cent carbohydrates (including 53 per cent dietary fibre), 4 per cent protein and 1 per cent fat. It contains good amounts of calcium, iron, vitamin K and resins such as cinnamaldehyde, cinnamate and cinnamic acids. Traditionally, a number of beneficials effects have been ascribed to cinnamon, including those on cough/cold, indigestion, hypertension, diabetes, memory, oral health, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and so on. However, robust clinical trials and in-depth analysis are only available for some of these ailments, most importantly for diabetes and metabolic disorders.
THE INDIA STUDY
In 2017, our group carried out a pathbreaking, robust scientific study (randomised controlled trial) of cinnamon in India. In this trial, 3 gm cinnamon was given as capsules to 58 people with metabolic syndrome (a condition when abdominal obesity, elevated blood sugar, deranged cholesterol and triglyceride levels occur together in the same individual). We compared them to 58 other individuals with metabolic syndrome who did not receive the cinnamon dose. The trial was conducted over a period of four months. When the results were analysed, we were pleasantly surprised. The use of cinnamon decreased blood glucose, abdominal fat, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the study group. At the end of the study, many had normal blood sugar, lipids and waist circumference. In other words, the metabolic syndrome no longer existed. This trial was widely appreciated by the scientific community and since then, cinnamon use became popular in many patients of diabetes in India.
Before and after our study, several other trials have been conducted with cinnamon worldwide and barring a few, most show a good effect on blood sugar and lipid levels. While results of these trials are clearly encouraging, longer trials are warranted. Cinnamon has also been used in patients with nasal allergies, HIV and COVID-19 but results are uncertain. It has been used in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, though firm data are not available.
PROPERTIES OF CINNAMON
The metabolic action of cinnamon has been ascribed to multiple mechanisms. The polyphenol-rich cinnamon is a potential source of natural antioxidants, exhibiting strong scavenging (cleaning) properties for toxic material in cells, which may reduce stress (oxidative) on cellular functions. It facilitates movement of cellular vehicles transporting glucose in the cells (“glucose transporters”) thus making its metabolism efficient. Additionally, it may delay absorption of glucose after meals.
HOW MUCH CINNAMON SHOULD YOU TAKE?
Two-three grams/day (½ teaspoon) orally per day has been shown to be safe. It can be taken as fresh, hand-ground powder. Just add half a teaspoon of this powder in half a glass of water (150 ml). It is advisable not to exceed intake of more than 5 gm (one teaspoonful/day).
Cinnamon powder can also be added to oatmeal, tea, coffee, salads, meats, vegetable preparations, rice pudding, protein shakes and so on. For non-diabetic individuals, hand ground cinnamon powder can be used along with honey/lime juice/orange juice. For patients with diabetes, it can be mixed with lime water and taken as such. Pregnant and lactating mothers, patients taking blood thinning medications (anticoagulants called coumarins) and children/adolescents below 18 years of age should not take it. People with significant liver damage should avoid cinnamon.
So, in the end, I told my patient, “You can use other herbs used in cooking, but cinnamon is your showstopper.”
(Dr Misra is Padma Shree awardee and author of “Diabetes with Delight”)
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