Cinnamon is a plant that has a variety of uses among many different cultures, from spicing up foods to deterring germs from growing. There are actually two main forms of cinnamon that are commonly found in foods. The first, Cinnamomum verum, also known as “true” cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon, is commonly used in sweet pastries. On the other hand, Cinnamomum cassia, also known as cassia, Chinese cinnamon or “bastard” cinnamon, is used as a stronger spice in a variety of foods. In fact, it is cassia-based cinnamon that is often seen on the grocery shelves and is most often cheaper than true cinnamon.
Still No Clear Answers
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the health benefits of cinnamon, but can it lower cholesterol levels? Scientists studying cinnamon say that it might have potential. Much of the information publicized about cinnamon mostly concerns its role in lowering blood sugar in diabetes. Proanthrocyanidin, an active molecule in cinnamon, functions by activating the insulin receptor within the cell, therefore enabling the cell to use glucose for its energy. During some of these studies, scientists also found evidence that, along with lowering glucose levels, cinnamon may also lower lipid levels.
What Have the Studies Proven?
A study conducted in 2003 noted that a daily intake of one-half teaspoon (1 gram) of cassia cinnamon not only lowered blood sugar levels in type II diabetics, it also significantly lowered LDL and triglyceride levels. HDL, or "good" cholesterol, was not affected by cinnamon in this study. However, more recent studies have concluded that consuming cinnamon does not change your cholesterol levels.
What Do the Results Mean?
The research conducted on cinnamon so far has not conclusively proven that it can lower cholesterol levels. Therefore, more studies are needed to determine how effective cinnamon would be in lowering cholesterol, which type of cinnamon to use, and the amount needed to lower cholesterol levels. Most of the studies used cassia cinnamon in their experiments, so it would probably be useful to see if true cinnamon was any different in lowering cholesterol levels. Additionally, the form of cinnamon may make a difference. For instance, some studies have used a powdered form of cinnamon, whereas other studies have used an extract of cinnamon.
So, if you have been diagnosed as having high cholesterol, taking cinnamon might not help lower your cholesterol levels, but it probably won't hurt either.
If I Decide to Take It, What Do I Need to Know?
If you use cinnamon in foods as a spice, you should experience any side effects. Just be sure not to use this as an excuse for eating pastries containing cinnamon, since this can raise your cholesterol levels! Take note that consuming a large amount of cinnamon (usually as a supplement) may cause you to experience a fast heart rate, upset stomach and excessive perspiration. If you are a diabetic, consuming large quantities of cinnamon also may cause your blood sugar levels to drop. Although there are no drug interactions reported, be sure to let your health care practitioner know that you are taking cinnamon as a supplement.
According to the studies, ground cinnamon is usually administered 1 to 6 grams a day, and the extract is administered 80 mg/day. But keep in mind that excessive amounts of cinnamon can be toxic, and the exact amount considered to be toxic to humans is still not known.
Khan A et al. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids in people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 26(2003): 3215-3218.
Vanschoonbeek et al. Cinnamon supplementation does not improve glycemic control in Postmenopausal Type 2 Diabetes Patients. Journal of Nutrition 136(2006):977-980.
Mang B et al. Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA1c and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2. European Journal of Clinical Investigation 36(2006): 340-344.