Cinnamon is by far the spice I love the most. Its sweet, strong, complex taste is almost magical to me. In part, this is why I’ve closely followed the news about it for so long, especially about its potential as a type II diabetes treatment(not type I). Early studies on cinnamon suggested it could lower both glucose and cholesterol levels.
A lot more research has been done, and a recent meta-analysis,
Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis.
on cinnamon concluded:
The consumption of cinnamon is associated with a statistically significant decrease in levels of fasting plasma glucose, total cholesterol, LDL-C, and triglyceride levels, and an increase in HDL-C levels; however, no significant effect on hemoglobin A1c was found. The high degree of heterogeneity may limit the ability to apply these results to patient care, because the preferred dose and duration of therapy are unclear.
It looks like there is still some promise here, though if you have type II diabetes or suspect you have it, go see a doctor as soon as possible, don’t try treating it with cinnamon. While this meta-analysis indicates some positive effects, it also notes the inconsistency of some of the evidence. In large part this is because of how the amount of biologically active chemicals in cinnamon are highly variable. Besides this, some of the other hundreds of chemicals in cinnamon may interfere with the glucose-lowering chemicals effects. This isn’t unique to cinnamon though; this is a limitation of just about all other herbs or spices people use for their supposedly therapeutic effects.
To further complicate matters, I believe most scientific studies that have been done on cinnamon used Ceylon cinnamon, often called true cinnamon(cinnamomum verum), rather than cassia, which is also known as cassia cinnamon(Cinnamomum cassia), or colloquially as “Chinese cinnamon”. In North America, cassia or Chinese cinnamon is much more common, and cheaper, than Ceylon(true) cinnamon, and may have somewhat different medicinal properties, besides tasting sweeter than cassia.
In the U.S, what we call “cinnamon” is almost always cassia, and it is what is generally sold in most stores and supermarkets(in Europe, Ceylon cinnamon is much more common). While true cinnamon and cassia are closely related, cassia has a lot more coumarin, which has powerful anticoagulent effects, besides being toxic for the liver. Consuming very large amounts of cassia on a regular basis may be dangerous for some people. This is why Ceylon cinnamon, which has little to no coumarin, is probably safer to use in large quantities.
If you want to purchase true Ceylon cinnamon, you may need to go to a specialty market to find it. Make sure the container clearly says it is “Ceylon cinnamon”. It will almost certainly come from Sri Lanka(Ceylon), which produces about 80 – 90% of the world’s supply.
On a related note, marjoram in the U.S is often labeled as “oregano“. Though they are closely related, oregano is more peppery and zestier than marjoram. Next time you think you’re adding oregano to your pizza or pasta, there’s a good chance it is actually marjoram.
Regardless of its medicinal potential, I love sprinkling cinnamon on oatmeal or pancakes. I love the sweet fire that is cinnamon.