You may enjoy a sprinkle of cinnamon on your cappuccino or a dash in your oatmeal, but cinnamon's beneficial qualities extend beyond a warm, spicy scent and a comforting flavor. Cinnamon may play a role in managing blood sugar levels and in mitigating other cardiovascular disease risk factors. These qualities make cinnamon a healthy part of any diet and may assist in feelings of satiation, but will not necessarily lead to weight loss. Even if you take concentrated doses of the spice in supplemental cinnamon pills, you aren't guaranteed a thinner frame. Weight loss happens when you reduce portion sizes, emphasize whole foods and move more.
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Cinnamon's Effects on Metabolism
Cinnamon can positively affect issues associated with the condition known as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome -- characterized by excess abdominal fat, high triglycerides, low levels of HDL or "good cholesterol," high blood pressure and high blood sugar -- increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
When you have elevated blood sugar levels due to metabolic syndrome, your body produces a lot of the hormone insulin in order to put excess sugar into storage. Over time, the body becomes immune to the effects of normal insulin levels and pumps out more insulin to do the job -- a condition called insulin resistance. Higher insulin levels encourage your body to store the extra energy more efficiently as fat. Cinnamon may be able to help you normalize blood sugar levels and to blunt these effects.
Research on Cinnamon and Metabolism
A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2011 determined that cinnamon can lower fasting blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. This impacts the body's production of insulin and possibly the storage of fat. Another study published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology in 2010 notes that cinnamon has exhibited beneficial effects on various parameters -- including blood glucose, insulin sensitivity and lean body mass -- in patients with metabolic syndrome as well as those with type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Researchers aren't sure of the dose and type of cinnamon most effective in helping elicit positive effects. Not all research done on the spice has revealed positive effects, either; in some cases, cinnamon had no impact. Researchers surmise that some drugs -- although they aren't sure which ones -- may block the ability of cinnamon to have an impact.
Weight Loss Implications
When your blood sugar levels are normalized, your body doesn't pump out excessive amounts of insulin. This means sugar -- from carbohydrates or sweets -- isn't stored as fat as quickly. A small study published in the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition" in 2006 also found that supplementation with cinnamon extract positively affected the systolic blood pressure and fasting blood sugar levels, along with the percentage of lean body mass, in people with metabolic syndrome, compared to people who took a placebo, instead. In this study, the cinnamon-taking participants also lost a small amount of body fat -- 0.7 percent -- as compared to the placebo group, over the 12 weeks.
Cinnamon Pills to Support Weight Loss
Cinnamon's ability to help reduce high blood sugar may aid in efforts to lose weight, especially if you have metabolic syndrome -- but the spice won't induce significant weight loss. You can't expect cinnamon pills to replace other, more effective weight-loss efforts, such as reducing your caloric intake, choosing healthy foods like lean proteins and fresh vegetables and exercising more. Due to delayed gastric emptying, cinnamon pills may cut your appetite slightly because it slows the time it takes for food to empty from the stomach. This means you may feel full for longer and you may end up eating less often.
Cinnamon Supplement Precautions
Although cinnamon pills are sold over-the-counter and are supposedly natural doesn't mean they are inherently safe for you. Discuss plans to take cinnamon pills with your doctor before adding them to your regimen. Cinnamon pills may negatively interact with blood thinning medication or anti-diabetes medications.
Cinnamon is usually safe in moderate amounts. Many supplements contain a type of cinnamon known as cassia, which contains a liver-damaging compound called coumarin. Consuming too much cassia cinnamon can cause liver complications.
Even if you could establish a beneficial dose of cinnamon to help you regulate blood sugar to aid weight loss, you can't rely on supplemental cinnamon pills to accurately report their dosage or contents. In 2013, the New York Times reported that a chemical analysis of herbal supplements found that they often do not contain what they claim to contain on the label. Fillers -- such as soybeans, rice powder and wheat -- predominate. Herbal supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so you can't be guaranteed of quality or even the contents of cinnamon pills you purchase.
Using Whole Cinnamon as a Weight-Loss Alternative
If you do want to supplement with cinnamon, you may be better off purchasing whole cinnamon sticks and fresh-ground powdered cinnamon for cooking. Try simmering sticks in soups and stews; use powdered cinnamon as part of a seasoning rub for chicken; cook cinnamon sticks in rice pilaf; or brew sticks into a tea with apple juice and lemon slices.
- Experience Life: 5 Healing Spices
- Journal of Medicinal Food: Cinnamon Intake Lowers Fasting Blood Glucose: Meta-Analysis
- The New York Times: Herbal Supplements Are Often Not What They Seem
- Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology: Cinnamon: Potential Role in the Prevention of Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, and Type 2 Diabetes
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
- Life Time Weight Loss: What You Should Know About Your Blood Glucose Levels
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: Effects of a Water-Soluble Cinnamon Extract on Body Composition and Features of the Metabolic Syndrome in Pre-Diabetic Men and Women
- The Wall Street Journal: Little Bit of Spice for Health, but Which One?
- Gut: Does Delayed Gastric Emptying Really Cause Symptoms in Functional Dyspepsia
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Cinnamon