Sweet Cinnamon

Cinnamon is an ordinary kitchen spice with a surprising health benefit.

AN estimated one in 10 middle-aged Malaysian has diabetes. But that’s not what worries experts the most. Add to those figures, another one in five has what doctors call pre-diabetes.

The number of pre-diabetics is expected to climb as the population gets older, fatter, and more sedentary. Pre-diabetics are not only at risk for developing diabetes, but also heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, and amputations.

“Your risk of heart attack or stroke is two to four times higher if you have diabetes than if you were normal. It is 1½ times higher if you have pre-diabetes,”says Judith Fradkin of the US National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases.

“Between a third and half of pre-diabetics will go on to develop diabetes within five to 10 years,” says Frank Vinicor, director of the Diabetes Program at the Centre’s for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, US.

Those at risk for pre-diabetes include:

  • People who are grossly overweight (BMI 30 and above), especially those who have an abundance of “belly fat”. Insulin resistance is commonly associated with obesity.
  • Those having known family history of diabetes (one or both parents have diabetes).
  • The elderly. As we age our pancreas cells lose some of the ability to make enough insulin.

Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes

Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes usually begin with insulin resistance. Blood sugar (glucose) level in the body is regulated by insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. Some researchers have found that water-soluble compounds in cinnamon called polyphenol type-A polymers have the ability to boost insulin’s activity about 20 fold.

Insulin helps to transport glucose from the blood through the cell membranes and into the cells of the body.

As long as the cell membranes remain sensitive to insulin, the shuttling of glucose into the cells occurs quickly.

When the cell membranes become insensitive to insulin (also called insulin resistance) the pancreas will have to pump out more insulin in an attempt to force the glucose into the cells.

When this effort is not so effective, the result is high levels of sugar circulating in the blood (considered a pre-diabetes condition). Eventually, over time, the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin to control blood sugar, and type 2 diabetes develops. (A fasting blood sugar of 5.5mmol/l is normal; between 5.5 and less than 7 is pre-diabetes; 7 and above is diabetes.)

Researchers now know that diabetes does not just appear out of nowhere. Before diagnosed as having diabetes, you have a condition known as pre-diabetes.

This condition is where your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes and most people do not know it.

The best way to combat diabetes is at the pre-diabetic stage.

People with pre-diabetes can cut their odds of getting diabetes by nearly 60% through healthy eating, regular exercise and taking supplements to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes and reduce the risk of complications.

Water-soluble Standardized Cinnamon Extract

Dr Richard Anderson, a chemist at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), was searching for foods that might mimic the action of insulin in controlling blood sugar (glucose) levels.

He found a class of water-soluble compounds in cinnamon called polyphenol type-A polymers to have the ability to boost insulin’s activity about 20 fold.

This insulin boosting property of cinnamon will benefit people with high sugar levels (pre-diabetics and diabetics).

In June 2006, a new study shows that daily supplementation with water-soluble extract of cinnamon helps to improve sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

In this study, 79 diabetics took the supplement three times daily. After four months, their fasting blood sugar levels improved by 10.3%.

Furthermore, diabetics who had higher initial blood sugar levels benefited more from taking the supplement.

Water-soluble cinnamon extract also has excellent antioxidant properties.

In October 2006, a new study presented at the 47th American College of Nutrition demonstrated that water-soluble cinnamon extract may provide protective antioxidant effects in reducing free radical damage associated with high blood sugar levels.

Additionally, the study showed improved blood sugar control.

The results of this study further support the role of cinnamon extract in helping people suffering from impaired insulin function and pre-diabetes. (Note: Water-soluble cinnamon polyphenol type a polymers extract is 70% more effective than whole cinnamon itself and avoids the potentially harmful allergic side-effects that can occur when using high doses of whole cinnamon.)

Banaba Standardised Extract

A number of medicinal plants from India, China and Japan are used for diabetes.

One of the most effective plant compounds discovered is corosolic acid found in the leaves of the Banaba (Lagestroemic speciosu) tree, which exhibits anti-diabetic properties.

Dr Yamazaki, professor of pharmaceutical science, Hiroshima University School of Medicine, Japan, studied the effects of corosolic acid in relation to its insulin-like properties.

His studies indicate that corosolic acid activates the transport of glucose across the cell membranes into the cells, resulting in blood sugar reduction.

Corosolic acid acts like insulin, the hormone that naturally increases glucose transport activity across cell membranes, thus facilitates the lowering of blood sugar.

Clinical studies in the US and Japan show that corosolic acid is safe and effective in lowering blood sugar levels in pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Individually, cinnamon and Banaba extracts increase insulin sensitivity, which helps to lower blood sugar levels.

When the two are combined they are more effective. These supplements are to be taken with current medication and are not intended to replace the medication and advice of physicians.

If you are at risk for pre-diabetes ask your doctor to give a blood test. Even if you consider yourself not at risk, experts now advice those over 35 years of age to check their blood sugar levels annually.

However, if you know you have pre-diabetes, you could still prevent the onset of diabetes and reduce damage to your body through changes in diet, exercise and also consider supplements.