Headlines may have you believing that cinnamon is a sure-fire way to lower blood sugar and stave off or even treat diabetes. But what is the evidence? While the evidence is not as convincing as the headlines suggest, cinnamon could be a healthy and tasty addition to your diet.

Background: Cinnamon has been used as a medicine in Chinese culture since 2700 B.C. Cinnamon has been used in other Asian cultures and in India as well. The popular spice's many uses include digestive aid, appetite improvement, and diabetes treatment. Most people in the west just like how cinnamon tastes on toast, in cider, and on cereal.

Cinnamon is a spice that is the dried inner bark of a small evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka. Test tube studies show that cinnamon has natural phytochemicals (parts of the plant) that may lower blood sugar, fight bacteria, and even fight tumor growth. But these are studies done in test tubes so the question to ask is: will cinnamon do all these things in people? So far, most cinnamon studies have focused on diabetes and lowering blood sugar.   

Cinnamon Studies: Several doctors who specialize in integrative medicine reviewed four of the best designed studies on cinnamon and diabetes in the February 2008 Alternative Medicine Alert. Here's what they concluded:

  • All four studies had some drawback like small sample size or the cinnamon formulation of the cinnamon used in the study not being very well described.
  • Two of the studies showed that cinnamon does lower blood sugar.
  • Two of the studies showed that cinnamon did not lower blood sugar.
  • Cooking with cinnamon and using it on your foods is safe and could have health benefits - but the evidence is not definite.
  • Supplements are probably safe for most people but could have very high levels of coumarin that could be poisonous to the liver.
  • Dietary cinnamon does have coumarin but not in nearly high enough levels to be dangerous.
  • Most studies with cinnamon used 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon. One half teaspoon of store-bought cinnamon equals one gram so use at least half a teaspoon a day for possible health benefits.

The Bottom Line: Right now, avoid cinnamon in tablet form. You simply don't know what you're getting because dietary supplements don't have to show that they are safe or effective. If you like cinnamon, get some at the store and use it in your cooking and on your foods. One half to 3 teaspoons a day is what you should aim for.

Here are some ways you can add cinnamon to your foods: (full screen here)

  • Sprinkle on oatmeal and other cereals
  • Add it to baked apples and roasted vegetables
  • Add cinnamon to black beans
  • Simmer cinnamon sticks in apple cider
  • Mix cinnamon and with a little sugar and put it on toast

Beth Kitchin PhD RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

Source: Schneider C, Wissink T. Cassia Cinnamon in Diabetes Mellitus Type 2, Alternative Medicine Alert, 11(2):13-16.