Q. My doctor says I have pre-diabetes. I have read your columns about the advantages of Ceylon cinnamon for people with diabetes. Would this help me with my pre-diabetes? Ceylon cinnamon is difficult to find. Would Saigon cinnamon work, as well? Are there other natural herbs or spices I should consider taking?
A. Cinnamon and other spices and herbs rich in plant polyphenols can help control blood sugar and insulin spikes after meals (Diabetologia, July 2015). One placebo-controlled trial found that a supplement containing cassia cinnamon, chromium and carnosine successfully lowered fasting blood sugar in people with pre-diabetes (PLOS One, Sep. 25, 2015).
Polyphenols, compounds found in cinnamon as well as tea, coffee, grapes, wine, cocoa and berries, slow the absorption of glucose (sugar) from the digestive tract and stimulate insulin secretion (Nutrients, Jan. 5, 2016).
Most studies of cinnamon to lower blood sugar have used ordinary cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) rather than the more expensive Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylonicum). Cassia cinnamon is the kind usually found on grocery store shelves. Saigon cinnamon is closely related to cassia cinnamon. Here is another related question about cinnamon.
Q. I have type 2 diabetes. My doctor put me on metformin, but I found that it gave me terrible neuropathy. I had stinging pain in my legs and numbness in my feet and ankles.
After some online research, I decided to stop taking metformin and began taking Ceylon cinnamon instead. I use a water extract. Since I’ve made this change, I’ve not had any problem with neuropathy. My last test result showed my HbA1c is 5.6 and my blood glucose is typically around 110. What do you think?
A. Be sure to inform your doctor about your approach. Ask him or her to check your vitamin B12 level, as metformin can reduce absorption of this crucial nutrient. Low amounts of vitamin B12 can affect the nerves and contribute to symptoms of neuropathy.
Cinnamon can help lower blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes (Clinical Nutrition, April 2019). You are using the safest approach to medicinal use of this spice: You have chosen Ceylon cinnamon, which is naturally low in coumarin, and you are using a water extract. This technology leaves the coumarin behind.
Coumarin is a compound that is naturally found in cassia cinnamon bark. Excess quantities can damage the liver, which is why we encourage an approach like yours. Consumerlab.com tested cinnamon products and found that a water-based extract, Swanson Cinnulin PF, met its standards for low coumarin and high pro-anthocyanidins.
Although Ceylon cinnamon can lower blood sugar, cassia or Saigon cinnamon can, too. If you take either of them, though, we suggest a water extract rather than the powdered spice. The reason is coumarin.
Both cassia cinnamon and Saigon cinnamon contain coumarin, a natural compound that can harm the liver when taken in large amounts. Coumarin is not water soluble, however. That’s why you can use a water-based extract without fear. Look for it as a supplement, or make your own by steeping cinnamon sticks in hot water.
There are a number of other spices that can be helpful. They include caraway, cumin, ginger, fenugreek and turmeric. You can learn much more about these spices and their beneficial effects from our 200-page book “Spice Up Your Health.” It is available at peoplespharmacy.com.
It is important to monitor your blood sugar levels very carefully. Your doctor will want to keep track of your progress, so a daily diary with glucose levels will enable her to make sure you are within normal limits. If natural products together with exercise and a low-carb diet don’t work, you might need medication. You can learn more about type 2 diabetes and how to treat it with drugs and non-drug approaches in our Guide to Managing Diabetes.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website peoplespharmacy.com.
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