Cinnamon is an aromatic spice obtained from the inner bark of two related trees: true Celon cinnamon comes from Cinnamomum verum (also known as Cinnamomum zeylanicum) while Dutch, cassia or baker’s cinnamon comes from Cinnamomum cassia (also known as Cinnamomum aromaticum). Cinnamon bark is harvested from the shoots of young trees, from which the outer bark is removed. The inner bark is then cut into thin strips and dried to form the familiar cinnamon quills from which cinnamon powder is made. Cinnamon is used medicinally to improve blood pressure and glucose control.
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Cinnamon and blood pressure
Cinnamon not only lowers blood pressure in people with hypertension, but also has beneficial effects in people whose blood pressure is only had slightly raised and falls within the definition of hypertension in the US, but not currently in the UK.
The latest study, involving 28 healthy volunteers with a slightly raised blood pressure, assessed the effects of taking true Ceylon cinnamon (from Cinnamomum verum also known as Cinnamomum zeylanicum) at three different doses: 85mg, 250mg or 500mg cinnamon per day, for 3 months. All three doses showed a similar result, with blood pressures falling by an average of 6.7/4.8 mmHg (from 124.0/76.8 mmHg down to 117.3 /72.0 mmHg) and staying low throughout the rest of the trial. Their total cholesterol and ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol also reduced significantly. This is the first study to show that cinnamon can lower blood pressure even in healthy people, which suggests that even a low dose of cinnamon may help to slow or prevent the progression of hypertension.
How does cinnamon lower blood pressure?
Cinnamon contains several unique substances such as cinnamaldehyde and ethylcinamate which have several different blood pressure lowering actions. Cinnamon extracts improve blood vessel elasticity and promote blood vessel dilation through mechanisms involving nitric oxide, activation of potassium channels in smooth muscle, and by improving the flow of calcium in and out of cells. Cinnamon also lowers blood pressure through a mild diuretic effect that reduces the amount of sodium and fluid in the circulation.
Cinnamon and type 2 diabetes
Cinnamon has a long history of use in treating type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon appears to activated insulin receptors so they respond to insulin hormone more effectively. This reduces insulin resistance, improves the uptake of glucose into muscle and fat cells, and reduces the production of abnormally high amounts of new glucose in the liver.
The effects of cinnamon were tested in 59 adults with type 2 diabetes who took either 1,200mg cinnamon per day, or placebo, for 12 weeks. At the end of the trial, systolic blood pressure was reduced by 3.4 mmHg in those taking cinnamon but had increased by 1.9 mmHg in those taking placebo – a combined difference of 5.3 mmHg.
Another study involving 58 people with type 2 diabetes compared the effects of taking 2g cinnamon per day, or placebo, for 12 weeks. All volunteers continued to take their normal medications. In those taking cinnamon, blood pressures reduced by 132.6/85.2 to 129.2/80.2 mmHg. Significant reductions in fasting blood glucose and HbA1c (a measure of glucose control over the preceding 12 weeks) also seen. The researchers concluded that cinnamon supplements could be considered as an additional dietary option to regulate blood glucose and blood pressure levels along with conventional medications used to treat type 2 diabetes mellitus. NB If you are taking medications, check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
Overall, the combined results from three trials show that cinnamon extracts can significantly lower blood pressure in people with prediabetes (metabolic syndrome) or type 2 diabetes by an average of 5.39/2.6 mmHg
Which form of cinnamon is best?
Most commercial cinnamon comes from so-called Dutch or baker’s cinnamon, Cinnamomum cassia (also known as Cinnamomum aromaticum) which has a sweeter, less intense flavour than true Ceylon cinnamon.
True cinnamon has a lower content of coumarin (a blood thinning agent) than cassia cinnamon, and a higher content of active aldehydes, so true cinnamon supplements may be better for long term use for lowering blood pressure.
However, a paper published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2012 suggested that Cinnamomum cassia was the only type to have beneficial effects on glucose control in diabetes, and that true Ceylon cinnamon was less effective.
Do if you only want the blood pressure lowering benefits, select a cassia cinnamon supplement. If you also want to improve yoru glucose control, then select a true Ceylon cinnamon supplement.
For reducing blood pressure, relatively small doses of 85mg true Ceylon cinnamon per day appear to have the same effect as higher doses of 500mg cinnamon per day.
For improving glucose control, then doses of 1g cassia cinnamon, three times per day, are most effective.
Some cinnamon supplements contain concentrated extracts so that lower doses are needed eg a 5:1 concentration means that 200mg cinnamon extract is equivalent to 1000mg raw cinnamon. Check labels for the manufacturer’s recommended dose and do not exceed this except under medical advice and supervision.
NB If you have diabetes, always keep a close eye on your glucose control when taking a supplement. Check with your doctor first, and ensure you know how to adjust your medication if needed.