Nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population -- 15.7 million people -- have diabetes. And one-third of them don't even know it. Cinnamon extracts could be a natural remedy.
Scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service are finding that cinnamon does more than add zest to food. The spice also contains substances that make body cells more sensitive to insulin, which controls the level of glucose in the blood. The substances may have the potential to delay or prevent Type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes, also called adult-onset, usually begins in midlife. Lack of exercise, being overweight, and genetic predisposition are often cited as contributing factors to developing the disease.
The search for a natural way to regulate blood sugar levels began more than a decade ago, when ARS chemist Richard A. Anderson and coworkers at the Beltsville (Maryland) Human Nutrition Research Center assayed plants and spices used in folk medicine. They found that few spices, especially cinnamon, made fat cells much more responsive to insulin.
Cinnamon is among the world's most frequently consumed spices and is relatively inexpensive. It's said to be one of the spices responsible for the start of world trade.
Anderson and his colleagues found that cinnamon's most active compound -- methylhydroxy chalcone polymer (MCHP) -- increased glucose metabolism roughly 20-fold in a test tube assay of fat cells. None of the other 50 plant extracts they evaluated have come close to MCHP's level of activity. What's more, MCHP acted as an antioxidant in a blood platelet assay.
MCHP and the other active compounds are water soluble and are not found in the spice oils sold as food additives.
To read more about ARS' research, see the entire article in the July issue of Agricultural Research.