You may know of cinnamon as a frequent addition to holiday dishes such as pumpkin pie and mulled cider.
Prepared from the bark of a tree originally native to Sri Lanka, cinnamon has been used in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda for thousands of years. Even the Romans and ancient Egyptians were familiar with it. In fact, the Roman historian Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D. wrote that cinnamon was 15 times more valuable than silver.
In our own time, cinnamon has been shown to lower blood sugar, cure the common cold and make blood thinner. In fact, the drug Coumadin - used to prevent blood clot formation - is derived from a synthetic form of cinnamon.
Exciting new research shows that cinnamon reduces blood sugar after meals and improves insulin sensitivity, both of which combine to reduce risk for type 2 diabetes.
A 2012 study carried out at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, compared the effects of consumption of 6 grams of cinnamon on the so-called glycemic response - level of blood sugar after a meal - in both normal-weight and obese adults.
Insulin resistance, resulting in increased fasting and postprandial (after meals) blood glucose and insulin levels, is commonly observed in obese individuals.
Thirty study subjects between the ages of 18 and 30 years consumed 50 grams of carbs in instant farina cereal, served either plain or combined with 6 grams of ground cinnamon. Their blood glucose levels were recorded at 0, 15, 30, 45, 60, 90, and 120 minutes after their meal.
Of the study subjects, 15 had body-mass indices (BMIs) between 18.5 and 24.9, while the remaining 15 had BMIs of 30.0 or more.
In a combined analysis of all subjects, the addition of cinnamon to the cereal significantly reduced blood glucose levels at 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes after the meal.
These results suggest that cinnamon may be an effective way to manage the postprandial glucose response in both normal weight and obese adults.
Cinnamon consumption comes with one caution, though - pregnant women should not consume too much as it can cause blood thinning, which may be risky for both mother and child.
Also, health experts recommend that anyone on blood-thinning or anti-diabetes medications consult with their physicians before adding cinnamon to their diet.