For many many years, we clinical doctors have been fighting a stupid war against herbal remedies and alternative medicine. For no reason other than stupid arrogance. But we forgot a very important fact: that inside of many plants currently living in “mother nature´s superpharmacy” remains hidden THE SPICE OF LIFE itself..
A world-wide epidemic of diabetes is currently underway. An estimated 30 million people in the world had diabetes in 1985. Ten years later, the number increased to 135 million. The latest World Health Organization (WHO) statistic was 177 million in the year 2000. This figure is likely to be more than double (almost 400 million people) by 2030. In Croatia, there are about 155,000 people suffering from diabetes, a figure that will reach 200,000 or more by the year 2030 according to the WHO.
Two major concerns are that much of this increase in diabetes will occur in developing countries, due to population growth, ageing, unhealthy diets, obesity and sedentary lifestyles, and that there is a growing incidence of type 2 diabetes at a younger age, affecting even children. By 2030, while most people affected in developed countries will be age 65 years or more, in developing countries the majority will be in the 45-64 year age range and affected in their most productive years.
Around 4 million deaths every year are attributable to complications of diabetes. The top 10 countries, in numbers of people affected, are India, China, USA, Indonesia, Russia, Japan, UAE, Pakistan, Brazil and Italy. Overall, the direct health care costs of diabetes range from 2.5% to 15% of annual health care budgets. Economically, the costs of lost production may be as much as five times the direct health care cost, according to estimates derived from 25 Latin American countries.
But not all are bad news: recent studies in China, Canada, USA and several European countries have shown that feasible lifestyle and nutritional interventions can prevent the onset of diabetes in persons at high risk.
Yes, ladies and gentleman: Healthy Diet to the rescue once again. And here is when our story begins:
Once upon a time there was a small evergreen tree (family Lauraceae) in Sri Lanka which inner bark was used to produce a spice nowadays called by botanists Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Cinnamon for the rest of us, simple minded mortals). The best cinnamon is therefore from Sri Lanka, but the tree is also grown in Java, West Indies, Brazil and Egypt and is currently exported to almost every nation in the globe.
Cinnamon has been known from ancient times, and it was so highly prized among ancient cultures that it was regarded as a present for monarchs and kings. It is even mentioned in the Bible (Exodus XXX, 23) where Moses is commanded to use both cinnamon and cassia, and also alluded by Herodotus and by other classical ancient writers.
As most of you already know, cinnamon is principally employed in cookery as a condiment and flavouring material, being largely used in the preparation of some kinds of chocolate and liqueurs. In months like February is even used by some clever girls to provide romantic environments with a nice smell in the form of candles.
But cinnamon has more uses than deserts and candles. It also has some interesting medical properties. Cinnamon contains essential oil, coumarins, and condensed tannins. Its action is warming to the digestive tract, relieves pain, is carminative and astrigent. It stimulates poor digestion and circulation and is therefore indicated for conditions with symptoms of “cold”, poor circulation to the extremities, edema, diarrhea and loss of appetite. The presence of tannins helps to account for its use for diarrhea. Its carminative action stimulates digestive secretions and encourages peristaltic movements, reducing gripping and gas formation.
To summarize some of cinnamon known medical benefits:
· Supports digestive function
· Constricts and tones tissues
· Relieves congestion
· Relieves pain and stiffness of muscles and joints
· Relieves menstrual discomfort
· Blood-thinning compounds that stimulate circulation
· Anti-inflammatory compounds that may relieve arthritis
· Helps prevent urinary tract infections, tooth decay and gum disease
· It’s a powerful anti-microbial agent that can kill E. coli and other bacteria
But the most interesting medical property was discovered quite recently. About ten years ago, the USDA Beltsville Nutrient Requirements and Functions Laboratory first reported that cinnamon improved the utilization of glucose by fat cells in vitro. Since then, researchers have tested 60 medicinal and food plants, and nothing has come close to the consistently excellent results of cinnamon.
Researchers have found that cinnamon can lower blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol levels, as well as improve insulin functioning, particularly in type 2 diabetics. Richard Anderson, lead scientist at the Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland (USA), calls its medicinal properties the most significant nutritional discovery in 25 years.
“I don´t know anything else, other than drugs, that can change glucose, tryglicerides and cholesterol levels so much” – he says.
The most recent study, which appears in the December issue of the journal “Diabetes Care”, showed that, after 40 days, 30 diabetics who had taken 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon extract daily reduced their risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Specifically, their mean fasting glucose fell 18-29 %, their triglycerides 25-30%, their LDL ('bad') cholesterol 7-27% and their total cholesterol 12-26%. Remarkable results of this preliminary study that for sure will inspire another research groups to conduct more studies in diabetics and general population shortly.
With help from Walter F. Schmidt in ARS's Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Laboratory also in Maryland, these researchers identified the compounds in cinnamon responsible for its activity. The patent application names Anderson, his co-workers C. Leigh Broadhurst and Marilyn M. Polansky, and Schmidt as the inventors. Anderson´s group managed to isolate and identify the phytochemical responsible for cinnamon's activity, and they believe it has several potential benefits for diabetics. The phytochemical, methyl-hydroxy-chalcone-polymer (MHCP), is not only newly discovered in cinnamon, but new to phytochemistry in general.
They tested 50 other plants extracts and found that none of them came close to MHCP´s level of affecting glucose metabolism. If in future research MHCP proves to do the same in the general population, it might provide a natural remedy against diabetes. Furthermore, MHCP prevented the formation of damaging oxygen radicals in a blood platelet assay. That could be an important side benefit, since other studies have shown that antioxidants supplements can reduce or slow the progression of various complications of diabetes.
MHCP increases cellular glucose oxidation by factors of up to 20-fold, improves the function of the insulin receptors on the cell, and as just mentioned, has a strong antioxidant effect. Since the first report on cinnamon, hundreds of people have contacted the laboratory to say how cinnamon has helped them reduce their insulin or medication dosages. Most people are using 1 to 2 teaspoons per day (5-10 g).
For many many years, we clinical doctors have been fighting a stupid war against herbal remedies and alternative medicine. For no reason other than stupid arrogance. But we forgot a very important fact: that inside of many plants currently living in “mother nature´s superpharmacy” remains hidden THE SPICE OF LIFE itself.
Madrid, February 7, 2004.
1. Anderson RA, Broadhurst CL, Polansky MM, Schmidt WF, Khan A, Flanagan VP,
Schoene NW, Graves DJ.
Isolation and characterization of polyphenol type-A polymers from cinnamon with insulin-like biological activity.
J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jan 14;52(1):65-70.
2. Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA.
Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes Care. 2003 Dec;26(12):3215-8.
3. Qin B, Nagasaki M, Ren M, Bajotto G, Oshida Y, Sato Y
Cinnamon extract (traditional herb) potentiates in vivo insulin-regulated glucose utilization via enhancing insulin signaling in rats.
Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2003 Dec;62(3):139-48
4. Jarvill-Taylor KJ, Anderson RA, Graves DJ.
A hydroxychalcone derived from cinnamon functions as a mimetic for insulin in 3T3-L1 adipocytes.
J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Aug;20(4):327-36.
5. Imparl-Radosevich J, Deas S, Polansky MM, Baedke DA, Ingebritsen TS, Anderson RA, Graves DJ.
Regulation of PTP-1 and insulin receptor kinase by fractions from cinnamon:
implications for cinnamon regulation of insulin signalling.
Horm Res. 1998 Sep;50(3):177-82.