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Dear Pharmacist Sprinkle of cinnamon a day keeps metformin away

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Posted: Friday, October 19, 2012 7:12 am

Dear Pharmacist: I heard that cinnamon might lower blood sugar. Is this true? Can I use cinnamon spice to lower my blood sugar if I’m taking metformin? Does cinnamon have other health benefits? — E.G., Decatur, Ill.

A: There are different kinds of cinnamon, and the spice that you sprinkle on your oatmeal is not the best one in terms of health benefits. Yeah, for real. Didn’t you know there were varieties of cinnamon? Hang on.

I think it’s alright to combine cinnamon spice with metformin, but if you consume commercial supplements along with your medications, I suggest you track your blood sugar routinely and gain your physician’s blessings. Remember, taking two anti-diabetic agents will enhance the blood sugar-lowering effect, and if it plunges too low, you get hypoglycemia. If you consume authentic, high-quality brands of cinnamon, this could actually happen to you. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include nausea, sweating, palpitations, weakness, fainting and anxiety.

Does cinnamon work? Several studies have established health benefits for the warming, aromatic spice of autumn. Researchers who conducted a meta-analysis concluded that cinnamon extract could reduce fasting blood sugar. That’s great, because it’s well established that elevated fasting blood sugars are a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. The glycemic action of cinnamon is almost comparable to your medication, but don’t take that as an invitation to stop your metformin! My point is that cinnamon has some merits that need to be further elucidated.

Another study found that daily intake of cinnamon (for about 2 months) could significantly lower the fasting blood glucose, weight, and body fat mass in a patients with Type 2 diabetes, as compared to a control group. Scientists are trying to tease out whether cinnamon helps with colorectal cancer now. Just outstanding, but wait!

As I mentioned earlier, there are different varieties of cinnamon. The most popular kind is called Cassia and it’s found in grocery stores, and served at coffee shops and restaurants. It’s everywhere. Genuine cinnamon, the kind I strongly recommend, is called Ceylon, and you must buy it from nice spice shops, some herbal apothecaries or online.  Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon come from two different species. Cassia, while tasty and used by millions of us, has a stronger, harsher taste compared to Ceylon.

Cassia is actually known to contain a small amount of a moderately toxic component called coumarin. You don’t have to worry about this, but hypothetically, if you took a ginormous dose, it could cause liver and kidney damage. It’s also known to thin blood, considered a good thing but those of you on anti-coagulant drugs need to know.

Ceylon has a fine texture, tastes lovely, and contains a lot of health-promoting compounds. As we head into fall, sprinkle it on everything, because Ceylon cinnamon contains eugenol and terpinoids, which are strong antiviral agents.

This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For more information about Suzy Cohen, visit her website at www.suzycohen.com.

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