Agricultural Research Service scientists are
seeking a patent on compounds extracted from cinnamon that make cells much more
sensitive to insulin in test tube studies.
Nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population15.7 million peoplehave
diabetes, and one-third of them don't even know it. The large majority of
diabetes cases are type 2the kind that usually begins in midlife. It is
characterized by the failure of body cells to recognize and respond to insulin
as well as they once did. This leads to elevated blood sugar because insulin's
job is to prompt cells to take in glucose.
Another 13.4 million people have elevated fasting blood sugar levels below
the threshold indicating diabetes but are at high risk for developing the
disease. Lack of exercise, being overweight, and genetic predisposition are
often cited as contributing factors involved in the high incidence of diabetes
in western countries.
Worldwide, this silent killer claims more than 100 million lives annually.
It is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. And for many
people, drugs or other forms of treatment are unavailable.
The search for a natural way to keep blood sugar levels normal began more
than a decade ago when ARS chemist Richard A. Anderson and co-workers at the
Beltsville (Maryland) Human Nutrition Research Center assayed plants and spices
used in folk medicine. They found that a few spicesespecially
cinnamonmade fat cells much more responsive to insulin, the hormone that
regulates sugar metabolism and thus controls the level of glucose in the blood.
With help from Walter F. Schmidt in ARS's Nuclear Magnetic Resonance
Laboratory at Beltsville, the 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
Cinnamon is among the world's most frequently consumed spices and is
relatively inexpensive. Anderson and colleagues found that its most active
compoundmethylhydroxy chalcone polymer (MHCP)increased glucose
metabolism roughly 20-fold in a test tube assay of fat cells.
The researchers tested 50 some plant extracts and found that none of them
came close to MHCP's level of affecting glucose metabolisma process in
which cells convert glucose to energy. If in future research MHCP proves to do
the same in people, it might provide a natural remedy against diabetes.
What's more, MHCP prevented the formation of damaging oxygen radicals in a
blood platelet assay.
"That could be an important side benefit," notes Anderson.
"Other studies have shown that antioxidant supplements can reduce or slow
the progression of various complications of diabetes."
MHCP is the first chalcone, a type of polyphenol or flavonoid, reported in
cinnamon. MHCP and other active compounds are water soluble and are not found
in the spice oils sold as food additives.
Anderson pointed out that the water extract reduced blood pressure in
hypertensive rats even before it increased insulin sensitivity. And compounds
in a water extract are less likely to be toxic in large doses than those in an
oil extract, he says.By Judy
McBride, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Human Nutrition, an ARS National Program (#107)
described on the World Wide Web at
Richard A. Anderson is
at the USDA-ARS Nutrient
Requirements and Functions Laboratory, Bldg. 307, Room 224, 10300 Baltimore
Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705-2350; phone (301) 504-8091, fax (301) 504-9062.