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Chemists Richard Anderson and Marilyn Polansky use high-performance liquid chromatography to identify compounds from cinnamon that improve the action of insulin.

Read: a detailed article in Agricultural Research .

Cinnamon Extract Spices Up Sugar Metabolism

By Judy McBride
July 24, 2000

Cinnamon adds zest to more than just food. The spice contains substances that, in test tube studies, wake up body cells to the hormone insulin. Because insulin regulates glucose metabolism and thus controls the level of glucose in the blood, the substances may have the potential to delay or prevent adult-onset, or type 2, diabetes.

Only time and more research will tell. But the Agricultural Research Service has filed a patent application on the active substances. The most active--methylhydroxy chalcone polymer (MHCP)---increased glucose metabolism roughly 20-fold in the test tube assay of fat cells.

Nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population--15.7 million people--have diabetes, and one-third of them don’t even know it. The large majority of diabetes cases are type 2, the kind that emerges when body cells fail to recognize and respond to insulin as well as they once did.

A search for a natural way to keep blood sugar levels normal began more than a decade ago, when ARS chemist Richard A. Anderson and coworkers at the Beltsville (Md.) Human Nutrition Research Center assayed plants and spices used in folk medicine. They found that a few spices, especially cinnamon, made fat cells much more responsive to insulin.

With help from Walter F. Schmidt in ARS Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at Beltsville, the researchers identified the compounds in cinnamon responsible for its activity. None of the approximately 50 other plant extracts they evaluated have come close to MHCP’s level of activity. MHCP and other active compounds are water soluble and so are not found in the spice oils sold as food additives.

An article on the subject appears in the July issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief research agency.

Scientific contact: Richard A. Anderson, Nutrient Requirements and Functions Laboratory, ARS Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-8091, fax (301) 504-9062,