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Beneficial Compounds in Cinnamon Spice Up Insulin Sensitivity

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
April 19, 2004

Several compounds isolated from cinnamon may one day become the key natural ingredients in a new generation of products aimed at lowering blood sugar levels. Agricultural Research Service scientists extracted the complexes from cinnamon bark.

In test tube assays, the compounds, called polyphenolic polymers, increased sugar metabolism in fat cells twentyfold. Millions of people have impaired sugar and fat metabolism, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

ARS chemist Richard A. Anderson and colleagues at the Beltsville (Md.) Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNCR) and two universities conducted the research. The findings were published this year in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

The extracted compounds increase insulin sensitivity by activating key enzymes that stimulate insulin receptors, while inhibiting enzymes that deactivate the receptors. The compounds also have antioxidant effects, which may provide synergistic benefits to people with various forms of diabetes.

Last year, the researchers reported that less than a half-teaspoon of cinnamon daily for 40 days reduced by about 20 percent the blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels of 60 volunteers in Pakistan with Type 2 diabetes. But table cinnamon made from cinnamon bark contains fat-soluble compounds. Those compounds may accumulate in the body if ingested consistently as more than a spice over long periods of time.

The newly defined, water-soluble compounds can be separated from nearly all the fat-soluble, potentially toxic components found in cinnamon bark, according to Anderson. He is with the BHNRC's Nutrient Requirements and Functions Laboratory in Beltsville.

The USDA has filed a patent application on the invention.

Read more about this research in the April issue of Agricultural Research magazine