Cinnamon has insulin-like activity and could also enhance the activity of insulin, said Don Graves of the University of California, Santa Barbara. "The latter could be quite important in treating those with type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon has a bio-active component that we believe has the potential to prevent or overcome diabetes," he said.
Researchers at the UCSB and the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute in Santa Barbara have been studying the effects of cinnamon on obese mice, which have been fed water laced with cinnamon. Final results are expected in about six months.
"More than 170 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes, and for many, drugs or other forms of treatment are unavailable. It may be possible that many of these people could benefit from readily available natural products such as cinnamon," said Graves.
Using nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectroscopy, the researchers obtained results which allowed them to describe the chemical structure of a molecule with 'insulin-like' activity in cinnamon. Graves and others reported earlier that this compound, a proanthocyanidin, can affect insulin signalling in fat cells.
Richard Anderson of the US Department of Agriculture, the discoverer of the insulin-like activity, recently completed a human study with associates in Pakistan using cinnamon. Promising results were obtained by 30 test subjects with type 2 diabetes after only 40 days of taking cinnamon. They had a significant decrease in blood glucose, triglycerides, LDL, and cholesterol.
The researchers hope that a human trial may begin in the US using cinnamon and its water-soluble extract to treat type 2 diabetes.
In type 2 diabetes the body develops a resistance to insulin, thus preventing the cells from receiving the glucose that they need to function. The work at UCSB is focused on the way cinnamon operates at cellular and molecular levels, looking at how it works with the cell's insulin receptor and other proteins involved in reactions associated with the action of insulin.
Graves said that other major diseases could also be helped by cinnamon, including pancreatic cancer, a disease in which abnormal amounts of insulin are produced by the pancreas in response to the cancer tumour causing insulin resistance in the cells of the body. The resistance prevents glucose availability to the cells. "It's speculative but exciting," Graves said of the theory.
Recent studies have shown that insulin resistance may also be involved in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, he added. A study testing the effects of the 'insulin-like' component of cinnamon on protein reactions associated with Alzheimer's disease is planned at UCSB's Neuroscience Research Institute (NRI).