For Good Health, Resist Insulin Resistance!

Cinnamon Extract Gets in Your Blood

For Good Health, Resist Insulin Resistance!
Cinnamon extract is a safe, natural way to maintain healthy blood sugar levels
By Dr. Edward R. Rosick


Not the best lifestyle choice!
ne of my greatest joys as a physician and as a writer is being able to educate people on the ways in which they can maximize their health and, therefore, their lives. On the other hand, one of my greatest frustrations is seeing a health or behavioral problem that a patient (or society as a whole) just doesn’t want to deal with, generally because they don’t see it as being that much of a threat to their health. Helping patients to change their behaviors in order to effect an improvement in their health can be difficult at best, but when the health problem in question is silent and stealthy, taking years or even decades to manifest its ugly consequences, it makes the job—for me and the patients—that much harder.


“Benefits in insulin sensitivity are
also likely to lead to a decreased
incidence of cardiovascular
diseases, which are more than
double in people with diabetes.”


When patients come to my office with fears about cancer or heart disease, it’s relatively easy to educate them on the lifestyle changes they should make and the dietary supplements they should take. But there are other chronic health problems, such as insulin resistance, that don’t get nearly the respect (so to speak) they deserve, even though they affect tens of millions of people.

Insulin Resistance—A Silent, Deadly Epidemic

In simple terms, insulin resistance is the decreased ability of insulin (a hormone secreted by the pancreas) to do its primary job of moving glucose (blood sugar) from our bloodstream into our cells. Since all of our cells use glucose as their primary fuel for maintaining the metabolic processes of life, an impairment of insulin’s ability to facilitate glucose transport into the cells is a very serious problem.

In people with this condition, the pancreas, over time, secretes more and more insulin in an effort to compensate for the hormone’s declining effectiveness. Often this isn’t enough, however, and blood glucose levels begin to rise; sometimes the pancreas simply “burns out” after so many years of overwork. If the chronic underlying condition becomes sufficiently severe, the result is type 2 diabetes, a devastating disease that can be controlled (with increasing difficulty as it progresses) but not cured. The long-term consequences include heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, blindness, and premature death.

Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are both very common in America: it is estimated that up to 50 million Americans have the former condition, and at least 16 million have the latter. In 2001 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected that the number of Americans with type 2 diabetes would reach 29 million by 2050. The costs to society will be immense.

Insulin Resistance Is Easy to Prevent

Although medical researchers aren’t yet sure what causes insulin resistance, it is known that both conditions are associated with obesity (by far the most important risk factor), lack of exercise, a family history of insulin resistance or diabetes, and non-Caucasian ethnicity. The last two of these factors are beyond anyone’s control, of course, but with rare exceptions, the first two (which are usually related) are easy targets for improved lifestyle choices that can virtually eliminate the risk associated with them. In that sense, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are generally easy to prevent—an undisguised blessing.

The insidious thing about these conditions is that they creep up on us so slowly and quietly, without symptoms, that we never see them coming. A simple lab test, however—the fasting blood glucose test—can easily detect the problem. Surprisingly, many doctors still don’t screen for insulin resistance by doing an annual fasting blood glucose test, even in patients who are at risk (overweight, sedentary, etc.). As with all other chronic diseases, prevention is best, but early detection is the key to successful intervention.

If you have any of the risk factors mentioned above, by all means get an annual fasting blood glucose test, and talk to your doctor about the steps you can take to reduce your risk. Then take those steps! By making some prudent choices and availing yourself of safe, natural supplements that can help maintain healthy blood glucose levels, you can virtually eliminate the specter of insulin resistance and its life-threatening consequences.

Diet Is One Key to Prevention . . .

Our typical American diet, with its preponderance of meats, trans-fats (by far the worst kind of fat), and simple sugars (rather than complex carbohydrates), has been a major factor in the rise of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, especially in the last 30 years. Both the government and the medical establishment are partly to blame, owing to their relentless drive to stigmatize all fats. This has had the unintended consequence of increasing the amount of carbohydrates in the typical American diet.

The fact is that fats—of which the monounsaturated fats (MUFs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFs) are best*—are vital for good health, and research has shown that MUFs can help improve insulin resistance. A study described in a recent review article examined the relative effects of MUFs and carbohydrates on the insulin resistance of 10 people with type 2 diabetes.1 Over a 15-day period, the patients ate either a high-MUF diet (40% MUF, 40% carbohydrate, 20% protein) or a high-carb diet (20% MUF, 60% carbohydrate, 20% protein). The researchers found that the patients on the high-MUF diet showed an improvement in their insulin sensitivity (i.e., a reduction in their insulin resistance) compared with those on the high-carb diet.


*Fats are often referred to in terms of their constituent fatty acids—in this case, MUFAs and PUFAs—which are but one part of the fat molecule, the other part being glycerol.


Exercise Is Another Key . . .

Besides eating a diet that’s relatively low in carbohydrates and high in monounsaturated fats (along with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and fiber), regular exercise is the most important factor for both preventing and reversing insulin resistance. Many studies have shown that exercise improves insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle and fat tissue, and it consistently reduces insulin levels and fasting blood sugar levels.1

In both young and old, exercise—even in as simple a form as a brisk walk every other day—can improve insulin sensitivity. I emphasize to all my patients with either insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes that if they do nothing else but change their diet as described above and adopt an exercise regimen, they may very well give themselves additional years—perhaps even decades—of a healthy life.

. . . And Then There Are Supplements, Such as Chromium

Chromium is a trace element in human nutrition—one of the nine vital trace elements upon which life absolutely depends. Chromium is also, however, one of the nutritional elements for which deficiencies are most likely to occur in our culture. It’s not so much that our American diet is deficient in chromium to begin with as it is that the diet tends to create a deficiency because of its typically excessive amounts of sugar, which depletes chromium levels. Chromium plays key roles in lipid metabolism, in the regulation of blood glucose levels, and in the metabolism of glucose, among other vital functions, and its compounds have long been used to treat patients with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

In 1997, researchers conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled study on 180 men and women with type 2 diabetes to see if chromium supplements would lead to metabolic improvements.2 Every day for 4 months, the patients took 100 mcg (micrograms) or 400 mcg of chromium, or placebo. The results (which were similar for both dosages) were significant decreases in fasting glucose levels, fasting insulin levels, and 2-hour insulin levels—all of which point to an improvement in insulin sensitivity.

. . . And the Remarkable Lipoic Acid

Lipoic acid is a supplement I recommend to almost everyone in my practice who has insulin resistance or diabetes, because this extremely safe, powerful antioxidant has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, in addition to its many other proven health benefits. Lipoic acid plays such a central role in the human body’s antioxidant network that it is called “the antioxidant’s antioxidant.”

In one placebo-controlled study, 74 patients with type 2 diabetes were randomized to receive 600, 1200, or 1800 mg/day of lipoic acid or placebo.3 After 4 weeks, the patients receiving lipoic acid supplements had significantly improved insulin sensitivity. (It turned out that there were no significant differences with respect to the three amounts of lipoic acid used.)

. . . And Cinnamon (It’s Not Just for Apple Pies Anymore!)

Cinnamon, that delightful (and thankfully inexpensive) spice used the world over, has proved to be effective in treating insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes in both laboratory and human studies. Cinnamon contains many potentially healthful chemical constituents, such as flavonoids that act as potent antioxidants. It is believed, however, that a certain water-soluble compound that’s easily extracted from cinnamon—methylhydroxychalcone polymer, or MHCP—is the compound that makes cinnamon so beneficial for people with insulin resistance.

Cinnamon May Counteract the Fructose Effect

It is thought that the large amounts of fructose from sources other than fruit in our American diet—especially in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, which is found in such tasty items as soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, baked goods, and desserts—have contributed significantly to the dramatic rise in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes seen across the land. From across the Pacific Ocean has come a study showing that cinnamon extract may prevent insulin resistance brought about by excessive consumption of fructose as high-fructose corn syrup.1

In the Japanese study, rats were fed a high-fructose diet, with or without cinnamon extract in their drinking water, for 3 weeks. At the end of that time, it was found that the rats given the cinnamon extract were protected from insulin resistance brought about by the high-fructose diet. Although this study is certainly interesting, it must be noted that the daily amount of cinnamon extract the rats were given was 300 mg per kg of body weight, which, for a 75-kg (165-lb) human, translates to 22.5 grams per day—an amount 30 times greater than that recommended for use by humans (755 mg).

  1. Qin B, Nagasaki M, Ren M, et al. Cinnamon extract prevents the insulin resistance induced by a high-fructose diet. Horm Met Res 2004;36:119-25.

Laboratory studies have shown that MHCP is able to improve cellular glucose metabolism. In a recent report on the isolation and characterization of polymers (such as MHCP) from cinnamon, the authors concluded, “. . . compounds present in cinnamon may have beneficial effects on glucose, insulin, and blood lipids and may prove to be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes.”4


An annual fasting blood glucose test is excellent health insurance.
The value of cinnamon in correcting the metabolic problems associated with insulin resistance and diabetes has also been demonstrated in human beings. A recent randomized, placebo-controlled study in Pakistan examined the effects of 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon daily in 60 middle-aged men and women with type 2 diabetes.5 At the end of the 40-day study, the patients taking the cinnamon supplements at all three of these dosages showed significant decreases in their fasting blood glucose, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and triglyceride (fat) levels. (The lowest dosage was just as effective as the two higher ones.)

These impressive results led the leading researcher in this field, Dr. Richard A. Anderson (who participated in the Pakistani study) to state, in a different publication:4

The magnitude of these effects due to taking a common spice illustrates the importance of naturally occurring insulin-enhancing complexes in the prevention and alleviation of glucose intolerance and diabetes. Benefits in insulin sensitivity are also likely to lead to a decreased incidence of cardiovascular diseases, which are more than double in people with diabetes.

An Ounce (or Less) of Prevention (or Cinnamon) Is Worth a Pound of Cure

While preventive medicine gets plenty of lip service from HMOs and other nefarious entities, the fact is that prevention of diseases is not emphasized (let alone reimbursed) to any appreciable degree in this country. Fortunately, you can—and you should—take personal responsibility for maintaining your health and avoiding insulin resistance by observing a few simple rules: eat a nourishing diet, exercise regularly, and use safe, natural supplements, such as MHCP derived from cinnamon. Just because Big Brother isn’t looking out for your best interests doesn’t mean you can’t do it yourself!

References

  1. Kelly GS. Insulin resistance: lifestyle and nutritional interventions. Alt Med Rev 2000;5(2):109-32.
  2. Anderson RA, Cheng N, Bryden NA, et al. Elevated intakes of supplemental chromium improve glucose and insulin variables in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes 1997;46:1786-91.
  3. Jacob S, Russ P, Hermann R, et al. Oral administration of rac-alpha-lipoic acid modulates insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a placebo-controlled pilot trial. Free Rad Biol Med 1999;27: 309-14.
  4. Anderson RA, Broadhurst CL, Polansky MM, et al. Isolation and characterization of polyphenol type-A polymers from cinnamon with insulin-like biological activity. J Agric Food Chem 2004;52:65-70.
  5. Khan A, Safdar M, Khan MMA, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2003;26:3215-8.

Caution: If you have diabetes, do not take any supplement that may affect your blood sugar levels without first consulting your physician. Diabetes is a serious disease requiring careful professional management.


Dr. Rosick is an attending physician and clinical assistant professor of medicine at Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in preventive and alternative medicine. He also holds a master’s degree in healthcare administration.

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