In some cultures, cinnamon does more than add flavor to foods. It serves as a natural health remedy. The Chinese have used it for centuries to lower cholesterol, relieve arthritis pain, and fight certain cancers.

Many believe that cinnamon can also help regulate blood sugar for people with diabetes. But does research back that claim?

The claims about cinnamon

Cinnamon has a long history. It was imported to Egypt as early as 2,000 B.C. and, depending on the type, came from Arabia, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, northern India, or China.

The theory about cinnamon as an herbal diabetes remedy is that it can decrease insulin resistance. For people with type 2 diabetes, this means their bodies' natural ability to control sugar levels experiences less interference.

What the research shows

Some studies from China and the United States have found that cinnamon, taken as an extract or in ground form, reduces blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.

At the Clinical Medical College of Jiangsu University, researchers examined the effects of cinnamon extract on 66 patients with type 2 diabetes. Participants were divided into three groups: a low-dose group, a high-dose group, and a placebo group.

After three months, both the low- and high-dose groups saw reduced levels of fasting blood glucose levels and hemoglobin. However, no changes occurred in the placebo group.

A similar study from the University of California, Davis demonstrated that cinnamon aids in blood glucose control for both people with type 2 diabetes and people with prediabetes.

Although these and some other studies found positive results, there are also numerous studies that failed to show any blood glucose benefit from cinnamon. Because the evidence in cinnamon's favor is so limited, the American Diabetes Association does not recommend it as a diabetes treatment.

Cinnamon proponents also debate which type of cinnamon works best, cassia or Ceylon. Again, research offers no clear answer.

The safety of cinnamon

Cinnamon supplements are classified as a food, not a drug, and are not subject to the same safety and effectiveness tests as medications. Also, because cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels, you should be cautious about combining it with medications intended to do the same.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying an herbal remedy to treat your diabetes so that you can learn about the potential risks and side effects, which can include liver problems.

For more on cinnamon and diabetes:

Cinnamon and Diabetes: An Update
What's Better: Cinnamon Pills or Sticks?
Cooking with Cinnamon: Recipes