Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A penny's worth of cinnamon a day Lowers Cholesterol as Well as Drugs and Improves Blood Sugar Control

Cinnamon: Spice Up Your Life

Most of us remember the blueberry story that soaked the press several years ago describing the antioxidant power of the berry's blue pigment. The anti-cancer properties of blueberries literally... come out of the blue. Whether we were talking about the orange beta carotene in sweet potatoes, or the red lycopene in tomatoes, the colors themselves are the antioxidants.

The blueberry study tested only 40 fruits and vegetables, though. Newer data shows that blueberries, the previous "number one" antioxidant food, got their little blue butts kicked down to number six. Just when we thought blueberries were the winners, someone tested walnuts, which then took the lead. And now, just when walnuts were getting cocky, someone looked at herbs and spices, which almost all blow walnuts out of the water. We now know that lots of the flavor compounds in herbs are powerful antioxidants as well. The flavors are the antioxidants. So there's these compounds called gingerols. Guess where they're found? Don't forget rosmarinic acid... So for maximum nutrition we should eat colorful and flavorful foods.

On a per weight basis herbs and spices rule the plant kingdom, but how many grams of cloves can people eat? And just because herbs and spices are at the top of the antioxidant ladder doesn't necessarily translate into clinical benefit. While U.S. scientists continued to tinker our tax dollars away force-feeding rodents blueberry pulp, researchers in Pakistan had the novel idea of actually studying human beings.

Researchers took 30 men and 30 women--all with type II diabetes--and gave half of them capsules containing cinnamon and half of them placebo capsules. After 40 days, those eating just 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon a day not only had significantly better blood sugar control, but their cholesterol dropped almost 30%--that's like what you see in cholesterol-lowering drugs!

Why hasn't this study been plastered all over the front pages? It was certainly published in a prestigious American medical journal. Perhaps it's because, although the statin medications net drug companies billions in profit every year, a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon costs me less than a penny a day in the bulk bin at my local co-op. And the research suggests that even just a pinch a day (less than 1/8 teaspoon) might have a similar effect.[6]. Are other spices as medicinal as cinnamon? I guess we'll just have to wait for the government of Pakistan to fund more studies.

[6] Diabetes Care 26(12):3215.

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