Diabetes is a growing problem in the western world and it’s fairly easy to see why (from a doctor’s perspective): many people now have a very sedentary lifestyle, they eat too much junk food, and people don’t take very good care of themselves. The situation is further muddied by the train of ‘natural’ products which are pedaled to those who are diabetic or pre-diabetic, promising to alleviate symptoms. The latest in this long line is cinnamon which is being put out as a way to lower blood sugar levels quickly and ‘naturally’.

The Problem with ‘Natural’ Medication

For a long time, there has been a stark divide between ‘natural’ medicine and ‘conventional’ medicine. Natural methods are perceived as being gentle, safe and effective while medicine is seen as being unnatural, harsh and dangerous. This trend has been running in our consciousness for a while, but it really took off in the last few decades and in particular, the last twenty years or so when people became more connected and were better able to compare notes, discuss ideas and yes, sell each other things.

Going natural has become a huge trend of late because of the reveal of genetically altered foods, the poor way meat is handled, medical scandals (particularly in America where insurance companies definitely have their hands in the pie), and a growing suspicion that many of the world’s diseases are brought on by chemicals, pollutants and other man-made toxins.

And certainly all of this is true! But in true human form, we are taking things a bit too far. While some natural medicine has proven effective (Tylenol anyone?, Cordyceps sinensisCurcuminHericium erinaceusMega red krill oil, etc.), claiming that things like raspberry leaf, cinnamon and bush bark can cure everything from premature ejaculation to cance is what is known as a naturalistic fallacy.

Not everything which is natural is beneficial-cyanide and lead is certainly normal parts of nature, as are things like toxic mold, but you certainly wouldn’t ingest them! Instead, some natural things are good for you, but some aren’t and most neither give nor take any benefits. And yet, if you look around you, you’ll see this naturalistic fallacy all around you and it can lead to bad health choices.

Alternative Medicine and Diabetes

Diabetes is a scary disease, no question about it. For a long time, it was a death sentence because there was no way to create insulin for people to take. And even now, it can cause a whole host of problems unless properly managed and that in itself can cause problems.

Both kinds of diabetes have to manage with insulin and generally, medication is required as well as major lifestyle changes-better eating, more exercise, quit smoking and drinking and so on. Without these changes, patients eventually end up in the hospital or dead.

Patients with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to move towards ‘natural’ supplements because they are more likely to experiment with medication as opposed to Type 1 diabetics who know that if they stray from their regime, they could end up dead. Type 2 diabetics are more likely to self-manage themselves, using the internet and friends, sometimes to disastrous results.

Obviously there has to be some self management with diabetics; they have to figure out their own life style changes, implement them, and decide how to go about living their lives. But self-treatment with supplements can be a terrible idea. ‘Natural’ treatments for diabetes have included chromium, ginseng, fenugreek and bitter melon and now cinnamon. Each of these things have been debunked as being at the very least useless, right down to the advertising which usually claims the product has been used for thousands of years .

So What about Cinnamon?

Cinnamon does have some benefits; it can help lower blood cholesterol (a little), help with weight loss (a little) and is something of an anti-bacterial (sort of). But as you can see by our brackets, cinnamon only does these things in small quantities. The fact is that there is no such thing as a food which can cure something or manage something by itself and cinnamon is no different. Furthermore, cinnamon is generally found in things with sugar which aren’t good for your health.

So what about cinnamon and diabetes? There are a couple of problems with the idea that cinnamon will cure diabetes. First of all, when we think of cinnamon, we are thinking of just one type: Ceylon Cinnamon is the one found in our kitchen whereas Cassia cinnamon is the one that is studied in trials. So forget just shaking your canister of cinnamon over your food every day and this makes studies of its effectiveness shaky at best.

Studies done on the impact of cinnamon on diabetes have largely been failures. Studies done on the effect of cinnamon on postmenopausal women showed no effect on blood sugar or blood lipid levels. Other studies have shown that cinnamon did lower A1C (blood sugars) by about .09% which looks good on paper, but against medication, it’s pretty lousy (.09% vs 1%). At best, cinnamon has 10% the efficacy of drugs and at worst, it does nothing (though at least it’s harmless, at least in small doses).

Problems with Cinnamon

You certainly wouldn’t use drugs without knowing the side effects and you shouldn’t assume that just because something is natural, it has no side effects! Anything can be toxic if you overdo it and cinnamon is no different. This food additive is safe is you only have a few grams a day and you don’t do it all the time, but if you start eating cinnamon every day in larger quantities, you could be at risk of liver damage. There are still no conclusive studies on the damage that long-term, high doses of cinnamon can cause (who would sign up?!), but why take the risk?

Cinnamon is not an effective treatment for diabetes and indeed, there is (as yet), no such thing as a single food which can cure anything, let alone something like diabetes. Existing drug therapies are shown to be more effective and far more affordable. The bottom line is that you should never use something simply because you think it is all natural and therefore better; this might just not be the case. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some cinnamon on your oatmeal every morning!