The Power of Cinnamon:
Just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day significantly reduces blood sugar levels in diabetics, a new study has found. The effect, which can be produced even by soaking a cinnamon stick in your tea, could also benefit millions of non-diabetics who have blood sugar problem but are unaware of it.
The active ingredient in cinnamon is a water-soluble polyphenol compound called MHCP. In test tube experiments, MHCP mimics insulin, activates its receptor, and works synergistically with insulin in cells.
Volunteers with Type 2 diabetes were given one, three or six grams of cinnamon powder a day, in capsules after meals.
All responded within weeks, with blood sugar levels that were on average 20 per cent lower than a control group. Some even achieved normal blood sugar levels. Tellingly, blood sugar started creeping up again after the diabetics stopped taking cinnamon.
Cinnamon also lowered levels of fats and “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which are also partly controlled by insulin. And in test tube experiments it neutralized free radicals, damaging chemicals, which are elevated in diabetics.
Cinnamon’s essential oils also qualify it as an “anti-microbial” food, and cinnamon has been studied for its ability to help stop the growth of bacteria as well as fungi, including the commonly problematic yeast, Candida.
In a study, published in the August 2003 issue of the International Journal of Food Microbiology, the addition of just a few drops of cinnamon essential oil to approximately 3 ounces of carrot broth, which was then refrigerated, inhibited the growth of the food borne pathogenic Bacillus cereus for at least 60 days. When the broth was refrigerated without the addition of cinnamon oil, the pathogenic B. cereus flourished despite the cold temperature. In addition, researchers noted that the addition of cinnamon not only acted as an effective preservative but improved the flavor of the broth.
Chewing cinnamon flavored gum or just smelling cinnamon enhanced study participants’ cognitive processing. Specifically, cinnamon improved participants’ scores on attention related processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor speed while working on a computer-based program.
Hint: simmer a few cinnamon sticks in water while your kids are doing their homework; this will serve as wonderful yet non-toxic air freshener for your home.
Cinnamon has also been valued in energy-based medical systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, for its warming qualities. In these traditions, cinnamon has been used to provide relief when faced with the onset of a cold or flu, especially when mixed in a tea with some fresh ginger.
Cinnamon is the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree. There are many different species, between 50 and 250, depending on which botanist you choose to believe. The two main varieties are Cinnamomum cassia and Cinnamomum zeylanicum. C. zeylanicum is also known as Ceylon cinnamon (the source of its Latin name, zeylanicum), or ‘true cinnamon’ which is a lighter color and possessing a sweeter, more delicate flavor than cassia. A native of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) the best cinnamon grows along the coastal strip near Colombo.
In ancient Egypt cinnamon was more precious than gold. This is not too surprising though, as in Egypt the abundance of gold made it a fairly common ornamental metal. Nero, emperor of Rome in the first century AD, burned a year’s supply of cinnamon on his wife’s funeral pyre – an extravagant gesture meant to signify the depth of his loss.
The demand for cinnamon was enough to launch a number of explorations in search of it. The Portuguese invaded Sri Lanka immediately after reaching India in 1536. The Sinhalese King paid the Portuguese tributes of 110,000 kilograms of cinnamon annually.
The Dutch captured Sri Lanka in 1636 and established a system of cultivation that exists to this day. In its wild state, trees grow high on stout trunks. Under cultivation, the shoots are continually cropped almost to ground level, resulting in a low bush, dense with thin leafy branches. From these, come the finest quills.
Cinnamon comes in ‘quills’, strips of bark rolled one in another. The pale brown to tan rolled strips are generally thin, the spongy outer bark having been scraped off. The best varieties are pale and parchment-like in appearance. True cinnamon is very similar to cassia, and in North America little distinction is given, though cassia tends to dominate the market. Cinnamon is also available ground, and can be distinguished from cassia by its lighter color and much finer powder.
Whole quills will keep their flavor indefinitely. Unfortunately it is difficult to grind so for many recipes the powdered variety will be preferred. Like other powdered spices cinnamon loses flavor quickly, so should be purchased in small quantities and kept away from light in airtight containers.
Cassia and cinnamon have similar culinary uses, but since it is more delicate, cinnamon is used more in dessert dishes. It is commonly used in cakes and other baked goods, milk and rice puddings, chocolate dishes and fruit desserts, particularly apples and pears.
The largest importer of Sri Lankan cinnamon is Mexico, where it is drunk with coffee and chocolate and brewed as a tea.
Recent studies have determined that consuming as little as one-half teaspoon of real cinnamon each day may reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels by as much as 20% in Type II diabetes patients who are not taking insulin it is mildly carminative and used to treat nausea and flatulence. It is also used alone or in combination to treat diarrhea.
Chinese herbalists tell of older people, in their 70s and 80s, developing a cough accompanied by frequent spitting of whitish phlegm. A helpful remedy, they suggest, is chewing and swallowing a very small pinch of powdered cinnamon. This remedy can also help people with cold feet and hands, especially at night.
Germany’s Commission E approves Cinnamon for appetite loss and indigestion. The primary chemical constituents of this herb include cinnamaldehyde, gum, tannin, mannitol, coumarins, and essential oils (aldehydes, eugenol, pinene).
Cinnamon is predominantly used as a carminative addition to herbal prescriptions. It is used in flatulent dyspepsia, dyspepsia with nausea, intestinal colic and digestive atony associated with cold & debilitated conditions. It relieves nausea and vomiting, and, because of its mild astringency, it is particularly useful in infantile diarrhea.
The cinnamaldehyde component is hypotensive and spasmolytic, and increases peripheral blood flow. The essential oil of this herb is a potent antibacterial, anti-fungal, and uterine stimulant. The various terpenoids found in the volatile oil are believed to account for Cinnamon’s medicinal effects. Test tube studies also show that Cinnamon can augment the action of insulin.
Cinnamon is from a tropical evergreen tree of the laurel family growing up to 7m (56 ft) in its wild state. It has deeply-veined ovate leaves that are dark green on top, lighter green underneath. The bark is smooth and yellowish. Both the bark and leaves are aromatic. It has small yellowish-white flowers with a disagreeable odor that bear dark purple berries. It prefers a hot, wet tropical climate at a low altitude. Cultivated plantations grow trees as small bushes, no taller than 3 m (10 ft), as the stems are continually cut back to produce new stems for bark. The outer bark, cork and the pithy inner lining are scraped off and the remaining bark is left to dry completely, when it curls and rolls into quills. Several are rolled together to produce a compact final product, which is then cut into uniform lengths and graded according to thickness, aroma and appearance.
Other Names: Ceylon Cinnamon, True Cinnamon.
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