Is cinnamon good for weight loss?

Cinnamon is a spice derived from the bark of a variety of trees originating in Asia. It is very popular all over the world as an ingredient in cooking and baking, as it is particularly noted for creating flavoursome desserts and pastries.

Alongside culinary use, there is also a long history of cinnamon being used in traditional medicines, although information about its effectiveness is very scarce. Recent evidence is emerging, however, which suggests cinnamon may be effective in promoting weight loss.

Why is Weight Loss Important?

Many people express the desire to lose weight at some point in their lives. In fact, an American study found that only 18% of the population is an ideal weight, and that more than half of those who are overweight desire to lose weight (Gallup Poll, 2014). There are many reasons to want to weight loss, but alongside aesthetic motivations, health can be a very strong factor.

There are a variety of health conditions which either contribute to excess weight, or are exacerbated by it. For instance, polycystic ovary syndrome and hypothyroidism can cause weight gain, whereas heart conditions such as coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease can be made significantly worse when the patient is overweight.

For individuals who have conditions which make weight loss very difficult, it can be extremely disheartening to try to lose weight, and giving up seems like a very easy option. It is important, however, to understand that weight guidelines are there for a reason, and the further away you are from your ideal weight, the more health problems you can develop.

This stands for being both overweight and underweight. Health problems associated with excess weight include poor cardiovascular health, reduced organ function, type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers. It has also been suggested that people who are overweight on average live 5 years fewer than someone who is a healthy weight (van Baal et al (2008), in Wang et al, 2014).

There are many online body mass index (BMI) calculators you can use to determine whether you meet your ideal weight, although for those who are excessively muscular, the results may not be accurate. This is because weight is assessed regardless of whether the weight consists of muscle or fat. Therefore, an extremely muscular individual may be seen as ‘morbidly obese’ on a BMI scale.

Despite the drawbacks for a very small section of the population, knowing your BMI is very helpful because you can then discover how much weight you need to lose (if any), and from this you can develop a weight loss routine which is suitable for you. Both diet and exercise should be included, but there are specific foods you can add which may be of particular help. One such food is cinnamon.

How Can Cinnamon Help With Weight Loss?

Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin sensitivity describes how much the body responds to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, which regulates blood sugar levels. Those with type two diabetes may have lower insulin sensitivity (also known as insulin resistance), meaning they require extra insulin (in the form of injections) in order to control their blood sugar levels.

It is important to regulate blood sugar levels in order to avoid a variety of health problems. Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels are too low, and is characterised by feelings of dizziness, poor concentration, irritability and headaches, among other symptoms. Hypoglycemia can, however, be extremely serious, and life-threatening symptoms such as seizures and the inability to swallow may occur.

When blood sugar levels are too high (known as hyperglycemia), symptoms such as frequent urination, extreme thirst, dry skin, hunger, blurred vision and drowsiness can occur. If hyperglycemia isn’t treated, a condition called ketoacidosis can occur. This is also known as a diabetic coma, and can be life-threatening if not treated.

Although these health problems usually only occur for individuals with diabetes, maintaining good insulin sensitivity can prevent diabetes from occurring, and cinnamon can help to improve sensitivity.

As well as regulating blood sugar levels, insulin is excellent for breaking down fat cells and helping the body to use the nutrients it consumes. As such, improving insulin sensitivity can be very helpful for encouraging weight loss. Being insulin resistant means that the body doesn’t digest carbohydrates or absorb nutrients as effectively, and as a result the body stores more fat (e.g. Elliott et al, 2002).

Cinnamon has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity (Anderson, 2008) because it contains chromium and polyphenols. Both are naturally occurring compounds found in a variety of food products, but cinnamon has them in relatively high doses.

Chromium can help to improve insulin sensitivity as it reduces the amount of cortisol in the body, a hormone normally associated with stress, but which also increases both insulin levels and fat accumulation. A variety of studies discussed in Anderson (2008) article have shown that chromium has a direct impact on weight; not only can it reduce the amount of body fat an individual has, but it can also reduce fat body mass and increase lean body mass (i.e. muscles).

A meta-analysis of the impact of chromium on weight loss has found that it can lead to a large, but clinically insignificant decrease in body weight (Pittler, Stephenson and Ernst, 2003; in Anderson, 2008). The reason for declaring the results clinically insignificant stem from the fact that the research was carried out with a small number of participants over a short time-frame. If, however, the trends found continued long after the study ceased, over a period of months or years, the weight loss could be extremely significant.

The polyphenols found in cinnamon are also beneficial for improving insulin sensitivity. This is because through a variety of processes they activate insulin receptors to encourage greater movement of insulin around the body. They also increase the amount of a particular protein (tristetraprolin) which has anti-inflammatory properties.

Lowers the Glycemic Index of Your Meal

All food is associated with a glycemic index, which describes how much the food raises levels of blood sugar. The scale goes from 1 to 100, with 100 indicating pure sugar. As indicated on the glycemic index website, high GI foods are rapidly digested, and lead to significant fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Those with low GI produce more attenuated fluctuations, which has been shown to have many health benefits. It is particularly effective for controlling weight, as cravings are reduced and feelings of satiety are prolonged.

Ground cinnamon has been proven to help reduce the glycemic index of many foods by as much as 29%. In other words, adding cinnamon to your meal can reduce the amount by which your blood sugar is raised, by as much as 29%. The effect only occurs when at least 1 and a half teaspoons are consumed, however how they are ingested are up to you. Some suggestions are that you could sprinkle some into your morning coffee and on your breakfast cereal.

This effect has also been shown for cinnamon extract, as demonstrated in a study by Jiang, Moss-Pierce and Li (2015). There was a small sample size in this study (only eight participants and eight control subjects), however it was found that following consumption of 50g carbohydrates in the form of instant oatmeal, the addition of 3g or 6g of cinnamon extract led to significant reductions in blood glucose levels compared to no additional cinnamon extract. This effect was present both 3 and 6 hours following the oatmeal consumption.

Despite this positive evidence in favour of a blood-glucose lowering effect, some research has failed to support previous research. For instance, Chezem, Tickle, Fernandes and Bolin (2013) asked 26 participants to consume 50g carbohydrates in the form of a breakfast drink, either with or without an addition of 6g ground cinnamon. They found that between groups there was no significant difference in either blood glucose levels or satiety.

They suggest that differences in research results may be due to study populations and/or the foods consumed, but it is also possible that there is an interaction between type of food consumed and the type of cinnamon used. It may be that cinnamon extract is particularly beneficial for certain types of food, whereas ground cinnamon is better when used with different food types.

More research is needed before clear benefits are known, but the evidence does seem to suggest that cinnamon does help to lower the glycemic index of many meals. This is excellent for individuals looking to lose weight as it will significantly reduce cravings for sugary and fatty snacks, and hunger will be kept at bay for longer.

Speeds Up Metabolism

The metabolism is the term describing all chemical reactions within the body which provide life-sustaining effects. This includes burning food for energy (a catabolic process) and the creation of new compounds such as proteins (an anabolic process).

In general, catabolic processes break substances down, and anabolic processes use these broken down substances to create new compounds. The average metabolism for men and women determines government guidelines for food intake; men are recommended to eat no more than 2500 calories per day, and women no more than 2000. This is because the body burns this many calories in order to maintain its current state.

Those with faster metabolisms can generally eat a little more than those with slower metabolisms because their body is better at breaking food down into energy and using that energy to maintain homeostasis. The speed of the metabolism naturally varies throughout the day and in different individuals.

Everybody has a unique basal or resting metabolic rate, which describes the body’s metabolic rate at rest, i.e. regardless of all other facts. The metabolism then adjusts when processes such as eating, exercise or sleep occur. As such, the metabolism is a very changeable and individualised phenomenon.

As well as external factors influencing metabolic rate, genetics and body type also play a role. For instance, a naturally muscular individual will have a much faster metabolism than an individual who is quite overweight.

Food has one of the biggest influences on metabolism. This is known as the ‘Thermic Effect of Food’ (which is described in detail in a variety of research papers, including Reed and Hill, 1996). The extent to which the thermic effect of food (TEF) occurs varies between individuals.

Reed and Hill found that the TEF can occur for up to six hours following food consumption, but for some people it only lasts for as little as three hours. This can influence body weight as consuming food before the TEF has been completed can mean one is overloading their metabolism with excessive energy which is not required in order to maintain the body’s current state. As such, excess energy is stored as fat.

Different food types also have an effect on the TEF. Reed and Hill discovered that meal size can influence the TEF in two ways; first of all, it can influence how much the metabolism peaks. In other words, a larger meal will raise the metabolic rate by a higher margin than a smaller meal.

Secondly, it can extend the longitude of the TEF. In other words, a larger meal can lead to a TEF which lasts for more hours than a smaller meal. Individual body composition interacts with these effects, and those who have a greater body fat mass percentage may have a lower peak but longer TEF effect than those with a higher lean body mass percentage.

Some foods have a greater TEF than others, including spicy chilies, egg whites and cinnamon. Cinnamon has a strong TEF and speeds up the metabolism by increasing glucose metabolism. In other words, it promotes and enhances your body’s natural ability to turn sugar into energy.

By consuming cinnamon, the body can improve this process, which is helpful for weight loss for two reasons; firstly, metabolic processes use up energy themselves. Secondly, the more sugar that is converted into energy means the less sugar left in the body to be stored as fat.

Reduces Abdominal Fat

Abdominal fat is one of the most dangerous types of body fat, as it has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease and other health problems (Despres, 2012). Therefore, tackling excess abdominal fat is of particular importance. The stomach is notoriously one of the most difficult areas of the body to lose weight, particularly for women, but by adding cinnamon to the diet this difficulty can be reduced.

Along with it’s other benefits, this ability to burn abdominal fat stems back to its ability to control blood sugar and insulin. Chronically high insulin levels have been shown to contribute to retaining abdominal fat, and so by harnessing cinnamon’s insulin-stabilising properties, the body will be less likely to store as much excess energy as abdominal fat.

Slows Down Digestion

There have been suggestions that as well as affecting insulin and blood sugar levels, cinnamon can also slow down digestion. This is beneficial for a number of reasons; firstly, it allows the body to process food in a steady fashion, meaning no organs or functions are overloaded. Secondly, the stomach remains filled for longer, meaning hunger is kept at bay. Thirdly, as food is processed slowly, cravings for sugary, fatty and unhealthy foods, which are eaten in order to provide a ‘quick hit’ are less likely to occur. These process may be one of the reasons that cinnamon can influence glycemic processes.

It seems that many of the benefits of cinnamon are all linked together and provide an overall improvement in blood sugar levels, which can help with weight loss by preventing cravings, keeping you full for longer, and maintaining an appropriate insulin balance.

Some Things To Be Aware Of

Despite the many benefits of cinnamon for weight loss, there are some concerns about the effects of consuming an excessive amount of the spice. The most concerning side-effect is that it can lead to liver damage. A certain type of cinnamon called cassia cinnamon contains a compound called coumarin. In individuals who are sensitive to this compound, excessive and prolonged consumption of cinnamon may lead to liver damage, or worsen existing damage.

This effect is increased when combined with drugs that are known to be potentially damaging to the liver themselves. These drugs are known as hepatotoxic drugs, and include tylenol, rheumatrex, pravachol, aldomet and dilantin.

It is also important to be cautious about taking cinnamon if you are taking antidiabetes drugs, because both cinnamon and antidiabetes drugs can lower blood sugar. This combined effect could surmount to excessive lowering which can cause health problems.

ALWAYS speak to a qualified health professional before making any changes to your diet or starting an exercise program.

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