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USDA examines diabetes benefits of cinnamon

By Mike Stones , 23-Jul-2010

Spices such as cinnamon could be used in the battle against type 2 diabetes, according to United States Agricultural Department (USDA) scientists.

Nutrition researchers from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are purifying, characterizing and evaluating the components of cinnamon and other spices to explore their beneficial effects on insulin levels and related functions.

Research by chemist Richard Anderson, at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNRC), Maryland and colleagues suggests certain spices may be beneficial to some people with diabetes.

Blood glucose levels

Their study, based on a water-soluble extract of cinnamon, suggested that the spice could have a beneficial effect on insulin or blood glucose levels. “Insulin is a key hormone that ‘opens a door’ within cells and then escorts glucose into those cells, thus providing fuel to them,” according to the USDA website explaining the research. “Without a sufficient insulin supply, or ability to use available insulin, glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells where it can be metabolized and used for fuel. Over time, damage occurs to the eyes, kidneys, heart, and nerves.”

The cinnamon extract study, conducted in Ohio, focused on 22 volunteers with metabolic syndrome, which increases the chances of developing diabetes. Volunteers were randomly assigned to supplement their diets with either water-soluble cinnamon extracts or a placebo for 12 weeks.

Volunteers who took the cinnamon extract group showed significant decreases in fasting blood glucose and small increases in lean muscle mass compared with the placebo group. “Improvement in lean muscle mass is considered a marker of improved body composition,” according to the researchers.

Pre and post study analysis of the extract group also revealed small but statistically significant decreases in body fat and blood pressure. But other characteristics of metabolic syndrome, such as abnormal blood LDL or HDL cholesterol levels or triglycerides, were unaffected by the cinnamon extract.

Meanwhile, new biomarkers could help physicians and other health care professionals monitor the success of experimental nutrition-based strategies designed to help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Nutrition-based strategies

One study lead by ARS research physiologist Sean Adams explored the potential of natural compounds in the body, known as fatty acylcarnitines, to serve as diabetes biomarkers which could act as indicators to assess nutrition-based strategies to prevent the condition. The scientists determined this after searching for telltale molecules in blood samples from diabetic and nondiabetic African-American women who volunteered for the research.

Levels of some fatty acylcarnitines were nearly 300 percent higher in the diabetic volunteers than in those without the disease. The higher levels were assigned to incomplete or inefficient oxidation of fat in the diabetic women.

The biomarkers research also promises to identify more quickly children and adults who are at risk of developing this type 2 diabetes.

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