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Thin evidence behind chromium and cinnamon

Insulin is one of the most important hormones in our bodies. Produced in the pancreas, it is responsible for getting glucose, a.k.a. sugar and a major energy source, out of the blood and into our liver, muscle and fat cells. Without insulin, or if the body does not respond to insulin like it should, glucose remains in the blood and our body is unable to use it.  This condition is called diabetes mellitus. Beyond regulating glucose, insulin is also responsible for myriad other functions, including how carbohydrates and fats are metabolized in the body.

Insulin regulators are dietary supplements thought to affect how insulin functions in the body. As such, one can see that a supplement capable of augmenting the effects of insulin may help with weight loss and possibly Type 2 diabetes. That is a condition where the body is less responsive to insulin and that commonly affects the obese. Insulin regulators may enhance the effects of insulin in patients with Type 2 diabetes, thereby lowering their blood sugar levels. Below we explore the evidence for two insulin regulators, chromium and cinnamon, and their safety.

Chromium

What is it? Chromium is an essential trace mineral, meaning our bodies require it in small amounts to function normally. Its entire function in our body is not completely known but it is known to work with insulin and enhance its effects. Chromium is found in small amounts in a wide variety of foods, such as broccoli, grape juice, potatoes and garlic. A deficiency of the mineral is extremely rare, but there have been a few cases in which the patients lacking chromium showed symptoms similar to those of diabetes. However, subsequent research has shown that chromium supplements do not reverse diabetes in patients who already have the illness. About 5,481 products on the market contain chromium, according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD).

Does it work? Not really. Even though chromium supplement manufacturers claim that chromium may decrease your appetite, build muscle and burn more calories, multiple studies find no significant benefits of chromium picolinate on weight loss and body composition. A few have shown an increase in weight loss when taking chromium compared to a placebo, but the weight loss was minimal and the studies small.

Is chromium safe? Chromium is safe to use in doses of 200 micrograms (mcg) per day for short periods (less than six months), according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Institute of Medicine (IOM). However, adverse reactions, or unintended consequences, of taking chromium have been known to occur at doses as low as 200 mcg/day. These include headaches, insomnia, irritability, cognitive and motor dysfunction and mood changes. When taking larger doses of chromium, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, anemia, and liver and kidney damage can occur. In diabetics, chromium can potentially lower blood sugar levels too much and that can lead to hypoglycemic shock. Chromium may interact with the thyroid medication Synthroid (levothyroxine) and insulin. Speak to your healthcare provider prior to taking any chromium products if you have thyroid problems or diabetes.

Cinnamon

What is it? Cinnamon is a commonly used spice that comes from the bark of a variety of trees in Asia, in the genus Cinnamomum. Long been used for its aroma and taste, cinnamon is being explored for its medicinal value.

Does it work? Much of the research done on cinnamon has focused on its effects on diabetes, with weight loss as an aside. While some studies have shown increased weight loss and lower blood sugar levels with the use of cinnamon, there have also been a number of studies that did not see any significant effect on blood glucose and other diabetes markers. More research is needed to examine cinnamon's effectiveness on diabetes and weight loss.

Is cinnamon safe? Cinnamon has been used for millennia as a spice without any significant adverse effects, or unintended consequences. However there is some concern that taking cinnamon extract in high quantities for medicinal purposes could be unsafe due to the amount of the chemical coumarin it contains, which has been known to cause liver damage when taken in large quantities. Therefore speaking to your healthcare provider prior to taking cinnamon in large quantities is recommended. Also, because some research suggests that cinnamon lowers blood sugar levels, diabetic patients should also consult their doctor before taking any cinnamon supplements.

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