Most progressive nutritionists and natural health practitioners agree that cinnamon is an excellent spice-herb that helps normalize blood sugar and prevent diabetes 2. There are even studies that support cinnamon’s blood sugar modulating power. But there have been no studies on cinnamon’s cancer preventing capabilities until recently.
An earlier in vitro (lab cultures) study determined that compounds in cinnamon killed cancer cells. This will be discussed in the second half of this article. A few years later, an in vivo (mammalian) study tested the earlier in vitro findings.
Researchers at the University of Arizona (UA) College of Pharmacy and the UA Cancer Center recently discovered that a derivative found in cinnamon called cinnamaldehyde, which gives cinnamon its unique smell and taste, acts as a potent protective agent against colorectal (colon or rectal) cancer.
“Given cinnamon’s important status as the third-most-consumed spice in the world,” Dr. Georg Wondrak explained, “there’s relatively little research on its potential health benefits. If we can ascertain the positive effects of cinnamon, we would like to leverage this opportunity to potentially improve the health of people around the globe.”
Dr. Wondrak and Dr. Donna Zhang’s study demonstrated that by simply adding cinnamaldehyde to their food, the mice were protected from colorectal cancer.
Cinnamaldehyde bolstered the animals’ cells enabling them to “protect themselves against exposure to a carcinogen through detoxification and repair.”
“This is a significant finding,” said Dr. Zhang, who along with Dr. Wondrak, is a member of the UA Cancer Center. “Because colorectal cancer is aggressive and associated with poor prognoses, there is an urgent need to develop more effective strategies against this disease.”
Future research will focus on whether whole cinnamon, not merely the pure isolated compound cinnamaldehyde, can prevent cancer using the cancer model employed with mice. Because cinnamon has been safely added to food for thousands of years, a human study shouldn’t be far off.
But it’s doubtful that such research will have a funding sponsor, even if no safety testing is required as it is with synthetic pharmaceuticals. It’s wise to just use high quality non-irradiated cinnamon liberally to promote good blood sugar levels and help prevent cancer.
Previous in Vitro Cinnamon for Cancer Research
A 2005 study published by researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Maryland — made a rather astounding discovery. The popular kitchen spice cinnamon acts as a medicine that can kill cancer cells.
In the USDA cinnamon study the researchers used a water-soluble, powdered extract of cinnamon bark, which they injected into growing cancer cell cultures. Typically for such studies, scientists utilize cell lines that are either actual cancer cells properly maintained for laboratory use, or they create cancer cells via various chemicals, radiation or viruses.
For this study three types of human cancer cells were used: two leukemia and one lymphoma cell line. Leukemia presents as a proliferation of malignant blood cells called leukocytes whereas lymphoma is the malignant onslaught of lymphocytes a type of lymph cell.
The rationale behind the study was to determine if the cinnamon extract could halt the progression of these cancer cells in vitro, and if so determine the mechanics of how it was accomplished. Usually in vitro studies give a more open view of the biochemical mutations accomplish final results.
(1) The cinnamon extract effectively reduced the proliferation rate of all three types of cancer cells over a 24-hour time span. (the time necessary for one doubling of the cell population).
(2) The higher the dose of cinnamon extract the greater the reduction in cell proliferation.
(3) The highest cinnamon concentration resulted in about a 50% reduction in cell proliferation compared to the control group.
Basic Biochemical Explanations
Cinnamon extract contains water soluble, insulin mimicking compounds called procyanidins (type A). It also contains MHCP (methylhydroxychalcone polymer), another water soluble compound which was postulated to be the causative factor behind cinnamon’s ability to mimic insulin. Both are polyphenols.
With that in mind and the fact that cancers cells bathed in cinnamon extracts were dying off in large amounts begs the question: Might the lack of cells’ ability to utilize insulin (diabetes 2) affect a cell’s ability to properly oxidize glucose and cause it to become a cancer cell that survives by fermenting glucose?
There are literally thousands of plant polyphenols that have a plethora of beneficial actions as antioxidants and the ability to inhibit or stimulate enzymes that control cellular differentiation, proliferation, and death. These may confer protection against healthy cells becoming cancerous and proliferating. All the more reason to consider a plant based diet a source of cancer prevention.
Unfortunately, research like this doesn’t get funded so much, not even with the “further research required” phrase that begs for follow-up funding. You see, Big Pharma and its government ally the NCI (National Health Institutes) only funds what may lead to pharmaceutical high profit “blockbusters” that include adverse side effects along with high prices that demand insurance coverage.