Tag Archives: PCOS

Cinnamon: your new BFF against love handles?

The internet and social media can be funny things. It seems that at some time or another a subject gets into the spotlight and everyone writes, or at least rewrites, about it. Cinnamon is not exempt from this and I still remember the flurry of memes and inspirational quotes about it plastered on every social media channel that I follow. According to some of these memes the humble Cinnamon is supposed to help us with weight loss by regulating insulin and on top of that it is said to have anti-aging properties. For totally selfish reasons I felt curious to find out more about this and reviewed a number of research papers reporting. This is what I found out.

First of all cinnamon is obtained from the bark of trees belonging to the Cinnamomum genus native to East Asia. There are several variations but they can be narrowed down to two sub-groups: CinnamomumVerum (aka “true cinnamon”) and Cinnamomum Cassia (the common spice sold in supermarkets all over the world). When the trees are harvested the stems must be processed immediately and the outer bark separated from the inner bark while it’s still wet. As the bark is drying naturally it starts to curl up and is eventually chopped into sticks and sold.

Cinnamon plantsAccording to a meta study carried out at the University of California in 2010(4) “Cinnamon is a rich botanical source of both Chromium and polyphenols that has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine and has been shown to affect blood glucose and insulin signaling”. High fasting blood glucose levels are a typical tell tale sign of Type 2 diabetes which is caused by poor insulin sensitivity.

Other studies have shown that the Verum genus is richer in beneficial nutrients than the more popular Cassia variety however the latter is richer in the compound coumarin that acts as a blood thinning agent akin to some stroke prevention drugs. For this reason, consumption of cinnamon in high doses is slightly concerning however, despite the lack of studies on the long-term effects of consuming cinnamon, this spice has been used by humans for thousands of years without any knowledge of any adverse effects.

Cinnamon extract powder in a small bowl with two cinnamon sticks

© MMXVI SMART Fitness Makeover

A study conducted on a small group of healthy human subjects(1) showed that after adding 3g of cinnamon to their daily diet cellular glucose uptake was increased whereas a long-term study of non-diabetic women with polycystic ovary syndrome showed a significant reduction in insulin resistance after taking 1 g cinnamon per day for 8 weeks before an oral-glucose-tolerance test was performed. A further study conducted in Pakistan(2) showed that by feeding 1g, 3g, and 6g of cinnamon daily for 40 days to a group of men and women with Type 2 diabetes resulted in lower levels of fasting glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol (the subjects of the study were receiving oral blood sugar lowering treatment). However the same results were not experienced by overweight, post menopausal women with Type 2 diabetes.

The conclusions of the meta study mentioned above(4) were that cinnamon whether used as a straight powder or as an extract does indeed seem to have a modest effect in lowering fasting blood glucose levels in individuals suffering from Type 2 diabetes. Surprisingly, this effect is comparable to that of the more famous drug metformin with cinnamon showing a slightly stronger effect overall.

At the point in time when the meta analysis was carried out there was still a fair bit to learn about the “why it worked” in the way it did. A study subsequently conducted in Japan(3) on live rats with Type 2 diabetes set out to investigate the mechanisms by which Cinnamon is effective on regulating blood sugar levels. For the purpose of the experiment the researchers prepared a Cinnamon Extract by boiling some Chinese Cinnamon sticks for 30 minutes. The study was successful in explaining the mechanisms that make cinnamon useful in managing Type 2 diabetes, however these are extremely complicated and unnecessary for the purpose of this blog (plus, admittedly, I barely understand them as I am not medically trained).

What to make of all this information?

The main issues with regards to all these studies on the effects of cinnamon on insulin management and levels of fasting blood glucose are that some have used natural cinnamon, others have used a cinnamon extract obtained in different ways, whereas others have used standardised extracts isolating the active components and nobody quite knows where the cinnamon came from in the first place or what genus was used, how it was dried, and so on. In some instances participants were already taking blood glucose lowering medications which makes it difficult to extrapolate any significant data as the medications may have well masked the effect of the natural product.

Finally, although there seems to be an almost unanimous agreement across most researchers that cinnamon does improve insulin sensitivity we must remember that most studies were carried out over a short period of time and on small numbers of human participants at any one time whose history of medications and lifestyle habits aren’t always described and taken into account. Even by “combining” the results as part of the meta study the sample is still minute and it’s therefore hard to know whether the same findings could really be applied to the World population at large.

Other interesting findings about the effects of cinnamon are that it appears to be beneficial in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and also in cases of ischemic stroke by blocking cell swelling(5).  Again, despite the lack of clarity in the materials available, it appears that nevertheless cinnamon is also useful in bringing about small improvements in body composition, with tackling metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

Should you have a go at using cinnamon or not?

In my opinion, if you suspect you may have insulin sensitivity issues you should consult a doctor to have blood tests done and not rely on a blog post to solve your doubts. Depending on the results, if they are normal and you suspect a bit of foul insulin play in your efforts to lose fat then it might be worth seeing if, over a period of time and with everything else remaining the same, cinnamon is the key to your fat loss success. The doses in the studies were between 1 and 6g of cinnamon/cinnamon extract. The best results were given by using 3g per day (which is a lot of cinnamon) taken with sugary foods. Higher doses haven’t shown a bigger effect so it’s best to stay on the safe side and not go over 3g. By the way, insulin resistance tends to show up as “love handles” so if you can’t bear the thought of taking regular measurements around key points on your body, pinch yourself around the hips from time to time to measure your progress. It’s not scientific nor accurate but it will give you a sense of whether anything is changing or not.

If, however your blood test results show that you are above the normal range and tending towards developing diabetes you must discuss your next step with your doctor. Bearing in mind that cinnamon has been proven to be as effective as metformin there is no harm in mentioning this to your GP or specialist. Chances are that if you are just borderline outside of normal he or she might agree to check your blood again in a couple of months time giving you the chance of adjusting your diet and lifestyle accordingly before prescribing you drugs. The time in between blood tests would be a good time to also experiment with cinnamon knowing that you will have tangible proof either way in a short period of time. Remember: the first study showed an improvement in fasting blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity after only 40 days.

Last, but certainly not least if you are also a bit vain, the same mechanisms that make cinnamon a valuable tool in maintaining our health also facilitate collagen biosynthesis(6) in our skin thus providing an important anti-aging service!

Need help with managing your Type II Diabetes or PCOS? Book your 30 min complimentary breakthrough call to find out how I can help you. Just fill in the form that appears on the right or use the contact form at this link.

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References:
  1. Hlebowicz J, et al. “Effects of 1 and 3 g cinnamon on gastric emptying, satiety, and postprandial blood glucose, insulin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, glucagon-like peptide 1, and ghrelin concentrations in healthy subjects.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(3):815–821
  2. Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. “Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes Care 2003;26:3215–8
  3. Shen Y, Honma N, Kobayashi K, Jia LN, Hosono T, Shindo K, et al. (2014) “Cinnamon Extract Enhances Glucose Uptake in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes and C2C12 Myocytes by Inducing LKB1-AMP-Activated Protein Kinase Signaling.” PLoS ONE 9(2): e87894. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087894
  4. Paul A. Davis and Wallace Yokoyama. “Cinnamon Intake Lowers Fasting Blood Glucose: Meta-Analysis”, Journal of Medicinal Food. August 2011, 14(9): 884-889. doi:10.1089/jmf.2010.0180.
  5. Qin B, Panickar K and Anderson R.A. “Cinnamon: Potential Role in the Prevention of Insulin Resistance,
    Metabolic Syndrome, and Type 2 Diabetes”. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, Volume 4, Issue 3, May 2010
  6. Takasao N, et al., “Cinnamon Extract Promotes Type I Collagen Biosynthesis via Activation of IGF-I Signaling in Human Dermal Fibroblasts” – Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2012, DOI: 10.1021/jf2043357

PMS, PCOS, menopause: learn how Agnus Castus benefits those who suffer

A few weeks ago I was reading the transcript of a training call I attended a few months back and my attention was caught by a snippet in which the herb Vitex Agnus Castus was mentioned as having progesterone-like effects that are beneficial for women suffering from bad PMS, PCOS and those approaching menopause.

Having suffered all my life from fairly severe PMS symptoms including breasts so sore that somebody waving a hand a foot away would make me wince I decided to investigate this further as this herb sounded like it had superhero potential during a difficult time each month.

Surprising Agnus Castus benefits

My research lead me to discover that in addition to being a well known folk remedy for thousands of years there is a substantial body of evidence to support the theory that Vitex Agnus Castus benefits those who are managing infertility, menopause, PCOS, PMS and more specifically to bring relief for cyclical mastalgia (sore breasts).

Vitex Agnus Castus, also known as Chasteberry, is a deciduous shrub that is native to Mediterranean Europe and Central Asia.

Traditionally, the fruit extract has been used in the treatment of many female conditions, including menstrual disorders (amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea), premenstrual syndrome (PMS), corpus luteum insufficiency, hyperprolactinaemia, infertility, acne, menopause and disrupted lactation.

The female menstrual cycle

But before I dive into the research findings let’s quickly remind ourselves how the female menstrual cycle works (in simple words).

There are two distinct phases to the menstrual cycle: the first phase (follicular phase, estrogen dominant) starts on day 1 of the menses and lasts approximately 14 days during which a follicle inside one of the ovaries matures under the influence of FSH (Follicular Stimulating Hormone) and eventually culminates with the release of the egg (ovulation) into the womb. This is when the second phase (luteal phase) of the menstrual cycle begins. After the egg is released the follicle is transformed into the “corpus luteum” which in turn becomes the major source of progesterone.

Two things can happen at the beginning of the luteal phase: either the egg gets fertilized and pregnancy occurs or the egg doesn’t get fertilised and the corpus luteum gradually degrades and both estrogen and progesterone levels drop leading to the beginning of the menses and the repetition of the cycle.

The reasons for women experiencing discomfort during the luteal phase of the cycle are thought to be due to elevated levels of prolactin, a protein secreted from the pituitary gland that enables female mammals to produce milk. The increase in prolactin levels can have a negative impact on the correct development of the corpus luteum thus also reducing progesterone levels during the luteal phase. This is believed to lead to the problem of sore breasts and even infertility.

Research on how Agnus Castus benefits those with disrupted menses

agnus castus vitex chasteberryDouble blind controlled studies conducted over the years with many groups of women in different countries have demonstrated that regular consumption of Vitex Agnus Castus berries extract over the course of 3 months resulted in the normalization of progesterone levels and the gradual elimination of luteal phase defects. This is thought to be due to the fact that compounds found in the Chasteberry can inhibit prolactin production by influencing the pituitary gland.

In reality, it appears that this mechanism isn’t completely understood but a review of 13 double blind controlled studies (1) has demonstrated that women taking Vitex Agnus Castus extracts over three cycles were overall better off than those receiving a placebo when experiencing a reduction in the symptoms of PMS with hardly any side effects.

Admittedly the studies leave a lot of room for improvement but nevertheless they all seem to come to a similar conclusion. It also appears that Vitex Agnus Castus can affect the secretion of melatonin suggesting that it might help women sleep better especially as they go through perimenopause.

Furthermore, although there isn’t much research available on this, based on what is known of the mechanisms that make Vitex interact with the endocrine system, it has been postulated that Agnus Castus can be useful in the management of PCOS and in particular with issues surrounding hirsutism (too many androgens in the bloodstream) and low progesterone levels.

My personal experience with Vitex Agnus Castus

Personally, I have been taking Vitex from the day of ovulation up to the first day of the menses for a very long time now and have experienced many of the Agnus Castus benefits mentioned before. Perhaps, as a consequence of my hormones being in better balance, I also had a few additional pleasant surprises.

At last, in the two weeks leading up to my period I don’t feel (or think I look) like a beached whale from the ridiculous amount of water retention I used to suffer from. I only have very faint mastalgia and the excruciating tummy pain has been replaced with very mild discomfort.

The first surprise is that I definitely have softer hair and fresher looking skin that doesn’t require moisturisers. Not to mention the world is now safe from my irrational outbursts of pure anger for no reason other than “it’s coming up to that time of the month”.  😉

Agnus Castus benefits for fat loss

Does this help with fat loss? Yes it does. Indirectly, but it does. Both estrogen and progesterone have a say on the way in which fuel is used or stored and how our body reacts to stress.

Estrogen in particular has a gentle influence on both insulin and cortisol, whereas progesterone only influences cortisol. If estrogen and progesterone are being released in the correct amounts then our bodies will be well equipped to support our fat loss efforts by inhibiting the fat storage properties of insulin and opposing cortisol.

So if you too are a member of the “Terrible PMS” Club, the next time you walk by your local health food store why not give Vitex Agnus Castus a try? It’s inexpensive and it might make a whole world of difference to you keeping you sane and pain free during those days.

Obviously, using this herb is only a tiny part of managing the discomfort of PMS, PCOS or the onset of the menopause. There are many more things that you can do to keep the symptoms under control and, in fact, use your cycle to program your nutrition and workouts with fat loss in mind. If you would like help with this get in touch by booking a complimentary, no obligation, call using the form below.


Reference: 

1. van Die, M.et al., 2013, Vitex agnus-castus Extracts for Female Reproductive Disorders: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials, Planta Med [online] 79: 562-575. Available at: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/233334346_Vitex_agnus-castus_Extracts_for_Female_Reproductive_Disorders_A_Systematic_Review_of_Clinical_Trials [Accessed: 22 June 2015]