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Common Spices May Help Diabetes

The spice cabinet may prove to be a source of help for
diabetes patients.

Some of the most commonly used dried herbs and spices may help block the
inflammation believed to drive diabetes and other chronic diseases, laboratory
studies conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia suggest.

The researchers tested extracts from 24 common herbs and spices and found
that many contained high levels of inflammation-inhibiting antioxidant
compounds known as polyphenols.

The early findings suggest that liberal use of cinnamon in your morning
oatmeal or Italian seasonings in your spaghetti sauce could have big payoffs
for your health, researcher James L. Hargrove, PhD, tells WebMD.

"We might all be better off if we used less salt and pepper, and focused
more on herbs and spices," Hargrove says. "I've started putting oregano
in my eggs. That's not a big change."


(If you have type 2 diabetes, have you integrated some of these spices
into your daily diet ? Tell us how on WebMD's
Type 2 Diabetes: Support Group board.)

Cinnamon and Diabetes

Hargrove and colleagues found that ground clove had the most
inflammation-calming polyphenols of any of the spice and herb extracts they
tested.

Cinnamon came in second, but because it is used more in cooking and in
larger amounts than ground cloves it has more potential to positively affect
health, he says.

So much has been written about the benefits of cinnamon for lowering blood
sugar that many diabetes patients now take cinnamon supplements.

But the research on cinnamon's effect on diabetes has been mixed.

Richard Anderson, PhD, was among the first modern researchers to link the
antioxidants in cinnamon to increased anti-inflammatory response and blood
sugar reductions in diabetes patients.

A scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Beltsville Human
Nutrition Research Center, Anderson tells WebMD that he made the connection
after finding that instead of raising blood sugar as expected, apple pie
lowered blood glucose in their test tube study.

"At first we thought it was the apples, but it soon became clear that it
was the cinnamon," he says.

In a 2003 study, Anderson and colleagues reported that as little as half a
teaspoon of cinnamon a day significantly reduced blood sugar and improved
cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes who took cinnamon in capsule form
after meals.

But combined results from five other studies examining cinnamon
supplementation in diabetes patients showed little evidence of a benefit.

"Taking cinnamon supplements for the purposes of either improving
glucose control or improving cholesterol levels is not supported by the
evidence that is currently available," analysis co-author William L. Baker,
PharmD, of Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, tells WebMD.

But Baker adds that the combined studies included just 282 patients treated
with either a placebo or various doses of cinnamon.

"These were small studies," he says. "Larger studies may show
that supplementation is beneficial, but it seems unlikely."

Herbs and Spices: Variety Is Best

The newly published study by Hargrove and colleagues appears in the latest
issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food.

Hargrove tells WebMD that he purchased the 24 spices used for the study at a
nearby Wal-Mart.

"We showed that herbs and spices are powerful sources of antioxidants
and anti-inflammatory agents," Hargrove says. "About a teaspoon of
cinnamon, for example, is plenty to get these beneficial effects."

When blood sugar levels are high a process known as protein glycation
occurs, which produces compounds that promote inflammation. These are known as
AGE compounds (advanced glycation end-products). The researchers found a strong
correlation in polyphenol content in herbs and spices tested and their ability
to block th formation of AGE compounds.

Spices -- derived from seeds, berries, bark, or roots -- tended to have
higher levels of polyphenols than dried herbs, derived from plant leaves.

Of the herbs tested by the researchers, oregano, marjoram, and sage had the
highest polyphenol levels, followed by thyme, Italian seasoning, tarragon,
mint, and rosemary. Black pepper had the lowest polyphenol content of any of
the tested herbs and spices.

But researcher Diane Hartle, PhD, says it is best not to focus on any single
herb or spice, suggesting that seasoning foods with a variety of spices is
best.

In a news release, Hartle noted that different polyphenols have different
mechanisms of action within the body. "If you set up a good herb and spice
cabinet and season your food liberally, you could double or even triple the
medicinal value of your meal without increasing the calorie content."

By Salynn Boyles
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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