Cinnamon may affect blood sugar

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY

January 21, 2001|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,Special to the Sun; King Features Syndicate

Q. Is it true that cinnamon can lower blood sugar? I am a diabetic (type 2) and fairly active, swimming every day. My doctor doesn't want to put me on insulin. I take glipizide, but it isn't completely effective. How much powdered cinnamon would it take to have an impact?

A. Animal research has shown that cinnamon does indeed make cells more responsive to insulin. Theoretically, this could lead to better glucose control.

Although clinical trials are still in the planning phase, one nutrition researcher has suggested that people like you might benefit. According to Dr. Richard Anderson, "We recommend people take a quarter to a full teaspoon a day of cinnamon, perhaps in orange juice, coffee or on oatmeal."

If you decide to try this approach, please discuss it with your physician and monitor your blood sugar carefully. You will need this information to determine whether cinnamon is helping or lowering your glucose levels too much.

Q. I've heard that cholesterol-lowering drugs might cause muscle pain and other side effects. I am suffering. My muscles feel so weak I find it hard to walk. It is really difficult to step into the car or even get into the bathtub.

I've taken many different kinds of medicine, including Lopid, Mevacor, Pravachol and Zocor. Each time I complain about side effects, the doctor writes me a new prescription. I am fed up with these drugs and would like to find more natural alternatives.

A. Muscle weakness, fatigue or pain could be serious side effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs, so please discuss this with your physician promptly.

There are many ways to control cholesterol in conjunction with a low-fat diet. A Chinese medicinal food, red yeast rice (Cholestin), has been tested in double-blind, placebo-controlled trials and found to be effective.

One reader described his experience: "I have been taking Cholestin for several years with no side effects. Total cholesterol has gone from 237 to 193, and my other lab results have also improved dramatically."

The soluble fiber psyllium can be helpful in bringing cholesterol down. So can the Indian Ayurvedic herb called guggul, which lowers cholesterol while raising beneficial HDL cholesterol.

Q. My kids (ages 13 and 15) are taking a nature study program in which they learn about edible and poisonous plants. They have learned about many of the medicinal qualities of various herbs as well. Recently they harvested yerba santa and want to make tea from it. Is this plant toxic?

A. Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) is a traditional medicinal plant, but it hasn't been studied scientifically. A poultice of crushed fresh leaves has been used to treat bruises, and this topical treatment would be safe. The tea has been used as a cough remedy. There aren't reports of toxicity, but it might be better if they only sipped a little tea to see how it tastes.

Q. Our family has been troubled recently with an annoying dry cough. We have been using Robitussin to stop coughing so we could get to sleep.

My husband does something that seems to be a bad idea: He takes the cough syrup directly from the bottle instead of pouring it into the little cup that comes with it or using a teaspoon.

I am concerned that his germs could live in the bottle so that the next person using the cough syrup could catch the bug. It also makes for a very inexact dose to just take a "swig." Could a virus live for a time under these conditions?

A. We checked with a microbiologist who suggested that the little cup is provided for a good reason. For one thing, it makes it possible to measure the dose.

In addition, he thinks your fears might be justified. It is theoretically possible that bacteria could contaminate the sweet cough syrup, or that viruses could survive for a time.

If your husband doesn't want to "clean up his act," get him his own bottle of cough syrup. It's better not to expose everyone else to his germs.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of the People's Pharmacy, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717, or e-mail them at their Web site (www.peoplespharmacy.com) on the HealthCentral.com network.

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