Ever heard about the possible benefits of cinnamon for PCOS symptom management? This spice from the bark of the small tree Cinnamomum verum is tasty in curries and baking, but can it really help with insulin resistance seen in people with PCOS? We take a look at the evidence for cinnamon for PCOS in this comprehensive article. Curious about cinnamon? Keep reading.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is an endocrine condition which affects approximately 1 in 10 people with ovaries in the UK. Symptoms of PCOS include acne, oily skin, excess hair growth on the face, back and chest, hair loss on the head, infertility and more.
As PCOS cannot be cured, many people turn to lifestyle changes and nutrition interventions to help support the management of PCOS.
>> Read more | PCOS 101: ultimate guide for beginners
What is cinnamon?
Cinnamon is a spice which is harvested from the inner bark of trees from the Cinnamomum genus. It is used in cooking sweet and savoury dishes including porridge, cereals, snack foods, breads, teas and curries. It is the second most popular spice across Europe and the US.
Cinnamon has been used throughout history since Ancient Egyptian times for various ailments including coughs, arthritis and sore throats.
Ground cinnamon is composed of 81% (of which 53% is fibre), 11% water, 4% protein and 1% fat.
Are there different types of cinnamon?
There are various types of tree in the Cinnamomum genus which can be used to extract cinnamon. The types of species sold commercially as cinnamon include:
- Cinnamomum cassia (known as cassia or Chinese cinnamon)
- Cinnamomum burmanni (known as Korintje, Padang cassia or Indonesian cinnamon)
- Cinnamomum loureiroi (Saigon cinnamon, Vietnamese cassia or Vietnamese cinnamon)
- Cinnamomum verum (Sri Lanka cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon or Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
- Cinnamomum citriodorum (Malabar cinnamon)
The two main types of cinnamon we consume are cassia and Ceylon.
Benefits of cinnamon for PCOS
There have been some studies carried out specifically looking at the impact of cinnamon on PCOS. The findings include improved insulin resistance, AMH levels, menstrual regularity and cholesterol levels. Let’s take a closer look at the research.
May improve insulin resistance
People with PCOS often have insulin resistance. It is estimated that independent of body size, up to 80% of people with PCOS may be insulin resistant. To treat insulin resistance and therefore symptoms of PCOS, insulin sensitisers are often used. Insulin sensitisers work to lower your blood sugar by increasing the muscle, fat and liver’s sensitivity to insulin.
Insulin sensitisers include metformin and inositol, but cinnamon has also been touted as an insulin sensitiser. A 2020 analysis of five clinical trials found that supplementing with cinnamon may reduce HOMA-IR levels, fasting blood sugar levels and fasting insulin levels in people with PCOS. HOMA-IR is a model assessment used to measure insulin resistance.
The study noted that although promising, more randomised clinical trials with a longer intervention time are required to understand the true impact of cinnamon on insulin resistance and PCOS.
May reduce AMH levels
There has been some discussion on the impact of cinnamon on AMH levels. AMH stands for anti-mullerian hormone which is made by the ovaries. It is often used to estimate the number of follicles (not the follicles linked to PCOS, but rather the fluid-filled sac in the ovary that contains one immature egg).
There is one study looking at the impact of cinnamon on AMH levels in people with PCOS, but it doesn’t use “pure” cinnamon, but instead a combination of Cinnamomum burmanii and Lagerstroemia spesiosa known as DLBS3233. The 18 patients who received DLBS3233 had reduced AMH levels, but not as reduced as those who were given Metformin.
Therefore, we can conclude that more research is required specifically on the impact of “pure” cinnamon on AMH levels in people with PCOS, and this evidence should be taken with a pinch of salt (or cinnamon!).
May improve menstrual regularity
People with PCOS often have irregular menstrual cycles. A 2014 study analysed the effect of taking cinnamon versus placebo on menstrual cycle frequency. The participants took 1.5g per day of cinnamon supplements or a placebo for 6 months. They found that those taking the cinnamon supplements had improved menstrual cyclicity compared to the placebo group.
It’s important to note that this group was small as only 17 people completed the entire study. More research is required to understand the impact of cinnamon on menstrual cyclicity.
May improve cholesterol levels
A randomised controlled trial published in 2018 found that participants taking cinnamon supplements had significantly reduced total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) compared to placebo participants. But, only 84 people with PCOS in total took part in the study, and the study only latest for 8 weeks.
Similarly, a 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis also found that oral cinnamon supplementation in people with PCOD led to reduced cholesterol levels. They also summarised that longer-term studies are required.
How to consume cinnamon for PCOS
The majority of studies used cinnamon supplements as an intervention. But, as you will learn more about below, too much cinnamon may have some side effects. Cassia cinnamon (which is the most common type of cinnamon) can be toxic, even if you only take 1-2 teaspoons daily. So, don’t consume too much cinnamon and choose ceylon cinnamon if possible.
Cinnamon tea is a warm, soothing drink which can be made easily at home with water, cinnamon sticks and a sweetener of your choice (honey, sugar or artificial sweeteners for example). As mentioned above, choose Ceylon cinnamon if possible.
You can also purchase cinnamon tea bags, although they can be hard to come across.
Cinnamon in recipes
Cinnamon can be added to a variety of sweet and savoury dishes including baked goods, curries and breakfast foods. Enjoy cinnamon sprinkled on top of foods, or cooked into meals and snacks.
Cinnamon supplements are often used in studies to measure efficacy because you can clearly measure the amount of cinnamon someone is being given. But, it is important to choose Ceylon cinnamon rather than cassia cinnamon to prevent toxicity. Also, there isn’t enough high-quality evidence to definitively suggest that cinnamon will improve symptoms of PCOS.
Side effects of cinnamon
Even though you may not think of a spice like cinnamon as having side effects, ingesting too much may be harmful. You’re unlikely to ingest too much cinnamon if you are adding it to foods, but if you use cinnamon supplements, then you may suffer side effects.
May cause liver damage
Cassia (which is the most common form of cinnamon consumed) has a high level of coumarin. Ingesting too much coumarin could lead to liver toxicity and damage.
May cause mouth sores and discomfort
Some people are allergic to a compound called cinnamaldehyde which is present in cinnamon. If you are allergic, small amounts of the spice are unlikely to cause discomfort, but if you take high-dose supplements then you may experience pain or sores.
May lead to hyperglycemia
Because of the potential insulin-sensitising properties of cinnamon, too much may lead to blood glucose levels dropping too low. This is called hyperglycemia. Symptoms of hyperglycemia include tiredness, dizziness and fainting.
If you are already taking an insulin-sensitising medication like Metformin, you probably want to avoid taking cinnamon supplements to avoid blood sugar levels dropping too low.
Cinnamon for PCOS FAQ
How much cinnamon do I need to consume?
The majority of studies use approximately 1.5g of cinnamon. But, this is usually in supplement (capsule) form. There is less evidence on the use of cinnamon as a flavour enhancer on PCOS. Therefore we are unsure whether sprinkling cinnamon on your food throughout the day will have the same potential benefits.
Best cinnamon tea for PCOS
Although we need more evidence to understand the effect of cinnamon on PCOS, if you choose to drink cinnamon tea ensure you pick Ceylon cinnamon tea. This is because cassia cinnamon (the most common cinnamon consumed) is toxic as it can cause liver damage and failure.
Can I have cinnamon tea cold for PCOS?
We don’t have enough evidence to understand if cinnamon is useful for PCOS symptom management, never mind if cold cinnamon tea will help, unfortunately.
Can I use cinnamon sticks for tea?
Yes! Steeping cinnamon sticks in hot water and adding your choice of sweetener can make an affordable, warming and tasty drink.
What’s the best type of cinnamon for PCOS?
Although we cannot definitively say that cinnamon is beneficial for PCOS, there is some promising evidence for its insulin-sensitising properties. If you choose to use cinnamon for PCOS symptom management then use Ceylon cinnamon instead of cassia cinnamon. This is because cassia cinnamon is toxic as it can cause liver damage and failure, even if you take as little as 1-2g per day.
Key takeaways: Cinnamon for PCOS
Cinnamon is a tasty spice used in sweet and savoury recipes. People with PCOS often have insulin resistance, higher cholesterol levels, irregular menstrual cycles and high AMH levels. There is some evidence of varying quality that suggests that cinnamon may help with these symptoms. But there isn’t enough high-quality evidence to definitively suggest that cinnamon will improve symptoms of PCOS.
Considering certain types of cinnamon are a low-risk, low-cost intervention, it may be worth adding to your diet. But, certain types of cinnamon can be toxic in high dosages. Always speak to your healthcare provider before trying new supplements.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.