Cinnamon: A natural treatment for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Cinnamon may play a useful role in reducing symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This article will briefly outline the symptoms and causes of PCOS before taking a careful look at research examining the potential role of cinnamon in helping women with this condition.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a common condition in women of reproductive age. Symptoms include ovarian cysts, elevated testosterone levels, irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, excess body hair, and difficulties maintaining a healthy weight. Around half of PCOS patients are obese, and most find losing weight to be challenging. Usually, a woman will be diagnosed with PCOS if she has two of the following three symptoms: ovarian cysts, irregular ovulation, and elevated levels of male hormones in her blood.
What causes PCOS?
There appears to be a genetic component which increases the likelihood of the hormone imbalances underlying this condition. Alongside testosterone, insulin is another hormone implicated in PCOS. Insulin is vital for maintaining blood sugar control, allowing blood glucose to cross into cells throughout the body to provide energy.
However, if the body is insulin resistant, this process breaks down and glucose does not reach the cells. The pancreas then produces an ever-increasing amount of insulin to compensate. This excess insulin triggers the ovaries to produce unusually high quantities of testosterone, resulting in irregular ovulation, infertility, and weight gain. A negative cycle begins: an excess of insulin results in weight gain, and excess weight triggers further insulin production. This may explain why PCOS patients find losing weight difficult.
How might cinnamon reduce the symptoms of PCOS?
Given that insulin resistance is a key cause of PCOS, treatment needs to address this problem. Cinnamon may be a natural way of lowering blood glucose levels and improving insulin sensitivity when ingested on a regular basis.
Wang et al. (2007) found a significant reduction in insulin resistance in women who took cinnamon every day for eight weeks compared to a placebo control group. A year later, Anderson (2008) concluded in a review of the literature that cinnamon has a positive effect on insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels in individuals with a variety of disorders, including PCOS. More recent research (Kort et al., 2013) found improved menstrual regularity in women with PCOS after taking 1500mg of cinnamon each day for six months. This has positive implications for women trying to conceive naturally.
However, cinnamon's role in improving insulin resistance is not proven. In a review of the literature, Rafehi et al. (2012) conclude that the evidence for cinnamon's role in treating insulin resistance is not yet a certainty, and that a significant number of trials show no beneficial effect . In addition, future research in this area needs to be of higher quality than that carried out to date (Rafehi et al., 2012).
More research into the effects of cinnamon on PCOS is needed, and therefore the decision to try cinnamon supplements needs to be made by a woman and her physician following careful consideration of the existing evidence. Regular cinnamon supplementation of around 2g per day may have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity. Patients must always consult a licensed physician before trying any new treatments and should not change their existing treatment without appropriate medical supervision.