Q&A

Q:

I've heard that drinking a cup of hot water with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon honey mixed into it, twice a day, can help to soothe osteoarthritis pain. Is this true?

I would like to try it, but I'm not sure how it will affect my Type 2 diabetes. My blood glucose readings are right where my doctor wants them to be. I also take many different drugs and supplements for my diabetes, arthritis, and other conditions. Is it OK to add cinnamon to the list?

A:

There are many anecdotal claims of honey and cinnamon being natural remedies for a number of ailments, but sound scientific evidence to support most of these claims is severely lacking. The claim that a cup of hot water containing honey and cinnamon can cure arthritis arose from a 1995 article in the Weekly World News, an offbeat, satirical tabloid magazine. The article claimed its source was a study out of Copenhagen University, and it inspired numerous Internet articles on the benefits of honey and cinnamon. However, no such study actually took place, and there are no substantial studies that have investigated the use of cinnamon or honey in arthritis. This is an example of a claim that is simply false and misleading.

Cinnamon has been touted for many uses, from aiding digestion to acting as an antioxidant to treating the common cold. There is no convincing evidence for any of these uses. Small studies have suggested a possible benefit in treating Type 2 diabetes, and cinnamon doesn’t seem to have any significant negative effects when used for this purpose. Just a few studies have indicated that cinnamon may help to lower short- and long-term blood glucose levels, while other studies have shown no benefit.

Honey has been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years for its antibacterial properties. Recently, studies have suggested that when applied topically, honey may have benefits for wound care, specifically by fighting off drug-resistant strains of bacteria and reducing the time it takes for burns to heal. Honey is commonly used to treat a sore throat and cough, alleviating discomfort by coating the throat and possibly aiding in healing with its antiseptic properties. Honey has even been used for gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea and gastric ulcers. As for treating arthritis symptoms, there is no evidence for honey either as an oral therapy or as a topical therapy.

It is also important to note that honey contains a combination of many sugars, and therefore it has the potential to significantly elevate blood sugar levels, which is especially undesirable for a person with diabetes. Depending on the variety, honey can have a high rating on the glycemic index (GI). The GI ranks foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels, and foods that have a high GI rating can cause a sharp rise in blood glucose after they are eaten. For a person with diabetes, honey is OK in moderation, but daily supplementation could have a negative effect on blood glucose levels and overall diabetes control.

Cinnamon, on the other hand, may have some beneficial effects on diabetes control and could be a good addition to your regimen. When cinnamon is taken as a supplement, common doses usually range from 1 to 3 grams a day, which is roughly equivalent to 1/3–1 teaspoon. However, it’s important to ask your doctor before starting any over-the-counter medicines or supplements. In people without diabetes, there don’t appear to be any negative health implications of supplementation with cinnamon or honey, but the medical evidence doesn’t seem to suggest any health benefits, either — particularly in regard to arthritis. For now, it’s a good idea to save your money and reserve cinnamon and honey for use in the kitchen.

Last Reviewed on March 30, 2012

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This question was answered by Jessica Carpenter, PharmD, Rick Heckert, PharmD, and Stephen M. Setter, PharmD, Associate Professor, all at the College of Pharmacy, Washington State University.

Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

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