Spice finding is nice but negative
Apple pie. Carrot cake. Snickerdoodles. Cinnamon certainly confers tasty benefits in the kitchen. But contrary to the claims of internet marketers and alternative medicine gurus, the spice won't do much for the nation's 3 million type-1 diabetics. That was the conclusion of a Dartmouth research team led by Kevin Curtis, M.D.
The three-month study, published in Diabetes Care, monitored the blood glucose level of 72 New Hampshire teens. Half took a daily dose of pharmaceutical- grade cinnamon; the rest took a placebo. First author Justin Altschuler conceived the research question as a junior in Bio 8, an undergraduate research methods course that Curtis teaches at Dartmouth College. Altschuler spent his senior year designing the double-blind study, with Curtis as his mentor.
Integrity: "It's a fair amount of work to go from saying 'I want to see if cinnamon's helpful' to actually navigating the [institutional review board and] recruiting people," says Altschuler. His curiosity on the subject had been sparked by a stint working at a camp for kids with diabetes. In his final project for Bio 8, he hypothesized that cinnamon would both lower blood glucose levels and reduce patients' reliance on insulin. The study revealed precisely the opposite, however, with subjects in the placebo group experiencing slightly better outcomes on all measures. "One of the things Kevin emphasized as we were putting the study
together is that the tenet of any good question is that the answer is relevant, whether it's positive or negative," says Altschuler, who is now earning an M.D.-M.S. at Berkeley and the University of California at San Francisco. "I don't want to say I was indifferent to the answer, because I cared, but I was much more interested in the scientific integrity than the result."
Publishers, however, tend to favor
positive outcomes. "In all forms of research, it's much harder to get negative research published," says Curtis, who is an assistant professor of medicine. He thinks that's too bad, however, since researchers may duplicate each others' efforts if negative findings aren't disseminated. "If this study were not accepted for publication," he says, "there's no question that markedly fewer people would ever know of our findings."
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