4 Major Health Benefits of Cinnamon
From 2800 BC. AD, our ancestors used cinnamon for anointing, embalming and digestive and respiratory ailments. Cinnamon has been used in traditional medicine around the world, including Persia (Iran), India and China.
Cinnamon also has many modern medicinal uses: it is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antilipemic, antidiabetic, antimicrobial and anticancer agent. According to the National Institutes of Health, cinnamon as a dietary supplement is promoted for irritable bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal issues, diabetes, and other conditions. Below we will discuss four major health benefits of cinnamon.
1. It contains antioxidants
Oily fish and olive oil are commonly associated with the Mediterranean diet. However, cinnamon is also a staple of a heart-healthy diet and brings its antioxidant properties to the table. The American diet is often processed and lacking in antioxidants, leading to increased inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can put you at risk for chronic health issues.
Cinnamon contains a high number of polyphenols which provide antioxidant effects, which protect tissues from oxidative stress and free radicals. In this way, the antioxidants prevent unwanted inflammatory responses from occurring in the first place.
2. It’s anti-inflammatory
Cinnamon can also act as an anti-inflammatory agent.
A 2015 comparative study published in Food and function examined both C. zeylanicum (Mexican cinnamon or C. cassia (Chinese cinnamon) to identify their most anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. The researchers identified e-cinnamaldehyde and o-methoxy cinnamaldehyde as the bioactive compounds The results reveal that cinnamon and its components could be useful for treating age-related inflammatory conditions if therapeutic concentrations can be targeted more tightly.
3. It can lower blood sugar levels
After a meal, your blood sugar can rise quickly if what you ate was high in carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are converted into blood sugar. Dramatic blood sugar fluctuations contribute to oxidative stress and cause inflammation, damaging cells in your body. Your risk of chronic disease may also increase.
An older study published in Diabetic treatments conducted on a group of 60 men and women with type 2 diabetes to see if taking cinnamon daily would improve triglyceride, blood sugar, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. Lasting effects were seen after 40 days by reducing average levels of the following:
- fasting blood glucose (18–29%)
- triglyceride (23–30%)
- LDL cholesterol (7–27%)
- total cholesterol (12–26%)
Participants in three groups took one, three or six grams of cinnamon during insulin therapy and all levels experienced reductions, which continued beyond 40 days. No changes were observed in HDL cholesterol levels. The results reveal that taking cinnamon daily can reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
A 2013 updated meta-analysis of ten randomized controlled trials (543 patients) also linked cinnamon to statistically significant decreases in fasting blood sugar, triglycerides, and total cholesterol. Daily dosage ranges extended from 120 milligrams per dose to six grams per dose for as little as four weeks up to 18 weeks.
4. It may lower cholesterol
Participants in the Diabetic treatments study saw improvement in triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Additionally, a 2017 meta-analysis of 13 controlled trials linked daily cinnamon consumption to a statistically significant reduction in triglyceride and total cholesterol levels.
As little as one gram (half a teaspoon) can be effective in lowering cholesterol in just a few weeks, according to these studies.
What are the different types of cinnamon?
The roots, fruits, flowers and leaves of cinnamon trees have been used in traditional medicine and cooking for centuries. However, cinnamon as we know it comes from the bark of various species of cinnamon trees.
There are four common types of cinnamon that you’ll likely see in grocery and herbal stores:
- Ceylon cinnamon or Mexican cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
- Indonesian cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmanni)
- Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi)
- Cassia Cinnamon or Chinese Cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum)
The most common type of cinnamon sold in North America varies by source. It can also change availability depending on location and price.
How do you know if cinnamon is real?
Look for the scientific name of the specific cinnamon variety you are looking for on the nutrition label ingredient list. Its common name may also be listed. If it just says “cinnamon” or something generic, do more research on the brand. See what other customers are saying.
Commercially ground cinnamon contains fillers and additives. USA Today reports that researchers at the Indian Institute of Spices Research used DNA barcodes to test samples from the cinnamon market. The researchers found that 70% contained beechnut husk powder, ground hazelnuts or almond shell dust. Substitutes were dyed and flavored using cinnamaldehyde and directly marketed as cinnamon.
Since Ceylon can often be more expensive than other cinnamon varieties, you see less of it. However, it is usually available at specialty spice stores. More affordable varieties, such as the Indonesian variety, are often available in supermarkets.
Some articles have falsely labeled Cassia cinnamon as fake. However, it comes from the bark of a true type of cinnamon tree. Some people consider it a lower grade due to its less robust color and flavor and the theoretical risks of ingesting a compound called coumarin. Ceylon contains the least coumarin of the common types of cinnamon.
Can cinnamon be harmful?
Cinnamon alone is not harmful. However, Cassia cinnamon contains the most coumarin which can be toxic to the liver if taken in large amounts. It is a natural flavoring substance found in many plants; even in green tea. Ground cassia contains a range of 7 to 18 milligrams of coumarin for each teaspoon (2.6 grams).
A 2012 risk assessment published in Food and chemical toxicology suggests that the tolerable daily intake (TDI) of coumarin is about 0.07 mg/pound. The assessment found that Norwegian children eating cinnamon-dusted cereal often exceeded the TDI. The report also indicated that adults who drink cinnamon tea and consume cinnamon supplements could exceed this TDI.
McGill University in Canada reveals that one would need to eat 24 cookies a day for three weeks to reach the European Food Safety Authority’s TDI limit of 0.1 mg/kg per day. It appears that only a subset of humans may be sensitive to coumarin intake and may have a potentially increased risk of liver damage if they consume large amounts.
If you are considering taking cinnamon concentrate supplements, you should consult your doctor first, as you may have coumarin sensitivity. As a general rule, it’s best to let your doctor know about any dietary changes.
Recipes with cinnamon
Cinnamon has many potential health benefits with few risks, and it’s easy to include it in your diet. From treats to healthy foods and drinks, here are some recipes that include cinnamon to get you started: