Cinnamon is one of the world's most popular spices, sprinkled on lattes, boiled with ciders and enjoyed in numerous dishes. Without it, Thanksgiving and Christmas meals might well become tasteless and definitely less fragrant.
Cinnamon is a powerful and highly delicious spice. It has been prized for its medicinal properties for thousands of years.
It is still used daily in many cultures because of its widespread health benefits and its distinctly sweet, warming taste, also, its ease of use in recipes.
Cinnamon is made by cutting the stems of the cinnamomum tree and removing the inner bark, which curls up into cinnamon sticks. These sticks are then ground to make powdery cinnamon spice which is sold and used across the world.
Cinnamon is reported to have many desirable medicinal and soothing effects and is used frequently in Chinese herbal medicine. The unique smell, colour and flavour of cinnamon is due to the oily part of the tree that it grows from.
Researchers have concluded that the health benefits of cinnamon can be obtained in the form of its pure bark, essential oils, in ground spice form (which is bark powder), or in extract form when its special phenolic compounds, flavonoids, and antioxidants are isolated.
This bark contains several special compounds which are responsible for its many health promoting properties- including cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid, and cinnamate. Cinnamaldehyde displays antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Cinnamon also contains large amounts of polyphenol antioxidants. The antioxidants in cinnamon have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects.
It is also high in manganese and contains small amounts of calcium, iron, vitamin k and fibre.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Chinese medicine and Ayurveda have long revered cinnamon for its near superpowers, using it to treat things such as colds, indigestion and cramps, not to mention for its anti-clotting properties as well as attributes for cognitive function and memory. These societies also believed cinnamon could improve energy, vitality and circulation.
High Source of Antioxidants
Cinnamon is packed with a variety of protective antioxidants that reduce free radical damage and slow the aging process.
The different antioxidants present in cinnamon help to reduce a multitude of symptoms and diseases because they are free-radical-scavengers.
Exhibits Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Cinnamaldehyde, an oily compound responsible for cinnamon's aroma and flavour, can help alleviate inflammation.
A study revealed that cinnamon can target inflammatory pathways and assist in preventing neurodegenerative illnesses.
Improves Heart Health
Studies have shown that another health benefit of cinnamon is that it reduces several of the most common risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels, and high blood pressure.
The special compounds in cinnamon are able to help reduce levels of total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, while HDL “good” cholesterol remains stable. Cinnamon has also been shown to reduce high blood pressure, which is another threat for causing heart disease or a stroke.
Cinnamon is known to have an anti-diabetic effect. It helps lower blood sugar levels and also can improve sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which is the vital hormone needed for keeping blood sugar levels balanced.
These benefits of cinnamon exist because it plays a part in blocking certain enzymes called alanines which allows for glucose (sugar) to be absorbed into the blood. Therefore it has been shown to decrease the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream after a high-sugar meal, which is especially important for those with diabetes.
For this reason, many studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes can experience significant positive effects on blood sugar markers by supplementing with cinnamon extract.
Helps Defend Against Cognitive Decline & Protects Brain Function
Research also shows that another benefit of cinnamon’s protective antioxidant properties is that they can help defend the brain against developing neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
One way that cinnamon protects cognitive function and brain health is because it activates neuro-protective proteins that protect brain cells from mutation and undergoing damage. This further reduces the negative effects of oxidative stress by stopping cells from morphing and self-destructing.
May Help Lower Cancer Risk
Because of its antioxidant abilities, cinnamon can protect against DNA damage, cell mutation, and cancerous tumour growth.
Studies show that cinnamon can improve the health of the colon, thereby reducing the risk of colon cancer. Cinnamon is now being investigated as a natural anti-cancer agent because of its strong antioxidant abilities, so in the future it may be useful to supplement with cinnamon extract for those who are at higher risks for cancer.
Cinnamon Helps Fight Bacterial and Fungal Infections
Cinnamaldehyde, the main active component of cinnamon, may help fight various kinds of infection.
Cinnamon oil has been shown to effectively treat respiratory tract infections caused by fungi.
It can also inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, including Listeria and Salmonella.
Cinnamon May Help Fight HIV Virus
HIV is a virus that slowly breaks down the immune system, which can eventually lead to AIDS if untreated.
Cinnamon extracted from Cassia varieties is thought to help fight against HIV-1. This is the most common strain of the HIV virus in humans.
A laboratory study looking at HIV infected cells found that cinnamon was the most effective treatment of all 69 medicinal plants studied.
Human trials are needed to confirm these effects.
Protects Dental Health & Freshens Breath Naturally
In studies, the extracts found in cinnamon were shown to be protective against bacteria living in the oral microflora that could cause bad breath, tooth decay, cavities, or mouth infections. The essential oil from cinnamon has been shown to be more potent than other tested plant extracts and can be used to naturally combat bacteria in the mouth, acting like a natural anti-bacterial mouthwash.
Similar to peppermint, one of the health benefits of cinnamon is that it can also be used as a natural flavouring agent in chewing gums due to its mouth refreshing abilities. Because it removes oral bacteria, cinnamon has the ability to naturally remove bad breath without adding any chemicals to the body. For this reason cinnamon has also been traditionally used as tooth powder and to treat toothaches, dental problems, oral microbiota, and mouth sores.
Aids Weight Loss
Cinnamon has been shown to reduce some of the bad effects of eating high-fat foods. This can help in an overall weight loss plan. Its effect on blood glucose levels can also help your body ultimately lose weight.
The anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of cinnamon can provide additional help to those trying to lose weight by promoting an overall healthy body that'll process food better.
It's important to note that cinnamon alone will not lead to long-term weight loss. But it might be beneficial to add cinnamon to your healthy diet and exercise plan to help you reach your weight loss goal. One teaspoon of cinnamon does contain 1.6 grams of fibre, which can help you reach your daily fibre goal and increase a feeling of fullness at meals.
Cinnamon Can Help Manage PCOS.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a problem with numerous symptoms that need to be managed, and cinnamon can be a key element of this management due to a number of characteristics.
First would be the management of insulin resistance in women with PCOS, which can contribute to weight gain. A recent pilot study found that cinnamon reduced insulin resistance in women with PCOS.
Cinnamon can also help mitigate heavy menstrual bleeding associated with common conditions of female health, such as endometriosis, menorrhagia, and uterine fibroids.
Helps to Soothe Sore Throat and/or Coughs
A water-soluble fibre called mucilage is created when you soak cinnamon sticks in water. Mucilage then coats and soothes the throat when you drink this infusion. The antibacterial properties of the spice also help treat these ailments.
Treats Digestive Discomfort
Cinnamon extract has been used to alleviate gastrointestinal problems in both Eastern and Western medicine for years. It has been described as a carminative, renowned for its digestive, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, cinnamon bark oil is cited as the active part for treating flatulence and digestive imbalance. It is believed that the warmth of cinnamon increases blood flow and improves blood oxygen levels to help fight off illness. To alleviate digestive symptoms, cinnamon is taken as part of a hot drink (much like a tea). In this instance, it's easier to use ground cinnamon rather than trying to grate the sticks yourself.
Can Help Prevent or Cure Candida
Certain studies have concluded that cinnamon’s powerful anti-fungal properties may be effective in stopping or curing Candida overgrowth in the digestive tract. Cinnamon has been shown to lower amounts of dangerous Candida Albicans, which is the yeast that causes Candida overgrowth that can cause multiple digestive and autoimmune symptoms.
According to researchers, when patients were given cinnamon extract or cinnamon essential oil, they showed improvements in candida yeast levels and a reduction in symptoms. Cinnamon helps to fight candida naturally by boosting immune health and fighting inflammation, auto immune-reactions, and yeast within the gut.
Benefits Skin Health
Cinnamon has anti-biotic and anti-microbial effects that protect skin from irritations, rashes, allergic reactions, and infections. Applying cinnamon essential oil directly to the skin can be helpful in reducing inflammation, swelling, pain, and redness. Cinnamon and honey, another antimicrobial ingredient, are frequently used together to boost skin health for this reason and are beneficial for acne, rosacea, and signs of skin allergies.
Helps Fight Allergies
Studies have concluded that those with allergies can find relief thanks to the benefits of cinnamon’s compounds. Cinnamon has been shown to be helpful in fighting common allergy symptoms because it reduces inflammation and fights histamine reactions in the body. For the same reason it can also help to reduce symptoms of asthma attacks.
Cinnamon also has immune boosting abilities and is beneficial for digestive health, which helps to cut down on auto-immune reactions that can take place after consuming common allergen foods.
Can be Used to Sweeten Recipes without Added Sugar
Because of its naturally sweet taste, adding cinnamon to foods and recipes can help you cut down on the amount of sugar you normally use, thereby lowering the glycemic load of your meal. Cinnamon already has anti-diabetic effects that slow sugar from releasing into the blood stream which can help manage food cravings and weight gain, but using cinnamon for its taste is another added benefit.
One of the benefits of cinnamon over sugar is that it contains no sugar and no calories in amounts that it is used by most people, so it makes an extremely healthy addition to many meals, especially considering its many nutrients. Try using cinnamon in coffee, tea, baked goods, yogurt, on fruit, or in oatmeal instead of adding extra sugar and calories.
Can Be Used as a Natural Food Preservative
One of the less-known benefits of cinnamon is that it can be used to preserve food. Because cinnamon has anti-bacterial abilities and also acts as an antioxidant, it can be used as a preservative in many foods without the need for chemicals and artificial ingredients.
A recent study reported that when pectin from fruit was coated with cinnamon leaf extract it yielded high antioxidant and antibacterial activities and stayed fresh for longer. Cinnamon plays a part in the action of tyrosinase inhibitors, which are useful in stopping discoloration on fruits and vegetables that appears as they oxidize and begin to rot.
How to Store and Use
Cinnamon needs to be kept in an airtight container in a dark place. Whole cinnamon lasts for about a year, but cinnamon that has been ground will start to lose flavour after a few months. It's worth going through your cupboards to check the use by dates on cinnamon as the fresher the better.
Concerns & Interactions of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is not known to cause negative reactions or allergies, especially when used in small amounts the way that it most commonly is. At times, when taking cinnamon extract supplements or using cinnamon essential oil, it’s possible to take too much which can interfere with other medicines and medical conditions.
Cinnamon can become unsafe if you take too many cinnamon supplements, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, have diabetes, have liver disease, or just had surgery. Always make sure you read the recommended dose of cinnamon extracts, and other herbal extracts too, and don’t consume more than is recommended without speaking with your doctor first in order to avoid complications.
If you’re using cinnamon essential oil, you might also want to test a small patch of your skin to first check for irritation and allergic reactions before using larger amounts.
There are two main types of cinnamon:
Ceylon cinnamon: Also known as "true" cinnamon.
Cassia cinnamon: This is the more common variety today, what people generally refer to as "cinnamon." It has a stronger taste and is slightly cheaper.
Ceylon cinnamon may sometimes be referred to as "true" cinnamon. But there's some debate about whether or not that's the case. Ceylon and Cassia are both cinnamon, but from different parts of the world and from slightly different types of trees.
All types of cinnamon have health benefits, but the Cassia variety may cause problems in large doses due to the coumarin content.
Ceylon ("true" cinnamon) is much better in this regard, and studies show that it is much lower in coumarin than the Cassia variety.
The majority of the cinnamon you'll find at the grocery store is Cassia. Ceylon grows primarily in Sri Lanka and isn't as common.
To maximise the medicinal value and health benefits of cinnamon, regardless of type, the key thing is its freshness. Some prefer the sweet, subtle flavour of Ceylon cinnamon in desserts and the stronger potency of Cassia in savoury dishes, however most forms of commercial cinnamon is a mixture of the two.
At the end of the day, cinnamon is one of the most delicious and healthiest spices on the planet.
Just make sure to get Ceylon cinnamon, or stick to small doses if you're using the Cassia variety.
You would have to eat very high amounts of cinnamon powder to experience any dangerous side effects. However, as a spice, it would be unusual for someone to consume large enough amounts of either type of cinnamon to cause concern.