What is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon originates from the inner bark of trees in the Cinnamomum genus for thousands of years and dates back as far as 4,000 years ago to Ancient Egypt. Cinnamon was considered a very valuable and rare spice at this time and was frequently sold at very high prices and given to royalty as gifts or signs of devotion.
Cinnamon was also mentioned in the Bible numerous times and was noted for its ability to fight illnesses. Today, cinnamon as we know it 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 originates from a type of tree, and the unique smell, color and flavor of cinnamon is a result of the oily part of the tree that it grows from. The health benefits of cinnamon come from the bark of the Cinnamomum verum (or Cinnamomum zeylanicum) tree. This bark contains several special compounds which are responsible for its many health-promoting properties, including cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid and cinnamate. The health benefits can be sourced 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 have been isolated. These compounds make cinnamon one of the most beneficial spices on earth, giving it antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-microbial, immunity-boosting and potential cancer and heart disease-protecting abilities.
Approximately, there are 250 species of cinnamon identified so far. But, only two main types of cinnamon spice used today: Ceylon cinnamon, which is sometimes labeled as true or real cinnamon, and Cassia cinnamon, which is more widely available and commonly used. They both a spicy taste and scent which is due to the presence of cinnamaldehyde and both types also contain plenty of health benefits, but Ceylon cinnamon powder is actually considered to be more potent. In addition to these two common types of cinnamon, some of the other varieties available include:
- Indonesian cinnamon
- Vietnamese cinnamon
- Indian cinnamon
- Malabar cinnamon
According to the Nutritiondata.self.com, One tablespoon of ground cinnamon contains approximately
- 19 calories
- 6.2 grams carbohydrate
- 0.3 grams protein
- 0.1 grams fat
- 4.1 grams dietary fiber
- 1.4 milligrams manganese (68 percent Daily Value)
- 77.7 milligrams calcium (8 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligrams iron (4 percent DV)
- 2.4 micrograms vitamin K (3 percent DV)
Scientific Studies on Health Benefits
- High in Antioxidants
Cinnamon is loaded with numerous protective antioxidants that reduce free radical damage and slow the aging process. A research conducted by Rao et al.,2014, asserts that, there are about 41 different protective compounds found within cinnamon to date. A retrospective study by Dhuley, 1994, also identified numerous compounds in cinnamon.
According to the ORAC scale, which is used to measure the concentration of antioxidants in different foods, cinnamon ranks No. 7 of all foods, herbs and spices. Additionally, a study by Shan et al.,2005, compared the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon became superior and demonstrated to be higher in antioxidants than other many other herbs and spices, including garlic, thyme, rosemary and oregano.
Pham-Huy et al., 2008, study also agrees that, cinnamon health benefits are as a result of the amount of a few specific types of antioxidants, including polyphenols, phenolic acid and flavonoids. These constituents work to fight oxidative stress in the body and aid in the prevention of chronic disease.
- Relieves Inflammation
The antioxidants in cinnamon can help relieve inflammation, which may help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline and more. Researchers have identified many different types of flavonoids in cinnamon, all of which are highly effective at fighting dangerous inflammation levels throughout the body. Mashhadi et al., 2013 study confirmed that, cinnamon lowers swelling and prevents inflammation, hence, has the capacity in pain management.
The same study also demonstrates that cinnamon fights muscle soreness, decrease menstrual pain, lessen the severity of allergic reactions and help relieve other age-related symptoms of pain as well.
- Protects Heart Health
Akilen et al., 2010, demonstrates that, one of the top cinnamon health benefits is its potential to improve heart health. The study further agrees that, cinnamon prevents most of the most common risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels and high blood pressure .
Rao et al., 2014, study also affirmed that Cinnamon reduce high blood pressure, which is another risk factor for heart disease or a stroke. The same study also agrees that, cinnamon is a blood coagulant and can stop excess bleeding by helping the body to form blood clots. Cinnamon also increases circulation and improves tissue repair, which may be especially helpful for regenerating heart tissue in order to help fight heart attacks, heart disease and stroke.
- Stabilizes Blood Sugar
Cinnamon is recognized for its anti-diabetic effects, this is why it’s considered one of the best foods for diabetics. Kirkham et al., 2009, study demonstrates that cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels and improve sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which helps transport sugar from the bloodstream to the tissues to keep blood sugar levels balanced. Another study by Adisakwattana et al.,2009, suggests that cinnamon for diabetes can avert the activity of several digestive enzymes to slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream after a high-carb meal. Rao and Gan, 2014, study also demonstrates that people with type 2 diabetes can experience significant positive effects on blood sugar markers by supplementing with cinnamon extract.
- Brain Function
Due to the fact that it is abundant in antioxidants, Rao and Gan, 2014 study demonstrates that it may boost brain function and can help defend against the development of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Peterson et al., 2009, in vitro studies demonstrate that cinnamon prevent the build-up of a specific protein in the brain to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Another study by Khasnavis and Pahan, 2014, also agrees that, cinnamon protect neurons against oxidative stress to reduce the risk of inflammation and cell damage in animal models, which can help preserve brain function and prevent cognitive decline.
- Lower Cancer Risk
Due to the antioxidant abilities, cinnamon may protect against DNA damage, cell mutation and cancerous tumor growth. For instance, one study by Ka et al., 2003, found that, cinnamon come from a compound called cinnamaldehyde, which can inhibit tumor growth and protect DNA against damage while also killing off cancer cells.
Rao and Gan, 2014, agree with this research especially in the colon; as their study asserts that cinnamon can improve the health of the colon, which could reduce the risk of colon cancer. Cinnamon is now being investigated as a natural cancer-fighting food because of its strong antioxidant abilities and may be a useful supplement for those at a higher risk of cancer.
- Prevents Infections and Viruses
Wang et al., 2012, is of the view that, Cinnamon contains natural antimicrobial, antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral properties and its essential oils contain powerful immune-boosting compounds as well. Hence, cinnamon is employed in many cultures to naturally help fight harmful infections and viruses. For instance, Urbaniak et al., 2014, study support this as Cinnamon oil, in particular, can also protect against bacterial infections, which can cause conditions like the common cold, strep throat and pneumonia.
- Improves oral Hygiene
Gupta et al., 2011 study proved that cinnamon benefits oral hygiene and could protect against certain strains of bacteria that cause bad breath, tooth decay, cavities and mouth infections. The study demonstrates that, the essential oils from cinnamon have been shown to have potent antibacterial properties and can be used to naturally combat bacteria in the mouth, acting as a natural mouthwash.
Analogous to peppermint, one of the health benefits of cinnamon is that it can also be used as a natural flavoring agent in chewing gums due to its refreshing taste. Because it removes oral bacteria, cinnamon has the ability to fight bad breath without adding any chemicals to the body. Because of this, cinnamon has also been traditionally used according to Rao and Gan, 2014, as tooth powder and a natural remedy for toothaches, dental problems and mouth sores.
- Averts Candida
Pires et al.,2011, confirmed that, the powerful antifungal properties in cinnamon could be effective in treating and preventing Candida overgrowth in the digestive tract. A prospective study by Wang et al., 2014, agrees with this position and proved that, Cinnamon lower amounts of dangerous Candida albicans, which is the yeast that causes Candida overgrowth and can cause a host of digestive and autoimmune issues.
A retrospective study by Reed et al., 1989, demonstrates that, cinnamon control blood sugar levels; a diet high in refined carbs can increase the amount of sugar in the digestive tract and may be associated with an increased risk of Candida.
- Supports Skin Health
A 2017 study by Han and Parker, affirmed that cinnamon support for skin are planted in its antibiotic and antimicrobial properties which can help protect skin from irritation, rashes, allergic reactions and infection. Applying cinnamon essential oil directly to the skin can be helpful in reducing inflammation, swelling, pain and redness.
Hence, Axe, 2018, recommends the combination of Cinnamon and honey together as they can boost skin health even more and may be beneficial for acne, rosacea and skin allergies. You can use either raw honey or Manuka honey and cinnamon for skin relief.
- Diminishes Allergy Symptoms
Two retrospective studies by Shakira et al., 1996, and Harada and Yano, 1975, believe that those with allergies may find relief due to the multitude of beneficial compounds packed into cinnamon. A prospective study by Aswar et al., 2015, proved that, cinnamon may help fight common allergy symptoms because it’s been shown to reduce inflammation and fight histamine reactions in many animal models.
- Sweetens Up Recipes Without Sugar
Due to the natural sweet taste, adding cinnamon to foods and recipes can help you cut down on the amount of sugar you normally use, effectively lowering the glycemic load of your meal. According to Axe, 2018, Cinnamon already has anti-diabetic effects that slow sugar absorption and may help curb cravings by stabilizing blood sugar, but using cinnamon for its naturally sweet taste is yet another added benefit that can boost blood sugar control.
Cinnamon contains no added sugar and minimal calories yet is high in many nutrients, making it an extremely healthy addition to many meals. Try using cinnamon in coffee, tea, baked goods, yogurt, on fruit or in oatmeal instead of adding extra sugar. This can help you to reduce your sugar intake and cut down on extra calories to aid in weight loss and fight Candida, diabetes and low energy.
- Acts as a Natural Preservative
A 1977 by Bullerman et al., proved that, cinnamon powder can be used to preserve food due to the antibacterial abilities and acts as an antioxidant. Hence, it can be used as a preservative in many foods without the need for chemicals or artificial ingredients.
Fast forward, a recent study by Shan et al., 2005, 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 also possesses antityrosinase activities, which can be useful in stopping the discoloration of fruits and vegetables as they oxidize and begin to rot.
When used in moderation, cinnamon is generally safe and can be consumed with minimal risk of side effects. High amounts of cinnamon — and cassia cinnamon in particular — can cause several adverse symptoms. This is due to the presence of a compound called coumarin, which has been shown to damage the liver in large amounts by Abraham et al., 2010.
While Ceylon cinnamon contains only trace amounts, cassia cinnamon is much higher in coumarin. The National Toxicology Program report 1993, that, excess consumption of the coumarin found in cassia cinnamon has also been linked to other health problems, including an increased risk of cancer development.
Because of its anti-diabetic properties, cinnamon may also contribute to low blood sugar levels, especially if you’re taking blood sugar-lowering medications already. Vivas et al., 2015, study revealed that, Cinnamon consumption has also been associated with breathing problems and mouth sores in some people.
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 recently had surgery. Always make sure you read the recommended dose of cinnamon extracts and other herbal extracts and don’t consume more than is recommended without speaking with your doctor first in order to avoid complications.
Additionally, 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 to prevent negative side effects or allergic reactions.
Additionally, many people often wonder: is cinnamon bad for dogs? While cinnamon is non-toxic to your furry friends, it’s best to stick to Ceylon cinnamon to minimize coumarin consumption and keep intake in moderation to prevent negative side effects.
Cinnamon vs. Cassia
Ceylon and cassia cinnamon actually come from two different, but related, trees. Ceylon cinnamon comes from trees grown in areas like Sri Lanka and Thailand that are rarer, therefore Ceylon cinnamon is more expensive and harder to find in stores. A 2012 study by Ranasinghe et al., revealed that, cinnamon of the cassia variety (also called Saigon or Chinese cinnamon) comes from trees grown in China and is less expensive and more widely available.
According to Axe, 2018, To date, cassia cinnamon has been studied more extensively than Ceylon cinnamon, but researchers think that Ceylon cinnamon may actually have more health benefits than cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon also contains less of a compound called coumarin than cassia cinnamon, which can be potentially damaging to the liver when consumed in high amounts. For this reason, Ceylon cinnamon is the better option for producing cinnamon extracts that contain highly concentrated doses of cinnamon.
As far as taste goes, Ceylon cinnamon is said to have a lighter and more citrusy taste than cassia, which is considered deeper and spicier. For the most part, however, the two can be used interchangeably in recipes.
According to Axe, 2018:
- Cinnamon is a spice derived from the bark of cinnamon tree that is packed with nutrients, including fiber, manganese and calcium.
- Adding cinnamon to your routine can come with a long list of benefits, including better blood sugar control, improved oral hygiene, enhanced heart health and reduced inflammation among others.
- There are many varieties of cinnamon available, but it’s primarily found in two main types: cassia and Ceylon. Ceylon is thought to be more potent and contain more extensive health benefits while cassia is cheaper to produce and more widely available.
- High doses of cinnamon may cause symptoms like difficulty breathing, mouth sores, low blood sugar and liver problems. Therefore, it’s best to keep intake in moderation and pair with a healthy diet and active lifestyle to maximize the potential health benefits.
The writer is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips, scientific herbs and healthy recipes in the world.
DISCLAIMER This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnosis and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
The writer is an honorary Professor of Holistic Medicine & Naturopathic Physician-Vinnytsia State Pedagogical University, Ukraine. Nyarkotey is also a chartered Management Consultant(ChMC), Chartered Institute of Management Consultant, Canada. President, Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine and currently, LLB law student. Contact: 0241083423/0541234556
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