Cinnamon: Understanding the health benefits and risks

Cinnamon is a spice that originates from the branches of trees of the Cinnamomum family. It’s a Caribbean, South American, and Southeast Asian native.

Cinnamon has been used since 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt, where it was highly appreciated. It was used by physicians in medieval times to treat coughing, arthritis, and sore throats.

It is now the second most popular spice in the United States and Europe, after black pepper.

Cinnamon is available as a spice, powder, as pieces of bark. Cinnamon essential oil and supplements are also available.

Cinnamon comes in two varieties: cassia and Ceylon. The nutritional profiles of the two are very different.

According to some research, the compounds in cinnamon have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and antimicrobial properties, and can protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease, among other things. More research is required, however, to support cinnamon’s benefits.

The health benefits of various forms of cinnamon will be addressed in this article, as well as how to integrate them into one’s diet.

Health benefits

Cinnamon

Scientists have uncovered evidence of cinnamon’s potential health benefits. These include:

Improving fungal infections

Cinnamon oil can aid in the treatment of a variety of fungal infections.

Cinnamon oil was found to be effective against a form of Candida that affects the bloodstream in a 2016 laboratory study. It’s likely that this is due to its antimicrobial properties.

Cinnamon oil may play a role in treating this form of infection if further research confirms these findings.

Having an effect on blood sugar levels

According to a 2015 study, animal studies have shown that cassia cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels.

The study also found that when 60 people with type 2 diabetes ate up to 6 grams (g) of cinnamon a day for 40 days to 4 months, their serum glucose, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels were all lower.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a 2012 study found that cinnamon does not help people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes lower their glucose or glycosylated hemoglobin A1c levels, which are long-term indicators of blood glucose regulation.

Another small research looked at the effects of cinnamon, calcium, and zinc on type 2 diabetes victims’ blood pressure control. The results did not show that this treatment had any impact.

Alzheimer’s disease prevention

Cinnamon has been shown in animal research to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

CEppt, a cinnamon bark extract, contains properties that may prevent symptoms from forming, according to researchers.

Mice given the extract showed changes in their ability to think and reason, as well as a decline in Alzheimer’s symptoms such as amyloid plaques.

If further study confirms its efficacy, this extract — not necessarily whole cinnamon — may be useful in the production of Alzheimer’s therapies.

HIV/AIDS prevention

Cinnamon was discovered to help protect against HIV in a study of extracts of Indian medicinal plants in 2000.

In a lab, scientists tested 69 extracts. The cinnamon bark and the cinnamon shoot and fruit, Cinnamomum cassia and Cardiospermum helicacabum, were the most effective in reducing HIV activity.

In a 2016 laboratory study, researchers discovered that a cinnamon extract had anti-HIV activity.

This does not suggest that cinnamon-containing foods can be used to treat or prevent HIV, but cinnamon extracts could one day be used in HIV treatment.

Multiple sclerosis prevention

Cinnamon has been investigated for its ability to treat multiple sclerosis (MS).

Researchers gave mice a mixture of cinnamon powder and water and ran experiments on them in one sample. Cinnamon tended to have anti-inflammatory effects in the central nervous system, which included parts of the brain.

Cinnamon can also protect regulatory T cells, or “Tregs,” which control immune responses, according to studies.

People with MS tend to have less Tregs than those who do not have the condition. Cinnamon treatment has been shown to prevent the loss of Treg-specific proteins in mouse studies.

Cinnamon treatment also restored myelin levels in mice with MS, according to researchers. When the myelin coating on nerve cells is weakened, MS develops.

More research into how cinnamon can help treat MS is being supported by the NCCIH.

Lowering the effects of high fat meals

Researchers concluded in 2011 that diets rich in “antioxidant spices,” such as cinnamon, can improve the body’s negative reaction to high-fat meals.

Six people ate dishes that contained 14 grams of a spice blend. Antioxidant activity increased by 13%, insulin response decreased by 21%, and triglycerides decreased by 31%, according to blood tests.

Chronic wound treatment and healing

Scientists have discovered a way to package antimicrobial compounds from peppermint and cinnamon into tiny capsules that can both destroy bacterial biofilms and actively promote healing, according to a 2015 report.

Peppermint and cinnamon may be used in a medicine to treat infected wounds in this way.

Lowering the risk of heart disease

Cinnamon contains a variety of compounds that can be helpful to the cardiovascular system. In an animal study, cinnemaldehyde, for example, was found to reduce blood pressure.

In a 2014 report, rats given a long-term cinnamon and aerobic exercise treatment had greater heart function than those who did not.

Can some foods lower blood pressure? Find out here.

Cancer prevention

Cinnamaldehydes may have antitumor and anticancer properties, according to the authors of one report.

Scientists used a cinnamon and cardamom extract to treat cancer in mice in the study. In tests, the mice that obtained the therapy had lower levels of oxidative stress in their melanoma cells.

Other advantages

Cinnamon supplements are used by certain people to treat digestive problems, diabetes, loss of appetite, and other conditions. It’s also used to treat bronchitis in conventional medicine.

“Studies performed in people do not favor using cinnamon for any health condition,” according to the NCCIH.

Nutrition

A teaspoon of ground cinnamon, weighing 2.6 g, contains the following ingredients, according to the US Department of Agriculture:

  • energy: 6.42 calories
  • carbohydrates: 2.1 g
  • calcium: 26.1 milligrams (mg)
  • iron: 0.21 mg
  • magnesium: 1.56 mg
  • phosphorus: 1.66 mg
  • potassium: 11.2 mg
  • vitamin A: 0.39 micrograms

It also includes traces of the antioxidants choline, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, as well as choline, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

Antioxidants may help avoid cancer, type 2 diabetes, and a number of other diseases through reducing oxidative stress.

Cinnamon is typically consumed in small quantities in food. As a result, the nutrients it provides would have little effect on the diet.

Types

Cinnamon comes from a tree’s bark. People can put small pieces of bark in stews, desserts, and other dishes, or they can use ground cinnamon, for example, in cakes or on buns.

Cinnamon is divided into two types: Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) and cassia, or Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum).

Ceylon cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka. Some people refer to it as “true cinnamon.” Cassia cinnamon, on the other hand, comes from China’s south. Cassia cinnamon is less expensive than Ceylon cinnamon.

Since Ceylon cinnamon is so costly, most foods in the United States, including sticky buns and breads, use cassia cinnamon instead.

Dietary tips

Cinnamon can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Cinnamon’s distinct fragrance is due to the presence of cinnamaldehyde it contains.

To add cinnamon to the diet:

  • Sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon over oatmeal to replace sugar.
  • Add cinnamon to cakes, cookies, breads, and applesauce.
  • Top a waffle with cinnamon and apple for a low sugar treat.

A person can also try these recipes:

Side effects

In the short term, most people tend to be healthy when they eat moderate quantities of cinnamon as a spice or supplement.

Cinnamon, on the other hand, contains coumarin. This is a natural flavoring, but it’s also used in the manufacture of warfarin, a popular blood thinning drug.

Too much coumarin can damage the liver and cause coagulation problems. If you’re thinking of adding cinnamon or cassia to your diet, talk to your doctor first.

  • take anticoagulants or other drugs
  • have diabetes
  • have a liver condition

Cassia cinnamon powder, which is commonly used in U.s foods, has more coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon powder.

According to a German study published in 2010, the amount of coumarin in cinnamon samples from the same tree differs greatly. Coumarin levels were especially high in Cassia cinnamon.

Cinnamon should never be used as a complete replacement for medical treatment for any health problem.

Cinnamon is available as a spice and a supplement. Supplements can have a positive or negative effect on one’s health and disease. However, since supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there may be questions regarding consistency, purity, and strength. Before taking supplements, people should still consult their doctor.

Sources

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  • Connell, B. J., et al. (2016). A cinnamon-derived procyanidin compound displays anti-HIV-1 activity by blocking heparin sulfate- and co-receptor- binding sites on gp120 and reverses T cell exhaustion via impeding Tim-3 and PD-1 upregulation.
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  • Duncan, B., et al. (2015). Nanoparticle-stabilized capsules for the treatment of bacterial biofilms [Abstract].
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  • Frydman-Marom, A., et al. (2011). Orally administered cinnamon extract reduces ß-amyloid oligomerization and corrects cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease animal models. 
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  • Goel, N., et al. (2016). Antifungal activity of cinnamon oil and olive oil against Candida Spp. isolated from blood stream infections.  
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  • What are the health benefits of cinnamon? (LINK)
  • Medagama, A. B. (2015). The glycaemic outcomes of cinnamon, a review of the experimental evidence and clinical trials.
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  • Pahan, K. (2015). Prospects of cinnamon in multiple sclerosis. 
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  • Pennsylvania State University. (2011). Antioxidant spices reduce negative effects of high-fat meals [Press release]. 
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  • Premanathan, M., et al. (2000). A survey of some Indian medicinal plants for anti-human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) activity [Abstract].
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  • Rao, P. V., & Gan, S. H. (2014). Cinnamon: A multifaceted medicinal plant.
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  • Skulas-Ray, A. C., et al. (2011). A high antioxidant spice blend attenuates postprandial insulin and triglyceride responses and increases some plasma measures of antioxidant activity in healthy, overweight men. 
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  • Spices, cinnamon, ground. (2019).
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  • Wang, Y.-H., et al. (2013). Cassia cinnamon as a source of couramin in cinnamon-flavored food and food supplements in the United States [Abstract]. 
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  • Woehrlin, F., et al. (2010). Quantification of flavoring constituents in cinnamon: High variation of coumarin in cassia bark from the German retail market and in authentic samples from Indonesia [Abstract]. 
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