Cinnamon sprinkled on our toast, added to our beverages, devoured in pastry desserts, or cooked with it for aromatic flavor, it is ubiquitous in most of our spice racks. But did you know this exotic spice which comes from the dried inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree has been used medicinally since ancient times due to its healing propensities? In fact, cinnamon is one of the most common and popular ingredients in homeopathic medicine today, treating everything from muscle spasms and vomiting to loss of appetite and erectile dysfunction.
Yet, the veracity of its health benefits continue to be hotly debated in medical circles, particularly over an ingredient called coumarin which has been linked to liver damage in a small number of people when taken in high dosages. What’s more, there has been no consensus over what are ‘safe’ levels for consumption or which variety is more beneficial. Consequently, the FDA has yet to approve the use of the spice for medical purposes.
Nonetheless, there have been dozens of promising medical studies illustrating that when taken in moderation, cinnamon offers a variety of health benefits that make it well worth adding to your diet. So here’s a list of scientifically backed reasons why it’s time for you to spice up your life with some sassy cinnamon.
1. Controls Blood Sugar Levels. Research shows cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels in those who have Type 2 diabetes and may prevent insulin resistance. In fact, a 2003 study found that cinnamon improved glucose and lipid levels in patients with Type 2 diabetes and reduced risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. Cassia cinnamon, found in the grocery store, was determined to be more effective than the Ceylon variety in as far as controlling blood sugar levels, even though Ceylon was considered safer because it has far less coumarin. Yet, whether Ceylon offers the same health benefits to diabetic patients remain inconclusive.
2. Delays Effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s Disease is a neurological disorder affecting almost 5 million people over the age of 65 in the United States. While no cure has been found to date, an Israeli study conducted at Tel Aviv University found that cinnamon can delay the effects of five aggressive strains of Alzheimer’s inducing genes. According to one of the authors, an extract found in cinnamon bark has healing properties that can inhibit developing the disease. More research reveals orally administered cinnamon extracts can correct cognitive impairment in the diseases in animal models.
The most recent study in 2013 by two scientists at UC Santa Barbara found that two compounds in cinnamon – cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin — are effective in delaying the onset and warding off the effects of Alzheimer’s by preventing the “development of filamentous ‘tangles’ found in the brain cells that characterize the disease.”
3. Fights Yeast and Fungal Infections. According to the National Institute of Health, a chemical found in cassia cinnamon may help fight fungal and bacterial infections. Studies have also shown that cinnamaldehyde found in cinnamon has a remarkable ability to stop medication-resistant yeast infections. A medical study in 2011 found that cinnamon oil was one of three essential oils effective in fighting Candida, while another study found it was effective against three strains of candida, Candida albicans, Candida tropicalis, and Candida krusei which commonly cause yeast infections.
4. Prevents Foodborne Illness. Cinnamon it is said to be one of the most effective oils for killing off E-coli and salmonella because it has anti-microbial properties. In fact, a recent 2014 study found that in 24 hours, concentrated cassia cinnamon oil successfully killed several strains of Shiga toxin-producing E-coli which causes about 110,000 cases of foodborne illness every year. The authors concluded that it has the potential to be used as a natural antibacterial agent in the food industry.
Another scientific report found that a concentration of 2 microl/ml of essential oils including cinnamon mixed in apple and pear juice was enough to inactivate Salmonella Enteritidis, E. coli, and Listeria. Likewise, cinnamon oil was found to be a promising force to fight hospital-acquired infections like the deadly Staphylococcus aureus or MSRA.
5. May Combat Infertility. A small study this year found that cinnamon might jumpstart a woman’s menstrual cycle which would help fight infertility. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center found that over a period of six months, women with polycystic ovary syndrome who took a daily 1500mg cinnamon supplement experienced twice the menstrual cycles as those women with the same condition given an inactive placebo.
6. Can Ward Off HIV. Cinnamon has been used together with anti-retrovirals to help improve the health of those living with the HIV virus. While there is ongoing HIV research to find a cure, a 2000 study analyzing Indian medicinal plants found that out of 69 screened, 16 were effective against HIV-1 and HIV-2 with the most effect extracts revealed to be cinnamon cassia and the shoot and fruit of the plant (cardiospermum helicacabum) respectively. Likewise, cinnamon can also fight off HIV and other viruses according to a study which showed a cinnamon derivative may turn HIV infected people into HIV controllers, those who carry the virus but don’t develop full blown AIDS.
Interestingly, eugenol a chemical compound found in Ceylon cinnamon was also found to be effective against Herpes and cinnamaldehye, the primary ingredient in Ceylon cinnamon bark oil, was able to combat the adenovirus, the most common respiratory infection virus.
7. Weight Loss Aid. Want to shed some pounds? Just add a spoonful of cinnamon to your daily diet. According to research, the main ingredient in cinnamon, couramin may have the effect of thinning your blood, which can increase blood circulation and cause certain people to lose weight. However, most of the scientific research thus far has been related to blood sugar and insulin management correlating with obesity related problems, so the data are not concrete. Nonetheless, the studies do show that increased blood flow generally boosts your metabolism, which scientists say can help with weight loss and help you to burn fat faster. But doctors caution against using cinnamon with other blood thinning medications because of the anti-clotting property in couramin.
8. Cancer Preventer. Cinnamon oil has been shown to treat several different types of cancers including tumors, gastric cancers and melanomas, according to medical studies. The study showed a cinnamon-derived acceptor could impair cancer cell proliferation. What’s more, there is a 2009 medical study in which two chemical constituents of cinnamon were used to develop “nutraceuticals” that proved moderately effective in fighting human colon cancer cells and human hepatoma cells which suggested that introducing cinnamon into the digestive tract may have a mitigating effect on blood sugar levels in the body by “essentially starving off the cancer cells of the sugar needed to sustain them.”
9. Lower Cholesterol and Triglycerides. Besides cinnamon’s ability to control blood sugar levels, one study found that up to 6 grams of cinnamon per day not only reduced serum glucose but also triglyceride, a type of fat, LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and total cholesterol in people with Type 2 diabetes. After 40 days, researchers found that cinnamon reduced triglyceride by 23-30 percent, LDL cholesterol by 7-27 percent and total cholesterol by 12-26 percent.
A later review of the data in 2013 published by the Annals of Family Medicine again confirmed that consumption of cinnamon is associated with a significant decrease in levels of total cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride levels, and an increase in HDL cholesterol (the good kind) levels, but qualified it by saying that applying it to patient care is difficult because of the uncertainty of the dose and duration of cinnamon use.
10. Reduce Depression and Irritability. Although sometimes discounted as an old wives’ tale, there is evidence to show that a whiff of cinnamon may actually lift a person’s mood. In fact, a study by the Wheeling Jesuit University found that the scent of cinnamon reduced driver irritability and frustration and increases driver alertness. Moreover, there is some evidence that claims certain types of stomach bacteria may make you more susceptible to depression. Therefore, alternative medicine proponents suggest that consuming cinnamon may help remove the bad bacteria and therefore lift your mood based on its powerful anti-bacterial propensities. Just don’t forget to supplement it with a probiotic.
While such research is great news for cinnamon lovers, doctors recommend against consuming cinnamon in excessive amounts, especially cassia, which can be toxic. Moreover, it is not recommended to substitute cinnamon for prescription medication. For those interested in adding cinnamon to your diet, doctors recommend limiting your cassia cinnamon intake to one or half of a teaspoon a day, especially for those whose stomachs upset easily.