Cinnamon is a spice that comes from the branches of trees of the Cinnamomum family. It is native to the Caribbean, South America, and Southeast Asia.
It is now the second most popular spice, after black pepper, in the United States and Europe.
As a spice, cinnamon is available in powder form or whole, as pieces of bark. People can also use cinnamon essential oil and supplements.
There are two main types of cinnamon: cassia and Ceylon. The two have different nutritional profiles.
Some studies have suggested that the compounds in cinnamon have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and antimicrobial properties, and that they might offer protection from cancer and cardiovascular disease, among other conditions. However, more evidence is needed to confirm cinnamon's benefits.
This article will look at the alleged health benefits of different types of cinnamon and how to include them in the diet.
Scientists have found evidence of some possible health benefits of cinnamon. These include:
Improving fungal infections
Cinnamon oil may help treat some types of fungal infections.
A 2016 laboratory study found that cinnamon oil was effective against a type of Candida that affects the bloodstream. This may be due to its antimicrobial properties.
If further research confirms these findings, cinnamon oil could play a role in treating this type of infection.
Influencing blood sugar levels
Animal studies have shown that cassia cinnamon may reduce blood sugar levels, according to a 2015 review.
The review also noted that after 60 people with type 2 diabetes consumed up to 6 grams (g) of cinnamon per day for between 40 days and 4 months, they had lower serum glucose, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and total cholesterol.
However, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a 2012 review concluded that cinnamon does not help lower levels of glucose or glycosylated hemoglobin A1c — which are long-term measures of blood glucose control — in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Which foods are good choices for people with diabetes? Find out here.
Preventing Alzheimer's disease
Some animal studies have suggested that cinnamon may help prevent Alzheimer's disease.
According to researchers, an extract present in cinnamon bark, called CEppt, contains properties that may prevent symptoms from developing.
Mice who received the extract experienced a decrease in features of Alzheimer's, such as amyloid plaques, and improvements in their ability to think and reason.
If further research confirms its effectiveness, this extract — but not necessarily whole cinnamon — may be useful in developing therapies for Alzheimer's.
Protecting against HIV
Scientists tested 69 extracts in a laboratory. Cinnamomum cassia, or cinnamon bark, and Cardiospermum helicacabum, which is the cinnamon shoot and fruit, were most effective in reducing HIV activity.
In a 2016 laboratory study, scientists found that an extract from cinnamon showed anti-HIV activity.
This does not mean that foods containing cinnamon can treat or prevent HIV, but cinnamon extracts could one day become a part of HIV therapy.
Preventing multiple sclerosis
Experts have tested cinnamon for activity against multiple sclerosis (MS).
In one study, researchers gave mice a mixture of cinnamon powder and water and ran some tests. It appeared that cinnamon could have an anti-inflammatory effect on the central nervous system, including parts of the brain.
Studies have also suggested that cinnamon may protect regulatory T cells, or "Tregs," which regulate immune responses.
People with MS appear to have lower levels of Tregs than people without the condition. In mouse studies, cinnamon treatment has prevented the loss of certain proteins specific to Tregs.
Scientists have also found that cinnamon treatment restored myelin levels in mice with MS. MS occurs when the myelin coating on nerve cells becomes damaged.
The NCCIH are supporting more research into how cinnamon may help treat MS.
In this article, get some diet tips for people with MS.
Lowering the effects of high fat meals
In 2011, researchers concluded that diets rich in "antioxidant spices," including cinnamon, may help reduce the body's negative response to eating high fat meals.
Treating and healing chronic wounds
Research from 2015 says that scientists have found a way to package antimicrobial compounds from peppermint and cinnamon into tiny capsules that can both kill bacterial biofilms and actively promote healing.
In this way, peppermint and cinnamon could become part of a medicine for treating infected wounds.
Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
Various compounds in cinnamon may benefit the cardiovascular system. Cinnemaldehyde, for example, lowered blood pressure in an animal study.
In a 2014 study, rats that received long-term treatment involving cinnamon and aerobic training had better heart function than those that did not.
Can some foods lower blood pressure? Find out here.
The authors of one article note that cinnamaldehydes may have antitumor and anticancer properties.
In the study, scientists treated mice with cancer using an extract of cinnamon and cardamom. Tests found lower levels of oxidative stress in the melanoma cells of the mice that received the treatment.
How else does diet link up with cancer? Find out here.
However, according to the NCCIH, "Studies done in people don't support using cinnamon for any health condition."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon weighing 2.6 g contains:
- 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 contains traces of vitamins B and K and the antioxidants choline, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Antioxidants can reduce oxidative stress and may help prevent cancer, type 2 diabetes, and many other conditions.
In food, people usually eat only a small amount of cinnamon. Therefore, the nutrients it contains will not play a significant role in the diet.
Cinnamon is the bark of a tree. 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.
There are two main types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) and cassia, or Chinese, cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum).
Ceylon cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka. Some people call it "true cinnamon." Cassia cinnamon, on the other hand, originates from southern China. Cassia is cheaper than Ceylon cinnamon.
Ceylon cinnamon is very expensive, so most foods in the U.S. — including sticky buns and breads — contain the cheaper cassia cinnamon.
People can use cinnamon in sweet or savory dishes. Cinnamon's distinctive fragrance is a result of the 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.
Get some more tips for using cinnamon powder here.
A person can also try these recipes:
- Creamy butternut squash with cinnamon soup
- Keralan chicken curry
- Moroccan orange and cinnamon dessert salad
In the short term, consuming moderate amounts of cinnamon as a spice or as a supplement seems to be safe for most people.
However, cinnamon contains coumarin. This is a natural flavoring, but it also plays a role in creating warfarin, the common blood-thinning drug.
Consuming too much coumarin can lead to liver damage and affect coagulation. Therefore, people should speak to their doctor before adding cinnamon or cassia to their diet if they:
- take anticoagulants or other drugs
- have diabetes
- have a liver condition
Cassia cinnamon powder, a common ingredient in foods in the U.S., contains more coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon powder.
A German study from 2010 found that coumarin content varies widely, even in samples of cinnamon from the same tree. Cassia cinnamon was particularly high in coumarin.
People should never use cinnamon in any form as a full replacement for medical treatments for health conditions.
Cinnamon is available as a supplement, as well as a spice. Supplements may have an impact on health and disease. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate supplements, so there might be concerns about quality, purity, and strength. People should always ask their doctor before using supplements.
Can supplements provide energy? Find out here.