Cinnamon is a spice that comes from the branches of wild trees that belong to the genus "Cinnamomum" - native to the Caribbean, South America, and Southeast Asia.
There are two main types of cinnamon:
- Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), often considered to be "true cinnamon"
- Cassia cinnamon or Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum), which originates from southern China, is typically less expensive than Ceylon cinnamon.
Due to the fact that Ceylon cinnamon is very expensive, most foods in the USA and Western Europe, including sticky buns, breads and other products use the cheaper Cassia cinnamon (dried Cassia bark). These days cinnamon is regarded as the second most popular spice, next to black pepper, in the United States and Europe.
Cinnamon has been consumed since 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt, where it was very highly prized (almost considered to be a panacea). In medieval times doctors used cinnamon to treat conditions such as coughing, arthritis and sore throats.
Modern research indicates that cinnamon may have some beneficial health properties. Having said that, it is important to recognise that more research and evidence is needed before we can say conclusively that cinnamon has these health benefits.
Possible health benefits of cinnamon
Cinnamon sticks or quills
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Cinnamon can be used to help treat muscle spasms, vomiting, diarrhea, infections, the common cold, loss of appetite, and erectile dysfunction (ED).
According to the National Institutes of Health2, cinnamaldehyde - a chemical found in Cassia cinnamon - could help fight against bacterial and fungal infections.
Cinnamon may help improve glucose and lipids levels3 in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in Diabetics Care.
The study authors concluded that consuming up to 6 grams of cinnamon per day "reduces serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes." and that "the inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type 2 diabetes will reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases."
In addition, a certain cinnamon extract can reduce fasting blood sugar levels in patients, researchers reported in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Tel Aviv University researchers discovered that cinnamon may help prevent Alzheimer's disease. According to Prof. Michael Ovadia, of the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University, an extract found in cinnamon bark, called CEppt, contains properties that can inhibit the development of the disease.
A study of Indian medicinal plants revealed that cinnamon may potentially be effective against HIV4. According to the study authors, "the most effective extracts against HIV-1 and HIV-2 are respectively Cinnamomum cassia (bark) and Cardiospermum helicacabum (shoot + fruit)."
Cinnamon may help stop the destructive process of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a neurological scientist at Rush University Medical Center. Cinnamon could help eliminate the need to take some expensive and unpleasant drugs.
Lower the negative effects of high fat meals
Penn State researchers revealed that diets rich in cinnamon can help reduce the body's negative responses to eating high-fat meals.
Treating and healing chronic wounds
Research published in the journal ACS Nano suggests that scientists have found a way to package antimicrobial compounds from peppermint and cinnamon in tiny capsules that can both kill biofilms and actively promote healing.
Cinnamon health benefits - video
In this video, Dr. Josh Axe discusses the possible health benefits of cinnamon.
Nutritional profile of cinnamon
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture5, ten grams of ground cinnamon contains:
- Energy: 24.7 kcal
- Fat: 0.12 g
- Carbohydrates: 8.06 g
- Protein: 0.4 g.
Risks and precautions
Some people who are sensitive to cinnamon may be at an increased risk of liver damage after consuming cinnamon-flavored foods, drinks and food supplements.
This is likely due to the fact that cinnamon contains coumarin, a naturally occurring flavoring substance, which has been linked to liver damage. Cassia cinnamon powder (commonly used in foods in the USA and Western Europe) contains more coumarin than Ceylan cinnamon powder. A 2010 German study found that on average, Cassia cinnamon powder had up to 63 times more coumarin compared to Ceylon cinnamon powder, while Cassia cinnamon sticks contained 18 times more coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon sticks.
How much cinnamon should I eat?
A study carried out in Norway and published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology in 2012 suggested establishing a Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for coumarin of 0.07mg per kg of bodyweight per day. The researchers commented that by sprinkling cinnamon on oatmeal porridge or drinking cinnamon-based tea regularly, adults and children can very easily exceed this amount.6
Based upon the conclusion of this study, if the average weight of an American male is 191 pounds (86.6kg), it could mean a maximum Tolerable Daily Intake of 6mg of coumarin. For an average American female (159 pounds or 72.1kg) it could mean a maximum of 5mg of coumarin per day.
In a document published in 2006, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BFR) suggested that 1kg of (cassia) cinnamon powder contains between 2.1 and 4.4g of coumarin7. If you estimate that powdered cassia cinnamon weighs approximately 0.56 g/cm3, a kilo of cassia cinnamon powder would equal 362.29 teaspoons. This suggests that a single teaspoon of cassia cinnamon powder could contain between 5.8 and 12.1mg of coumarin (which may be above the Tolerable Daily Intake for a smaller individual).8
Consumption of cinnamon is associated with a statistically significant decrease in levels of fasting plasma glucose, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride, and an increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Can the red-brown spice with the unmistakable fragrance and variety of uses offer an important benefit? The common baking spice might hold the key to delaying the onset of - or warding off - the effects of Alzheimer's disease.
If you enjoyed reading about the potential health benefits of cinnamon, take a look at our collection of articles about other foods.
Alternatively, read our article about the top 10 healthy foods for your daily diet.