4 Major Health Benefits of Cinnamon

Health + Wellness
varieties of ground cinnamon
Varieties of ground cinnamon. Photo credit: Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post via Getty Images

As far back as 2800 BC, our ancestors used cinnamon for anointing, embalming and digestive and respiratory ailments. Cinnamon has been used in traditional medicine all over the world, including Persia (Iran), India and China.

Cinnamon also has many modern medicinal uses: It’s an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antilipemic, antidiabetic, antimicrobial and anticancer agent. According to the National Institutes of Health, cinnamon as a dietary supplement is promoted for irritable bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal issues, diabetes and other conditions. Below, we’ll discuss four major health benefits of cinnamon.

1. It Contains Antioxidants 

Fatty fish and olive oil are commonly associated with the Mediterranean diet. However, cinnamon is also a staple of the heart-healthy diet and brings its antioxidant properties to the table. The American diet is often processed and lacking in antioxidants, leading to a rise in inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can put you at risk for chronic health conditions.

Cinnamon contains a high number of polyphenols that provide antioxidant effects, which protect tissues from oxidative stress and free radicals. In this way, antioxidants prevent unwanted inflammatory responses from happening in the first place. 

2. It’s Anti-Inflammatory 

Cinnamon can also act as an anti-inflammatory agent. 

A 2015 comparative study published in Food and Function looked at both C. zeylanicum (Mexican cinnamon or C. cassia (Chinese cinnamon) to identify their most anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. Researchers identified e-cinnamaldehyde and o-methoxy cinnamaldehyde as the most potent bioactive compounds. The results reveal that cinnamon and its components could be useful to treat age-related inflammatory conditions if therapeutic concentrations can be targeted more closely.

3. It Can Reduce Blood Sugar Levels

Following a meal, your blood sugar levels can rise quickly if what you ate contained many carbohydrates. These carbs are turned into blood sugar. Dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar contribute to oxidative stress and cause inflammation, damaging your body’s cells. Your risk of chronic disease can also increase. 

One older study published in Diabetes Care conducted on a group of 60 men and women with type 2 diabetes to see if taking cinnamon daily would improve triglyceride, blood glucose, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. Enduring effects were seen after 40 days in reducing the mean levels of the following:

  • fasting serum glucose (18–29%)
  • triglyceride (23–30%)
  • LDL cholesterol (7–27%)
  • total cholesterol (12–26%)

Participants in three groups took one, three or six grams of cinnamon while on insulin therapy and all levels experienced reductions, which continued beyond the 40 days. No changes were seen in HDL cholesterol levels. The results reveal that taking daily cinnamon can reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

An updated 2013 meta-analysis of ten randomized control trials (543 patients) also linked cinnamon with a significant statistical decrease in fasting plasma glucose, triglycerides and total cholesterol. Ranges in daily dosage spanned 120 milligrams per dose to six grams per dose for as little as four weeks up to 18 weeks.

4. It Could Lower Cholesterol 

Participants in the Diabetes Care study experienced improved triglyceride and cholesterol levels. 

Additionally, a 2017 meta-analysis of 13 controlled trials linked daily cinnamon intake with a significant statistical reduction in triglyceride and total cholesterol levels. 

As little as one gram (half a teaspoon) can be effective in lowering cholesterol in just a few weeks, these studies show. 

What Are the Different Types of Cinnamon?

The roots, fruit, flowers and leaves of cinnamon trees have been used for traditional medicine and in cooking for centuries. However, cinnamon as we know it comes from the bark of various cinnamon tree species.

There are four common types of cinnamon you’ll probably see in grocery stores and herbal shops:

  • Ceylon cinnamon or Mexican cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
  • Indonesian cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmanni)
  • Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi)
  • Cassia cinnamon or Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum)

The most common type of cinnamon sold in North America varies depending on the source. It can also change in availability based on location and price.

How Can You Tell if Cinnamon Is Real? 

Look for the scientific name of the specific cinnamon variety you’re searching for on the ingredients list of the nutrition label. Its common name may also be listed. If it just says “cinnamon” or anything generic, conduct more research into the brand. See what other customers are saying.

Commercially ground cinnamon has been found to contain fillers and additives. USA Today reports that researchers at the Indian Institute of Spices Research used DNA barcoding to test cinnamon market samples. Researchers discovered that 70% contained powdered beechnut husk, ground hazelnut or almond shell dust. The substitutes were dyed and aromatized using cinnamaldehyde and directly marketed as cinnamon.

Since Ceylon can often be more expensive than other cinnamon varieties, you see it less. However, it is usually available at specialty spice shops. More affordable varieties, such as the Indonesian variety, are often available in supermarkets. 

Some articles have falsely called Cassia cinnamon fake. However, it comes from the bark of a real type of cinnamon tree. Some people consider it a lower quality because of its less robust color and flavor and theoretical risks of ingesting a compound called coumarin. Ceylon contains the least coumarin of the common types of cinnamon.

Can Cinnamon Be Harmful?

Cinnamon alone isn’t harmful. However, Cassia cinnamon contains the most coumarin that can be toxic to the liver if taken in large amounts. It’s a natural flavoring substance found in many plants; even in green tea. Ground cassia contains a range of 7 to 18 milligrams of coumarin for every teaspoon (2.6 grams). 

A 2012 risk assessment published in Food and Chemical Toxicology suggests that the tolerable daily intake (TDI) of coumarin is about 0.07 mg/pound. The assessment found children in Norway eating cereal sprinkled with cinnamon many times exceeded the TDI. The report also advised that adults who drink cinnamon-based tea and consume cinnamon supplements could exceed this TDI. 

McGill University in Canada reveals that you would need to eat 24 cookies every day for three weeks to reach the European Food Safety Authority’s TDI limit of 0.1mg/kg daily. It seems only a subgroup of humans may be sensitive to coumarin intake and may have a potentially increased risk of liver damage if consuming large amounts.

If you are considering concentrated cinnamon supplements, you should consult with your doctor beforehand since you may have a sensitivity to coumarin. As a general rule, it’s best to have your doctor in the loop regarding any dietary change.

Recipes With Cinnamon

Cinnamon has many potential health benefits with few risks, and it’s easy to include in your diet. From treats to healthy foods and drinks, here are a few recipes that include cinnamon to get you started:

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