Cinnamon is an ancient spice that has been used for thousands of years for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
The spice is obtained from the inner bark of tropical evergreen trees from the genus Cinnamomum. The bark is peeled from the tree and laid in the sun to dry. Once dried, it curls into long quills which are either cut into lengths and sold as the cinnamon sticks, or ground into powder.
Types of Cinnamon
There are over 100 types of cinnamon, but only four types of cinnamon are used for commercial purposes. These are Ceylon cinnamon (Sri Lankan cinnamon), Cassia cinnamon (Chinese cinnamon), Saigon cinnamon (Vietnamese cinnamon) and Korintje cinnamon (Indonesian cinnamon).
With the exception of Ceylon cinnamon, Saigon and Korintje cinnamon are classified under the Cassia cinnamon category because they are very similar to the Cassia variety in color, taste, shape and coumarin content.
Ceylon cinnamon, also known as “true” cinnamon, comes from Cinnamomum verum trees grown primarily in Sri Lanka. It is called “true cinnamon” because it is unique and native to the tiny Indian Ocean Island of Sri Lanka. Ceylon cinnamon is less common in commercial use because it’s more expensive.
Cassia cinnamon, on the other hand, comes from several different species of Cinnamomum trees grown mainly in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. It is generally less expensive and is the most common type of cinnamon spice found in supermarkets.
Ceylon cinnamon stick is light brown in color and consist of multiple thin layers of soft rolled bark, while Cassia cinnamon stick tends to be a dark reddish-brown color and have only one thick layer of rolled bark.
As far as taste goes, Ceylon cinnamon is said to have a sweeter and more delicate taste than Cassia, which is considered to be spicier and more pungent.
Both kinds of cinnamon have a notable spicy taste and fragrance, which is due to the presence of cinnamaldehyde, an organic compound that gives cinnamon its flavor and odor.
Cinnamon is often used as a spice to add additional flavor to various dishes. In North America and Europe, cinnamon is widely used to flavor desserts, cereals and bread-based products. In the China and Middle East, it is often used to flavor meat and savory dishes.
Apart from being used as a spice and flavoring agent, cinnamon is also used in traditional medicine to treat various ailments like diabetes, digestive disorders, respiratory problems, menstrual pain, toothache, etc.
Cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde which are responsible for its many healing properties. It is known to have antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon is also rich in fiber as well as manganese, calcium, and iron, which are essential nutrients for human health.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
1. Reduces cancer risk
Since cinnamon has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it can help in reducing the risk of cancer.
Studies have revealed that cinnamaldehyde could inhibit cancer tumor growth and protect DNA from damage, while also encouraging cancerous cells to self-destruct called apoptosis .
A study in mice with colon cancer revealed that cinnamon to be a potent activator of detoxifying enzymes in the colon, protecting against further cancer growth .
2. Lowers blood sugar levels
It has been suggested that cinnamon can has a positive effect in the management of type 2 diabetes.
One study suggests that cinnamon can be great for those with insulin resistance because it may help certain individuals control their blood sugar .
A clinical study published in the Diabetes Care journal in 2003 found that people with type 2 diabetes who took 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon daily for 40 days reported a reduction in blood sugar by 18-29 percent and a decrease in triglycerides by 23-30 percent .
3. Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
Recent studies have shown that cinnamon may be able to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
One study shows that two compounds found in cinnamon appear to inhibit the buildup of a protein called tau in the brain, which is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease .
Tau proteins can form clumps or tangles in the brain which researchers think the main culprit of the disease. The compounds found in cinnamon have been shown to prevent these clumps from occurring, and thus, possibly preventing Alzheimer’s.
4. Reduces heart disease risk
The special compounds in cinnamon may also help cut the risk of heart disease. In fact, cinnamon been shown to reduce some of the most common risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and high triglyceride levels .
5. Gets rid of bad breath
Bad breath is often caused by bacteria build up in the mouth and cinnamon’s antibacterial properties may help remove bad breath by killing odor-causing bacteria in your mouth and teeth.
Mix half a teaspoon of cinnamon, one and half teaspoon of honey and a cup of warm water. Fill it in a bottle and gargle one mouthful once or twice a day.
6. Relieves arthritis pain
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, cinnamon helps in relieving arthritis pain and stiffness of the muscles and joints.
In fact, a study at Copenhagen University showed that patients given half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder combined with a tablespoon of honey every morning before breakfast had significant relief in arthritis pain after one week and could walk without pain within one month.
7. Boosts immune system
Honey and cinnamon paste is good for boosting the immune system and increasing the lifespan of people. This is partially due to the antioxidants found in both honey and cinnamon which can combat the free radicals in the body.
8. Treats respiratory problems
Cinnamon oil was found to be effective in treating respiratory tract infections caused by fungi .
In lab tests, cinnamon oil was able to successfully stop the growth of many yeasts, which have become resistant to the anti-fungal medication fluconazole .
9. Aids in digestion
Consuming cinnamon and honey on a regular basis can improve digestion. They soothe and calm the stomach and intestines, improving the colon function by reducing gas and relieving the flatulence. They also help to relieve diarrhea, nausea and constipation.
Make a glass of lukewarm honey water mixed with a pinch of cinnamon powder. Take this mixture before your meals to prevent digestive problems.
10. Relieves menstrual cramps
Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties that can help relieve pain during menstruation.
A study looking at the effect of cinnamon on relieving period pain found that cinnamon can reduce the intensity of primary dysmenorrhea .
In the study, participants took 1000 mg of cinnamon during the first three days of their menstrual cycle for two consecutive cycles and symptoms were significantly reduced compared to the control group. This makes cinnamon a great remedy for menstrual cramps.
11. Promotes weight loss
Cinnamon has a regulatory effect on blood sugar levels, and since elevated blood sugar levels can lead to increased fat storage, cinnamon can be useful for preventing this increased storage of fat and enables you to lose weight by balancing blood glucose levels.
In addition, research shows that the cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon is effective at improving fat metabolism. Improved fat metabolism can help the body burn fat faster and help with weight loss.
It can be consumed in tea, sprinkled on coffee or oatmeal and other breakfast cereals, and added to cream cheese or butter for added flavor.
12. Treats urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Cinnamon contains many antibacterial compounds that may protect against E. coli bacteria, the most prevalent organism responsible for UTI. Several clinical studies have confirmed its antibacterial activity against several pathogenic bacterial strains, including E. coli .
13. Fights acne
The combination of cinnamon and honey can effectively reduce acne symptoms due to their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Mix half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder with one teaspoon of honey. Apply the mixture on the acne-affected area and leave it for about ten minutes, and then wash it off with warm water. Repeat it once or twice a day.
14. Relieves toothache
A simple paste made with cinnamon and honey may provide toothache relief.
Mix one teaspoon of cinnamon powder with 5 teaspoons of honey and apply a small amount of this paste directly onto the aching tooth two or three times a day until the pain is relieved. You can store the remainder in a small container at room temperature for later use.
15. Prevents HIV infection
Cinnamon may also be used to prevent HIV infection. A laboratory study looking at the effectiveness of 69 different medicinal plants against the HIV-1 and HIV-2 viruses, cinnamon was found to be one of the most effective. It has been proven to prevent the HIV virus from entering and infecting cells .
Selection and Storage
When buying cinnamon, try to go for Ceylon cinnamon. While it is more expensive, Ceylon cinnamon is believed to have more health benefits than Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon also contains very low amounts of coumarin. Research has found that excess coumarin intake may cause liver toxicity and damage .
Also, be sure to look for organic Ceylon cinnamon powder and cinnamon essential oil to get the most benefits from cinnamon. You can check the label to determine which type for cinnamon you’re buying, and if the label doesn’t indicate which type it is, it’s most likely the cassia variety of cinnamon, which is less expensive and more common.
If you can’t find Ceylon cinnamon locally, you can get it online at Amazon store.
Whether ground or in stick form, cinnamon should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place. Ground cinnamon powder will keep for six months, while cinnamon sticks stored tightly will last for a year before freshness and flavor begin to fade.
Please keep cinnamon away from heat and direct sunlight, and keep it in an airtight container or in a tightly sealed glass jar.
Cinnamon is generally safe to use in small to moderate amounts. It’s linked to many health benefits. However eating too much may cause adverse effects.
All Cassia type Cinnamon contain significant amounts of coumarin, a substance which is toxic to the liver and kidneys if consumed in excess amounts. They can be dangerous if you have a poorly functioning liver or kidneys.
Cinnamon also has anticoagulant properties and may cause over thinning of the blood if you are taking blood thinners. Large doses of cinnamon should not be used before surgery or in any situation where a lot of bleeding may occur.
If you are taking any medications for diabetes, heart disease, or liver disease, it’s imperative to talk with your doctor before using the cinnamon as it might interact with the medications you’re taking.
Cinnamon when taken in high doses can also increase the risk of uterine contractions and premature labor so women with high-risk pregnancies are advised to avoid cinnamon altogether.
How Much Cinnamon is Safe to Take a Day?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) established a tolerable daily intake (TDI) for humans is 0.1 mg coumarin per kg body weight .
This equates up to 6 mg of coumarin per day for an adult weighing 60 kg. For reference, the amount of coumarin in one teaspoon of Cassia cinnamon powder ranges from 5.8 to 12.1 mg.
Keep in mind that adults should not eating more than 1 teaspoon of Cassia cinnamon per day. Children may tolerate even less.