Coveted for its medicinal properties, cinnamon has been a part of traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
Cinnamon was used by Ayurvedic experts for its warming flavor and to increase the absorption of nutrients from other spices as part of food diets.
Modern-day research has now backed the medicinal value of cinnamon and numerous studies have affirmed its efficacy in treating a variety of medical conditions.
- What is Cinnamon?
- The 5 Common Types of Cinnamon
- Dutch Cinnamon vs Ceylon Cinnamon
- Cinnamon: Nutrition Facts
- The 13 Proven Health Benefits of Cinnamon
- Cinnamon has Effective Antioxidant Capabilities
- Cinnamon has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
- Cinnamon may Lower the Risk of Heart Disease
- Cinnamon may Lower Insulin Resistance
- Cinnamon may Lower Risk of Diabetes
- Cinnamon for Treating Neurodegenerative Diseases
- Cinnamon may Protect Against Cancer
- Cinnamon may Help Enhance Oral Hygiene
- Cinnamon may Help Fight the HIV Virus
- Cinnamon may Prevent Candida Infection
- Cinnamon for Skin Health
- Cinnamon may Reduce Allergies
- Other Possible Benefits of Cinnamon
- The Dosage and Side Effects of Cinnamon
- The Final Note
What is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon is a spice with a deep, rich flavor and aroma. Known to be obtained from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree, cinnamon harvest dates back to Ancient Egypt about 4000 years ago. It was very highly prized and history states that it served as an expensive gift to the royal families of those times.
Cinnamon can add an intense aroma and flavor to cooking when used in its original form, as pieces of the bark of the Cinnamomum tree, in a ground powdered form or as extracts.
Cinnamon oil is used for cosmetic or topical applications. Many types of cinnamon have been identified but only a few are well known and grown for commercial use.
The 5 Common Types of Cinnamon
Cinnamomum, an evergreen tree belonging to the Lauraceae family consists of around 250 species that are distributed primarily in Southeast Asia, China, and Australia.
Out of 250 species, a few types have been scientifically researched for the benefits they provide. Some of the common types of cinnamon are:
- Ceylon cinnamon
- Cassia cinnamon
- Saigon or Vietnamese cinnamon
- Indonesian cinnamon
- Indian cinnamon
The two most popular types of cinnamon are Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon also referred to as true or real cinnamon is grown widely in Sri Lanka. It is lighter in color than other varieties, has a mild and slightly sweeter flavor and though considered expensive than all other varieties, it is the most popular and preferred variety of cinnamon.
Cassia cinnamon or Dutch cinnamon, widely grown in China is cheaper, harder and darker in color with a rough texture unlike Ceylon cinnamon. They have a distinct flavor, fragrance and have been scientifically researched for their nutritional value and multiple health benefits on the human body.
Dutch Cinnamon vs Ceylon Cinnamon
Cinnamon is an exotic, but relatively cheap spice found in most supermarkets. Though you probably may not have noticed it before, the cinnamon you are buying is usually Dutch cinnamon. Though Dutch cinnamon has health benefits similar to that of the higher quality ( and costlier) Ceylon cinnamon, eating too much of it can be harmful due to the presence of a toxin.
Dutch cinnamon or cassia is the most common type of cinnamon consumed the world over. With 95% cinnamaldehyde, cassia has a very strong and spicy flavor. Ceylon cinnamon has only 50–63% of this essential oil and has a milder aroma and flavor (1). It is considered to be of superior quality and safer to consume. Cassia has high coumarin content compared to Ceylon cinnamon which has only negligible traces of this plant compound.
Coumarin, in large doses, has been found to cause lung, liver, kidney, and liver damage (2). Even a teaspoon or two of dutch cinnamon can push you over the 0.1 mg/kg Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of coumarin (3). So if you are using Dutch cinnamon, keep your daily intake under one teaspoon. If you prefer to use more cinnamon, then opt for Ceylon cinnamon. If taking capsules or supplements with cinnamon, then confirm that they contain Ceylon cinnamon.
Cinnamon: Nutrition Facts
Cinnamon is obtained by drying the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree. The bark contains special active compounds that are beneficial for our health.
Cinnamaldehyde, cinnamate and cinnamic acid are the primary compounds of cinnamon. Of all the compounds, cinnamaldehyde is responsible for the smell and flavor of cinnamon and considered the most potent.
Comprising a variety of essential nutrients, cinnamon has a rich content of dietary fiber, calcium, iron, niacin, vitamins K, E, B6, minerals such as manganese and traces of magnesium, potassium, zinc, and copper.
The 13 Proven Health Benefits of Cinnamon
A staple in traditional holistic healing, it was widely used in Ayurveda to control glucose levels, detoxify the liver, increase energy and promote digestion.
Chinese medicine had used cinnamon as part of a medicinal beverage that could improve heart health, provide relief from pain and enhance the flow of blood in the body. Listed are some of the proven health benefits of cinnamon backed with scientific evidence.
Cinnamon has Effective Antioxidant Capabilities
Free radicals are loose, unstable molecules that cause oxidative stress which damages cells and result in diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, etc. Cinnamon contains bioactive compounds that are high in antioxidants and which can help minimize oxidative stress in the human body.
Cinnamon in research was shown to have the highest antioxidant capacity in the Lauraceae family (1). The active compounds in cinnamon in all forms, especially extracts are proven to exhibit antioxidant properties that may benefit human health (2).
One study specifically showed that ethanol extracts from Cinnamomum cassia (EECC) ranging from 0.05 to 1.0 mg/ml showed the highest amount of antioxidants and free- radical scavenging activity in rat liver tissues (3).
Another study on antioxidant effects of spices, especially cardamom and cinnamon showed that these spices could enhance antioxidant effects by activating the antioxidant enzymes (4).
Summary: Numerous studies back cinnamon’s prowess in enhancing the antioxidant enzymes to fight free-radical damage. Cinnamon has shown the highest antioxidant capabilities in its family, with its presence of powerful bioactive compounds.
Cinnamon has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Inflammation is the body’s defense mechanism by the immune system to protect against infections by microorganisms and foreign bodies. But when the immune system triggers inflammatory responses without any ailment, it makes the body susceptible to damage.
Cinnamon contains active flavonoids that may possess an anti-inflammatory effect. It can provide effective relief from pain and protect against various diseases. Studies have shown that the bioactive compounds in cinnamon, especially cinnamaldehyde, may be effective in reducing inflammation (5).
In sports, intense exercises can cause muscle injury or soreness in athletes. In one particular study with the Iranian female athletes cinnamon combined with ginger extracts was shown to reduce muscle soreness significantly (6).
Summary: The bio-active compounds present in cinnamon may have profound anti-inflammatory effects that may help reduce pain and inflammation. Studies also reveal that cinnamon supplementation in athletes can relieve muscle soreness due to intense workouts.
Cinnamon may Lower the Risk of Heart Disease
Blood pressure and cholesterol levels are known as risk factors for heart disease. Cinnamon has been researched for its ability to protect against such risks and improve heart health.
Studies show that cinnamon ingestion showed a positive impact on lipid levels and could lower total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL levels effectively (7).
Cinnamon supplementation in animals has shown to lower blood pressure, another critical biomarker for cardiovascular diseases (8).
The aqueous extract of a particular type of cinnamon showed marked protection against atherosclerosis in Wistar rats (9).
Another specific study on arrhythmia in mice showed that cinnamon with antioxidant capabilities displayed protective properties against ischemia-reperfusion injury in the heart (10).
Summary: Scientific studies have proven cinnamon to be effective in reducing risks such as cholesterol and blood pressure. Cinnamon’s compounds with antioxidant effects have been known to display protective properties to prevent atherosclerosis and other heart diseases.
Cinnamon may Lower Insulin Resistance
Insulin is a pancreatic hormone that regulates glucose levels and stores it for future use. Insulin resistance occurs when the body’s cells are unresponsive to this hormone causing conditions such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Research has proven that cinnamon is capable of lowering insulin-resistance in the body.
Scientific studies indicate that the compounds present in cinnamon may be useful in reducing symptoms that cause metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes (11).
In a study over 40 days, just 1-6 grams of cinnamon daily, showed marked improvement in levels of fasting glucose, glucose tolerance and lowered insulin resistance (12).
Studies on animals revealed that cinnamon extracts may enhance insulin-signaling pathways in skeletal muscles to increase glucose absorption (13).
Summary: Cinnamon compounds may help lower insulin resistance and prevent symptoms that can lead to conditions such as metabolic syndrome. Cinnamon extracts have shown to enhance insulin-signaling pathways and increase glucose uptake in skeletal muscles.
Cinnamon may Lower Risk of Diabetes
Diabetes is caused when the body is unable to use the glucose in the blood either due to insulin-resistance or lack of insulin secretion by the pancreas. Cinnamon, which is proven by science to lower insulin resistance, has also been researched for its potential to prevent or treat diabetes.
Many studies have revealed that cinnamon can have a positive impact, specifically on postprandial glucose levels in the body (14).
One study indicated that cinnamon bark extracts may control postprandial sugar levels by inhibiting the intestinal enzyme α-glucosidase and the pancreatic enzymes α-amylase, which play a very important role in carbohydrate metabolism (15).
Another study showed that intake of 2g cinnamon for 10 weeks can effectively lower HbA1c and blood pressure levels in patients with Type II diabetes (16).
A specific study on Chinese people with type II diabetes showed that both low and high doses of cinnamon supplementation could decrease both fasting blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin levels significantly (17).
Summary: Continuous cinnamon supplementation is proven beneficial in controlling blood sugar levels in the human body. Different studies indicated that cinnamon could lower fasting, postprandial and HbA1c glucose levels that could effectively help in treating type II diabetes.
Cinnamon for Treating Neurodegenerative Diseases
Neurodegenerative diseases are progressive diseases of the central nervous system. These diseases are mostly age-dependent and are manageable to a certain extent. Cinnamon’s antioxidant capabilities are thought to boost certain brain functions to help prevent/ treat disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (18).
One scientific study showed that cinnamon extracts especially proanthocyanidin and cinnamaldehyde could inhibit two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease, namely tau aggregation and filament formation (19).
Another study revealed that the two active compounds, cinnamaldehyde, and epicatechin, in cinnamon extracts prevented the buildup of tau cysteines in the brain to prevent Alzheimer’s disease (20).
Apart from lowering PTEN, Tau and Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) accumulation in the brain, cinnamon proved effective in alleviating the negative effects of high fat or high fructose diet to improve brain insulin-signaling and behavior in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (21).
Findings in another study revealed that oral intake of cinnamon displayed dopaminergic neuronal protection and improved motor functions in an MPTP mouse model of Parkinson’s disease (22).
Summary: Cinnamon constituents have neuroprotective properties to treat neurodegenerative disorders. The active compounds have shown to inhibit protein accumulation and improve motor functions, behavior and brain insulin-signaling functions in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Cinnamon may Protect Against Cancer
Cancer refers to diseases where abnormal cells multiply abundantly and destroy body tissue in the process. Cinnamon compounds have been intensively studied for their excellent antioxidant effect on cancers.
According to one study, cinnamaldehyde was shown to inhibit tumor growth and prevent cell damage in leukemia (23).
A particular experiment carried out to assess the anti-oxidative potential of cinnamon and cardamom showed that cinnamon could enhance the level of a detoxifying enzyme (GST activity) with a simultaneous decrease in lipid peroxidation levels (24).
Research has revealed that procyanidin extracts showed effective anti-angiogenesis activity that may help treat cancer (25).
Summary: Cinnamon has shown antioxidant capabilities that may help prevent tumors. It also displayed an anti-angiogenesis effect that can help in treating cancer.
Cinnamon may Help Enhance Oral Hygiene
Oral hygiene is an essential daily practice, undertaken to keep the mouth free from dental decay, bad breath, and other oral diseases. Cinnamon has been known to exhibit antibacterial properties that can ensure oral hygiene.
In one study comparing cinnamon and clove oil effects on oral microbiota revealed that cinnamon had far better potential than clove oil in inhibiting the bacteria (26).
Another study comparing clove, neem and cinnamon found that only cinnamon extracts showed efficacy in treating 4 different types of oral microflora (27).
Cinnamon has also shown effectiveness by reducing oral sulfur compounds that cause anaerobes to reduce toothaches and bad breath when used in chewing gums (28).
Summary: Cinnamon extracts have displayed antibacterial properties that have the potential to promote oral hygiene. Only cinnamon has displayed effectiveness in inhibiting oral microflora to protect against dental diseases and fight bad breath.
Cinnamon may Help Fight the HIV Virus
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the immune system which eventually weakens it to a point where it cannot fight any infections or diseases. Cinnamon has been investigated in various studies for its antioxidant, antibacterial and antiviral capabilities. Research has also proven that cinnamon has the potential to fight HIV to protect the immune system from deterioration.
Among 69 Indian plant species studied for anti-HIV activity, cinnamon ranked as a clear winner in being able to fight both HIV-1 and HIV-2 types. HIV-1 is pandemic and aggressive and HIV-2 is confined to Africa and less pathogenic. HIV-2 develops more slowly and is less easy to be transmitted than the HIV-1 (29).
Another study on plant extracts indicated that flavonoid compounds in cinnamon extracts could prevent the entry of HIV-1 type into target cells and prevent infection. Procyanidin, a polyphenol in cinnamon has shown to be effective against HIV-1 type (30).
Studies suggest that cinnamon intake seems to be a natural, therapeutic approach to inhibit HIV-1 type from entering and infecting the immune system (31).
Summary: Science backs cinnamon as the most effective in fighting both HIV-1 and HIV-2 types. Cinnamon compounds have shown potential in preventing HIV-1 type from entering and infecting the host cell in the immune system.
Cinnamon may Prevent Candida Infection
Candida is a fungus that normally thrives in the human body. Candida can cause problems when it multiplies excessively or in rare cases when it enters the bloodstream or other organs in the body. Research shows that the polyphenols in cinnamon have shown promising antifungal activities to fight fungal infections such as candida.
Studies have shown that between extracts of cinnamon and pogostemon, cinnamon oil had the highest antifungal effects against different types of candida (32).
In a study of sixteen essential oils, cinnamon oil was found to be the most active against yeasts such as candida (32).
A specific study suggested that two cinnamon bark fractions (essential oil and an aqueous extract rich in proanthocyanidins) were found to have promising effects in treating oral infections caused by Candida albicans (33).
Research indicated that increased carbohydrates and calorie intake could lead to higher concentrations of glucose that can cause candida proliferation and infections in people with diabetes. Since cinnamon is proven to be effective in regulating blood sugar levels, it may be effective in lowering the risk of candida based infections in the human body (34).
Summary: Cinnamon has promising antifungal properties to fight the fungus Candida. Cinnamon extracts and essential oil has been proven effective in preventing and treating different types of candida.
Cinnamon for Skin Health
Skin is the largest organ and its health is vital as it not only protects the body from exposure, pollutants, microorganisms but is also the medium for absorbing Vitamin D into the body. Cinnamon has proven to support skin health from age-related degeneration or microbial afflictions.
One study on human keratinocytes indicated that the antioxidant properties of cinnamon may help in treating skin disorders such as dioxin intoxication, acne, and vitiligo that arise due to oxidative stress (35).
A research on cinnamon bark essential oil (CBEO) in a human skin model showed that CBEO showed potential anti-inflammatory properties against 17 protein biomarkers of inflammation (36).
Cinnamon bark in combination with honey, in one study, was proven to have beneficial antibacterial effects on acne-causing bacteria (37).
A specific study on cinnamon’s effect on collagen revealed that cinnamon extracts promoted collagen synthesis and could be effectivetive in the anti-aging treatment of the skin (38).
Summary: Cinnamon extracts or oils exhibit protective properties that may help in treating skin disorders. Studies have proven cinnamon’s efficiency to prevent aging, protect from inflammation and acne-causing bacteria that affect the skin.
Cinnamon may Reduce Allergies
Allergies are caused when the immune system becomes hypersensitive to harmless foreign substances in the environment. Cinnamon has shown great potential in preventing or treating symptoms of allergies.
Specific studies on cinnamaldehyde showed that it was the main compound with anti-allergic properties which could reduce the release and expression of pro-inflammatory mast cell mediators (39).
One study of spices’ effect on histamines showed that cinnamon along with clove showed a positive inhibitory effect on histamine-producing bacteria in fish (40).
Another study on a mice model of allergic rhinitis showed that intranasal administration of type A procyanidin polyphenols extract from Cinnamomum zeylanicum bark (TAPP-CZ) was effective in alleviating allergic parameters and display an anti-allergic effect (41).
Summary: Cinnamaldehyde is the main active compound in cinnamon to show high anti-allergic properties. Studies have proved that cinnamon can inhibit histamine-producing bacteria and reduce allergic parameters to prevent the onset of allergies.
Other Possible Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon and the essential oils may provide various other benefits such as:
- Cinnamon oil can effectively be used as a natural antibacterial agent in cosmetics and disinfectants to eliminate specific gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria in clinical environments (42).
- Inhalable vapors of cinnamon bark oil may have a significant impact on fungi in respiratory tract mycoses (43).
- Cinnamon may help in preventing the discoloration and rotting of fruits and vegetables due to its antioxidant and antityrosinase activities (44).
- A specific study showed that cinnamon compounds were potent enough to effectively prevent mold growth and toxin productions (45).
Summary: From being used as a natural antibacterial agent in cosmetics to preventing the discoloration and rotting of fruits and vegetables, cinnamon has many other benefits other than the 12 main benefits discussed above. As more and more research is being conducted, innumerable benefits of this aromatic spice are being confirmed.
The Dosage and Side Effects of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is generally considered safe with little or zero side-effects. But certain species of cinnamon are known to cause health problems. Consumption of high amounts of cassia cinnamon containing a compound called coumarin can lead to liver damage (46).
A daily tolerable intake of 0.1 mg/kg was established as safe and excess of this could lead to complications. Compared to cassia, Ceylon cinnamon is extremely low in coumarin levels and hence more beneficial for regular consumption.
- Cinnamon may be effective in lowering and regulating blood sugar levels. But diabetic people should exercise caution as cinnamon intake could lead to very low blood sugar levels (47).
- The cinnamon content in flavored toothpaste, chewing gum, etc. can cause adverse oral reactions such as contact stomatitis (48).
- Ingesting and inhaling raw cinnamon extracts has also been known to cause breathing problems in rare cases (49).
- Cinnamon oil can cause burning sensations accompanied by pain if it is in contact with the skin for long durations (50).
- Some people can also be allergic to cinnamon and should check with a doctor before using topical applications (51).
Pregnant, nursing women, people who have medical conditions or under prescriptions should consult a doctor before starting cinnamon supplementation to eliminate any risks. Also, cinnamon in extract forms is more potent and available in higher concentrations. So one should read the accompanying literature on cinnamon products for recommended dosage and instructions.
The Final Note
Cinnamon is an age-old spice used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Apart from the delicious flavor and aroma, it imparts to food, it also bestows a load of health benefits.
Scientific studies have revealed that cinnamon has the potential to lower insulin-resistance, regulate glucose levels, fight heart disease, cancer and promote oral and skin health.
Consuming Ceylon cinnamon is better and more beneficial for health than cassia cinnamon. Cinnamon can be used in many forms and adhering to recommended or low dosages will provide immense benefits for healthy living.