Cinnamon is the #1 most popular, of herbs and medicinal spices, in the world in terms of protective antioxidant levels. In the West, this sweet spice often makes an appearance during the holiday season, adding warmth to our baked goods and spiced lattes. Slowly but steadily, it is available year-round at coffee shops to sprinkle on top our coffee and tea.

ground cinnamon on spoon dark background

What is Cinnamon?

Cinnamon is quite possibly one of the oldest spices used to heal various conditions for thousands of years. Its origins trace back over 2,000 B.C to ancient Egypt. This reddish-brown spice also has been numerously mentioned in the Bible as a healing agent. Natural medicine records of ancient China dating back 2,700 B.C. reference cinnamon for its ability to fight illness.

With the passing of time, tradition and benefits of cinnamon continue to be shared through generations. Today, science has been and continues to extensively study this unique food product, backing up and identifying new medical claims of cinnamon.

Cinnamon comes from the tree bark of a Cinnamomum tree, which has over 250 species and is grown all over the world. It is made by removing the inner bark from the tree stems cutting them into small strips. When strips are dried, they curl into rolls, also known as cinnamon sticks. Today, cinnamon is available in almost every supermarket or specialty food store and comes in either ground powder, dried up bark sticks, or concentrated oil extract.

Cinnamon gets its unique aroma and flavour from a compound called cinnamaldehyde found in its essential oils. This essential oil is also behind majority of cinnamon’s health benefits.

Ceylon vs. Cassia variety

There are two main types of cinnamon widely sold today:

  • Ceylon cinnamon: sometimes labelled as “true” cinnamon.
  • Cassia cinnamon: widely available and used variety, referred to simply as “cinnamon”.

Cassia cinnamon is commonly available in majority of grocery stores and at an economical cost than Ceylon. Cassia type also contains significant amount of coumarin, a chemical compound that is believed to be toxic to liver in large doses. Ceylon cinnamon contains much lower concentrations of coumarin. However, coumarin is not all bad news. Discovered in 1820, it is naturally part of many different plants and is used by pharmaceutical industry to make anticoagulants. Therefore, both types of cinnamon have significant health benefits.

Dosage and Consumption – for cassia cinnamon, one to two teaspoons daily is more than enough to reap all of health benefits, while keeping coumarin intake to a minimum. For ceylon variety, the intake can be higher. But keep in mind that with spices, little goes a long way.

High Source of Antioxidants

Due to daily wear and tear, as well as many other physiological and environmental factors the body naturally produces free radicals. These free radicals cause damage to our internal molecules (DNA), compounds and cells leading to oxidative stress. Antioxidants can react with these free radicals and neutralize their effect or help repair the cell damage by other mechanisms.

Cinnamon is a powerhouse in terms of bioactive compounds and ranks #16 on the ORAC Scale for antioxidant value amongst all of the foods and beverages across the world. [1] Bioactive compounds within cinnamon including polyphenols, phenolic acids and flavonoids. [2,3] 

A research study into antioxidant potency compared 26 various spices and shows cinnamon to have the highest antioxidant concentrations than other powerful superfoods such as garlic, thyme, rosemary and oregano. [4]

Anti-Inflammatory properties

Inflammation is an important process for the body’s immune system. When the immune system detects a foreign agent (infection) or damaged tissue, the body creates inflammation of the affected area destroying the invaders and repairing the damage. However, modern day environmental factors contribute to overall oxidative stress producing continuous or chronic inflammatory response by the immune system throughout the body. 

Cinnamon has numerous flavonoid antioxidants which are powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. [2,5] Researches have identified seven kinds of flavonoid compounds within cinnamon including quercetin, gnaphalium, oroxindin, hypolaetin, hesperidin, gossypin and hibifolin—all highly effective in lowering inflammation, swelling, pain relief and other age-related conditions. Also, cinnamon appears to have coagulation properties helping the body to form blood clots, while improving repair and recovery through greater blood circulation. [6] 

Research shows that flavonoid compounds within cinnamon actively seek out free radicals and reduce overall oxidative stress. [7] This includes cinnamon’s essential oils and active compounds like eugenol which reduce nitric oxide build up [8,9] and lipid peroxidation—both responsible for chronic inflammation and contributing factors of various conditions and disorders. [7,10]

Promotes better Heart Health

Heart disease and related conditions affect millions of people worldwide and is the most common cause of premature death. Studies have shown that cinnamon reduces several common risk factors associated with heart disease, including high cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels and high blood pressure. [11]

Active compounds within cinnamon have been shown to reduce blood pressure and total cholesterol, by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides, while maintaining stable levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. [2,12]

Another study concluded that small cinnamon doses of 120 milligrams per day, not only decreased overall cholesterol, but also improved overall ratio by increasing HDL cholesterol. [13]

Promotes better Brain Health and Function

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are the two major widespread neurodegenerative disorders. Cinnamon is a superfood containing many powerful active compounds which produce protective antioxidant effect against numerous conditions, including protecting brain function and cognition.

Animal studies on Parkinson’s found that active ingredients within cinnamon trigger biochemical processes within central nervous system (CNS) by increasing production of neuroprotective proteins. These proteins protect against nerve cell damage and oxidative stress, stabilize neurotranmitter levels and improve overall communication and function between nervous system and targeted tissues. [14]

With Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have identified several neurotoxic proteins that begin to build up in the brain leading to neurodegeneration and dementia. Compounds found in cinnamon activate a vast and complex biochemical pathway which reduces buildup of these neurotoxic proteins while improving overall cognition and performance. [15,16,17]

Lowers Blood Sugar and Insulin Resistance

Sugar is an important energy molecule that is used by the body and especially the brain. Insulin is one of the key metabolic hormones that actively regulates blood sugar levels. High sugar concentrations, triggers insulin release which rushes sugar out of the bloodstream and into cells for use and storage. Constant high blood sugar leads to chronic stress and overexertion of the pancreas and effect of insulin. This leads to lack of sensitivity to insulin or insulin resistance; and is a gateway condition to other more serious diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Polyphenols are one of the key antioxidants containing anti-inflammatory properties found in cinnamon. Along with chromium (also in cinnamon), these active compound have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels in both human and animal groups. Cinnamon was also tested on patients with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome showing same positive sugar tolerance and insulin sensitivity benefits. [18] The anti-inflammation power of cinnamon affects numerous organs including the brain, improving brain insulin signalling and neuroprotective pathways seen in Alzheimer-associated changes. [19]

Fights Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes

Metabolic syndrome and diabetes are both prominent and serious diseases, and the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Both diseases stem from body’s inability to manage sugar/carbohydrate metabolism. This includes the breakdown of sugars, absorption into the blood stream and efficient delivery of this energy into cells.

Having numerous bioactive compounds, cinnamon affects several mechanisms within carbohydrate metabolism by lowering blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity.  Studies show that cinnamon slows down the breakdown of sugars during digestion by inhibiting sugar metabolizing enzymes such as intestinal maltase (which breaks apart larger sugars (maltose) into smaller ones (glucose)). [20,21] This decreases the overall amount of sugar (glucose) that enters the bloodstream after a meal. Also, another active compound (cinnamtannin B1) mimics insulin, releasing less of the actual hormone while shuttling sugar into cells. This process is slower overall, but improves the glucose transport with lower insulin levels. [22,23,24]

Human studies involving cinnamon on metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes patients show improved insulin sensitivity, lowering both fasting and fed blood sugar levels, as well as overall blood pressure. Cinnamon has be shown to also decrease total cholesterol. [25,26,27,28]

Potential Anti-Cancer Agent

Cancer is a complicated and serious disease where body’s cells begin to grow through uncontrolled division. Inflammation has been identified as one of the factors in disease inducement. Due to its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, cinnamon has been studied for possible treatment and prevention strategies.

Majority of studies have been done in test tubes (in vitro) and animal models (in vivo), but show promise of cinnamon’s protective effect against various cancers. Scientific research notes some of the active compounds in cinnamon appear to be toxic to cancer cells, while decreasing formation of blood vessels within tumors. Studies show one of the compounds of cinnamon’s essential oil (cinnamaldehyde) inhibiting tumor growth leading to cell death. [29,30,31,32]  Also, experiments on mice and test tube kind with cinnamon show an antioxidant response by activating detoxifying enzymes in the colon, and protecting against further cancerous growth. [33,34,35]

Helps Fight Bacterial, Fungal and Viral Infections

Throughout history, cinnamon was used by many cultures to naturally help fight various infections and diseases. Today, science continues to confirm numerous protective properties of cinnamon. Cinnamon’s essential oils contain many of the immune-boosting ingredients that have been identified to protect the body and defend it from various invaders. Cinnamon oil has been shown as an effective treatment against fungi causing respiratory tract infections. [36] Furthermore, these anti-inflammatory compounds are also anti-microbial, antibiotic, anti-fungal and anti-viral agents.

As mentioned before, cinnamaldehyde is one of the main active compounds in cinnamon which has been a key focus in cancer treatment research. As with tumour cells, cinnamaldehyde has been shown to slow down growth of several types of bacteria which cause problems in the digestive tract. [37,38]

Cinnamon oil extract has also been shown to protect against bacteria inside the mouth that can cause bad breath and tooth decay. [39] In addition, cinnamon is used as natural flavouring in chewing gum, to fight oral bacteria and prevent other oral or dental problems. [40]

Cinnamon was also investigated against viral infections. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an organism that attacks the immune system which can become weak and ineffective against any infection. Test tube experiments showed substantial promise of cinnamon’s active ingredients against HIV-1 (most common strain human viral strain). [41,42]

Improves Immune Function and Allergies

Due to cinnamon’s immense anti-inflamatory properties, its benefits also help with common seasonal allergy symptoms. This has been experimented on small animals where cinnamon was shown as an aid in lowering histamine response through overall inflammation reduction. [43,44]

Final Thoughts

Cinnamon is one of the most healthiest spices known to man. Cinnamon tree produces a product which has impressive health benefits within our bodies, with potential for more. Cinnamon also tastes great, and goes well with numerous dishes and beverages.

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References:

1. ORAC — https://www.superfoodly.com/orac-values/

2. Rao et al. Cinnamon: A Multifaceted Medicinal Plant. Evidence Based Complement Alternative Medicine. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4003790/

3. Kumar et al. GC-MS analysis and screening of antidiabetic, antioxidant and hypolipidemic potential of Cinnamomum tamala oil in streptozotocin induced diabetes mellitus in rats. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22882757

4. Shan et al. Antioxidant Capacity of 26 Spice Extracts and Characterization of Their Phenolic Constituents. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. 2005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16190627

5. Morgan et al. Studies on the potential protective effect of cinnamon against bisphenol A- and octylphenol-induced oxidative stress in male albino rats. Toxicology Reports. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598475/

6. Gunawardena et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of cinnamon (C. zeylanicum and C. cassia) extracts – identification of E-cinnamaldehyde and o-methoxy cinnamaldehyde as the most potent bioactive compounds. Food and Function. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25629927

7. Okawa et al. DPPH (1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl) radical scavenging activity of flavonoids obtained from some medicinal plants. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 2001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11642334/

8. Lee et al. Suppression effect of Cinnamomum cassia bark-derived component on nitric oxide synthase. Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry. 2002. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12475291/

9. Lee et al. Inhibitory effect of 2′-hydroxycinnamaldehyde on nitric oxide production through inhibition of NF-kappa B activation in RAW 264.7 cells. Biochemical Pharmacology. 2005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15710356

10. Chericoni et al. In vitro activity of the essential oil of Cinnamomum zeylanicum and eugenol in peroxynitrite-induced oxidative processes. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15941312/

11. Akilen et al. Glycated haemoglobin and blood pressure-lowering effect of cinnamon in multi-ethnic Type 2 diabetic patients in the UK: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Diabetic Medicine. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20854384

12. Khan et al. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2003. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14633804

13. Allen et al. Cinnamon Use in Type 2 Diabetes: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Annals of Family Medicine. 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3767714/

14. Khasnvais et al. Cinnamon treatment upregulates neuroprotective proteins Parkin and DJ-1 and protects dopaminergic neurons in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease. Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24946862

15. Frydman-Marom et al. Orally Administrated Cinnamon Extract Reduces β-Amyloid Oligomerization and Corrects Cognitive Impairment in Alzheimer’s Disease Animal Models. PLoS One. 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3030596/

16. George et al. Interaction of cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin with tau: implications of beneficial effects in modulating Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23531502

17. Peterson et al. Cinnamon extract inhibits tau aggregation associated with Alzheimer’s disease in vitro. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19433898

18. Anderson RA. Chromium and polyphenols from cinnamon improve insulin sensitivity. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18234131

19. Anderson et al. Cinnamon Counteracts the Negative Effects of a High Fat/High Fructose Diet on Behavior, Brain Insulin Signaling and Alzheimer-Associated Changes. PLoS One. 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3862724/

20. Shihabudeen et al. Cinnamon extract inhibits α-glucosidase activity and dampens postprandial glucose excursion in diabetic rats. Nutrition and Metabolism. 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3155477/

21. Adisakwattana et al. Inhibitory activity of cinnamon bark species and their combination effect with acarbose against intestinal α-glucosidase and pancreatic α-amylase. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21538147

22. Cao et al. Cinnamon extract and polyphenols affect the expression of tristetraprolin, insulin receptor, and glucose transporter 4 in mouse 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Archives of Biochemistry and  Biophysics. 2007. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17316549/

23. Khan et al. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2003. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14633804

24. Verspohl et al. Antidiabetic effect of Cinnamomum cassia and Cinnamomum zeylanicum in vivo and in vitro. Phytotherapy Research. 2005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15934022

25. Qin et al. Cinnamon: Potential Role in the Prevention of Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, and Type 2 Diabetes. 2010. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2901047/

26. Gruenwald et al. Cinnamon and health. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20924865

27. Mang et al. Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA, and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2. European Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16634838

28. Kirkham et al. The potential of cinnamon to reduce blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism. 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19930003

29. Schoene et al. Water-soluble polymeric polyphenols from cinnamon inhibit proliferation and alter cell cycle distribution patterns of hematologic tumor cell lines. Cancer Letters. 2005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16253769

30. Lu et al. Novel angiogenesis inhibitory activity in cinnamon extract blocks VEGFR2 kinase and downstream signaling. Carcinogenesis. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3105590/

31. Ka et al. Cinnamaldehyde induces apoptosis by ROS-mediated mitochondrial permeability transition in human promyelocytic leukemia HL-60 cells. Cancer Letters. 2003. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12860272

32. Cabello et al. The cinnamon-derived Michael acceptor cinnamic aldehyde impairs melanoma cell proliferation, invasiveness, and tumor growth. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19000754/

33. Bhattacharjee et al. Inhibition of lipid peroxidation and enhancement of GST activity by cardamom and cinnamon during chemically induced colon carcinogenesis in Swiss albino mice. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention. 2007. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18260732

34. Wondrak et al. The Cinnamon-derived Dietary Factor Cinnamic Aldehyde Activates the Nrf2-dependent Antioxidant Response in Human Epithelial Colon Cells. Molecules. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3101712/

35. Patil et al. Cinnamaldehyde, Cinnamic Acid, and Cinnamyl Alcohol, the Bioactives of Cinnamomum cassia Exhibit HDAC8 Inhibitory Activity: An In vitro and In silico Study. Phramacognosy Magazine. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29142427

36. Singh et al. Cinnamon bark oil, a potent fungitoxicant against fungi causing respiratory tract mycoses. Allergy. 1995. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8834832

37. Wang et al. Mechanisms, clinically curative effects, and antifungal activities of cinnamon oil and pogostemon oil complex against three species of Candida. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22594097

38. Ooi et al. Antimicrobial activities of cinnamon oil and cinnamaldehyde from the Chinese medicinal herb Cinnamomum cassia Blume. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16710900

39. Gupta et al. Comparative study of cinnamon oil and clove oil on some oral microbiota. Acta bio-medica: Atenei Parmesis. 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22783715

40. Zhu et al. Short-term germ-killing effect of sugar-sweetened cinnamon chewing gum on salivary anaerobes associated with halitosis. The Journal of Clinical Dentistry. 2011. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/21290983

41. Filho et al. Effects of plant extracts on HIV-1 protease. Current HIV Research. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20946094

42. Fink et al. HIV type-1 entry inhibitors with a new mode of action. Antivirus Chemistry and Chemotherapy. 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19641233

43. Kandhare et al. Ameliorative effects of type-A procyanidins polyphenols from cinnamon bark in compound 48/80-induced mast cell degranulation. Anatomy and Cell Biology. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29354299

44. Aswar et al. Anti-allergic effect of intranasal administration of type-A procyanidin polyphenols based standardized extract of cinnamon bark in ovalbumin sensitized BALB/c mice. Phytotherapy Research. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25504814

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