The health advantages of cinnamon

Cinnamon is synonymous with the holidays and cider or a hot coffee, or your favorite sugary cereal growing up. But cinnamon has also been touted for its health benefits for centuries. Recently, there’s been an upswing in natural remedies - using spices and herbs - for a variety of conditions.

Cinnamon can be found almost everywhere you look, but it’s not all the same. There are two basic types of cinnamon: ceylon, which is grown in Sri Lanka, and a few varieties collectively known as cassia, which are widely produced in China and Indonesia. Cassia is the “commercial” variety. It has a stronger flavor and odor, and it’s far cheaper to produce, which is why it’s popular with consumers around the world. Ceylon has a milder, sweeter flavor and it might be the best for your health. This is because the cassia variety can contain relatively high concentrations of coumarin, which can cause damage to the liver. A study of 91 cinnamon samples found 63 times more coumarin in cassia cinnamon powder than Ceylon powder.

However, both are high in cinnamaldehyde, which is thought to be responsible for most of cinnamon’s health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to managing diabetes.

“You can have too much of a good thing,” says Carey Shore, MS, RD, LD, a Wellness Coach with Methodist. “Use caution in the amount. Between a ½ tsp and 3 tsps a day is considered a safe intake, which is not that much. Beyond this dose, no increased benefits have been shown and too much could interfere with certain medications and cause liver damage.”

While studies aren’t definitive and have mostly been done within the confines of labs, here are the top reasons you’d consider adding this common spice to your regimen:

Controlling blood sugars and improving cholesterol

Addition of the spice to diets along with the necessary medicines has been linked with controlling blood sugars as well as improving cholesterol profiles. Cinnamon has been shown to help with insulin sensitivity and glucose transport while decreasing inflammation. In a very small study, the cassia species of cinnamon was more effective than diet alone in lowering blood glucose levels. Numerous human studies have confirmed the anti-diabetic effects of cinnamon, showing that it can lower fasting blood sugar levels by 10–29%.

Small doses have also improved LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, triglycerides and total cholesterol. In some studies cinnamon not only lowered LDL, but raised “good” HDL cholesterol levels.

Antioxidant properties

The powerful antioxidants, such as polyphenols, in cinnamon have anti-inflammatory effects, which may help lower your risk of disease. One study done compared the antioxidant activity of 26 spices and cinnamon came out as the clear winner, even outranking "superfoods" like garlic and oregano.

Skin
Using cinnamon in a simple DIY face mask could help clear breakouts because of the antibacterial effects of bioactive phytochemicals. Combine 2 teaspoons of raw, organic honey (another antibacterial treat), and a sprinkle of cinnamon, then apply to your face for about ten minutes. Rinse gently with a washcloth and warm water. Researchers also have found evidence that cinnamon extract significantly promotes collagen production in skin cells. Basically, it can help with wrinkles and aging skin.

Decreasing health risks
Cinnamaldehyde, the compound responsible for the spice's sweet smell, and epicatechin, a powerful antioxidant that's also in blueberries, red wine and chocolate, appear to inhibit the buildup of a protein called Tau, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.


Biochemists have also found that cinnamon was as effective as resveratrol, an antioxidant in red wine known for disease-fighting properties, in activating SIRT-1 -- also known as the longevity gene because of its role in repairing DNA. In some studies, cinnamon was shown to have an even better effect than resveratrol for anti-cancer and anti-aging. Research is being done on the effects of cinnamon on cancer, most of which is being done in labs or on rodents. Some studies have found that cinnamon could inhibit the progression of melanoma cells, as well as evidence that it could be used as an alternative treatment for cancerous tumors. When using cinnamon in the form of essential oils, it is said to offer anti-tumor, anti-diabetic, antioxidant, antimicrobial and other benefits and be used as an alternative treatment for certain types of cancer.

Cinnamon is also being tested in the fight against HIV. One study found that green tea, elderberry and some extracts of cinnamon rich in flavonoids blocked the virus from entering and infecting certain cells.

Cinnamon is an excellent guilt-free addition to many dishes and drinks. That's why the delightfully flexible spice is a featured ingredient in so many healthy recipes — especially desserts. It can add spicy flavor without relying on tons of sugar.

“It’s always all about the spice instead of the supplement,” says Shore. “Instead of taking a pill, use it in your food. Cinnamon sugar on apples sounds great, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But if the goal of adding cinnamon is to control your blood sugar, then maybe this isn’t the best way to incorporate it into your diet.”