Cinnamon: Health Benefits
Cinnamon is a spice that comes from the branches of wild trees that belong to the genus “Cinnamomum” – native to the Caribbean, South America, and Southeast Asia.
There are two main types of cinnamon:
- Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum Verum), often considered being “true cinnamon”
- Cassia cinnamon or Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum), which originates from southern China, is typically less expensive than Ceylon cinnamon.
Due to the fact that Ceylon cinnamon is very expensive, most foods in the USA and Western Europe, including sticky buns, bread, and other products use the cheaper Cassia cinnamon (dried Cassia bark). These days cinnamon is regarded as the second most popular spice, next to black pepper, in the United States and Europe.
Cinnamon has been consumed since 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt, where it was very highly prized (almost considered to be a panacea). In medieval times doctors used cinnamon to treat conditions such as coughing, arthritis, and sore throats.
Modern research indicates that cinnamon may have some beneficial health properties. Having said that, it is important to recognize that more research and evidence is needed before we can say conclusively that cinnamon has these health benefits.
Possible health benefits of cinnamon
Cinnamon sticks or quills
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Cinnamon can be used to help treat muscle spasms, vomiting, diarrhea, infections, the common cold, loss of appetite, and erectile dysfunction (ED).
Cinnamon may lower blood sugar in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, according to Diabetes UK.1 However high-quality research supporting the claim remains scarce.
According to the National Institutes of Health, cinnamaldehyde – a chemical found in Cassia cinnamon – could help fight against bacterial and fungal infections.
Cinnamon may help improve glucose and lipids levels in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in Diabetics Care.
The study authors concluded that consuming up to 6 grams of cinnamon per day “reduces serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.” and that “the inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type 2 diabetes will reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.”
In addition, a certain cinnamon extract can reduce fasting blood sugar levels in patients, researchers reported in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Tel Aviv University researchers discovered that cinnamon may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. According to Prof. Michael Ovadia, of the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University, an extract found in cinnamon bark, called CEppt, contains properties that can inhibit the development of the disease.
A study of Indian medicinal plants revealed that cinnamon may potentially be effective against HIV. According to the study authors, “the most effective extracts against HIV-1 and HIV-2 are respectively Cinnamomum cassia (bark) and Cardiospermum helicacabum (shoot + fruit).”
Cinnamon may help stop the destructive process of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a neurological scientist at Rush University Medical Center. Cinnamon could help eliminate the need to take some expensive and unpleasant drugs.
Lower the negative effects of high-fat meals
Penn State researchers revealed that diets rich in cinnamon can help reduce the body’s negative responses to eating high-fat meals.
Treating and healing chronic wounds
Research published in the journal ACS Nano suggests that scientists have found a way to package antimicrobial compounds from peppermint and cinnamon in tiny capsules that can both kill biofilms and actively promote healing.
Nutritional profile of cinnamon
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ten grams of ground cinnamon contains:
- Energy: 24.7 kcal
- Fat: 0.12 g
- Carbohydrates: 8.06 g
- Protein: 0.4 g.
Risks and precautions
Some people who are sensitive to cinnamon may be at an increased risk of liver damage after consuming cinnamon-flavored foods, drinks, and food supplements.
This is likely due to the fact that cinnamon contains coumarin, a naturally occurring flavoring substance, which has been linked to liver damage. Cassia cinnamon powder (commonly used in foods in the USA and Western Europe) contains more coumarin than Ceylan cinnamon powder. A 2010 German study found that on average, Cassia cinnamon powder had up to 63 times more coumarin compared to Ceylon cinnamon powder, while Cassia cinnamon sticks contained 18 times more coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon sticks.
How much cinnamon should I eat?
A study carried out in Norway and published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology in 2012 suggested establishing a Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for coumarin of 0.07mg per kg of bodyweight per day. The researchers commented that by sprinkling cinnamon on oatmeal porridge or drinking cinnamon-based tea regularly, adults and children can very easily exceed this amount.
Based upon the conclusion of this study, if the average weight of an American male is 191 pounds (86.6kg), it could mean a maximum Tolerable Daily Intake of 6mg of coumarin. For an average American female (159 pounds or 72.1kg) it could mean a maximum of 5mg of coumarin per day.
In a document published in 2006, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BFR) suggested that 1kg of (cassia) cinnamon powder contains between 2.1 and 4.4g of coumarin. If you estimate that powdered cassia cinnamon weighs approximately 0.56 g/cm, a kilo of cassia cinnamon powder would equal 362.29 teaspoons. This suggests that a single teaspoon of cassia cinnamon powder could contain between 5.8 and 12.1mg of coumarin (which may be above the Tolerable Daily Intake for a smaller individual).
Systematic review: Cinnamon may be beneficial for diabetic patients
Consumption of cinnamon is associated with a statistically significant decrease in levels of fasting plasma glucose, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride, and an increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
A meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of cinnamon use in 543 patients with type 2 diabetes at doses of 120 mg/d to 6 g/d for four to 18 weeks found reduced levels of fasting plasma glucose (-24.6 mg/dL; 95 percent CI, -40.5 to -8.7), total cholesterol (-15.6 mg/dL, -29.8 to -1.4), LDL-C (-9.4 mg/dL; 95 percent CI, -17.2 to -1.6) and triglycerides (-29.6 mg/dL; 95 percent CI, -48.3 to -10.9). Cinnamon also increased levels of HDL-C (1.7mg/dL; 95 percent CI, 1.1 to 2.2). No significant effect on hemoglobin A1c levels was seen. High degrees of heterogeneity were present for all analyses except HDL-C.
Despite the generally positive results, the authors advise caution in applying the results of this analysis to patient care because of the uncertainty of the dose and duration of cinnamon use and uncertainty of the ideal patient population.
Cinnamon Use in Type 2 Diabetes: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
By Olivia J. Phung, PharmD, et al
Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, Calif.
Cinnamon and diabetes
Although research is in a preliminary stage, cinnamon may help fight some symptoms of diabetes. It is also unlikely to cause blood pressure spikes or disrupt blood sugar. So, people with diabetes who miss a sweet pop of flavor may find that cinnamon is a good replacement for sugar.
Can cinnamon affect blood sugar?
Studies suggest that as a treatment tool for diabetes, cinnamon may be useful. It may also be used as a healthful alternative to sugar and salt.
Cinnamon has shown promise in the treatment of blood sugar, as well as some other diabetes symptoms.
Research on the effects of cinnamon on blood sugar in diabetes is mixed and in the early stages. Most studies have been very small, so more research is necessary.
People with diabetes who are interested in herbal remedies, however, may be surprised to learn that doctors are serious about the potential for cinnamon to address some diabetes symptoms.
A 2003 study published in Diabetes Care, compared the effects of a daily intake of 1, 3, and 6 grams (g) of cinnamon with a group that received a placebo for 40 days.
All three levels of cinnamon intake reduced blood sugar levels and cholesterol. The effects were seen even 20 days after participants were no longer taking cinnamon.
A small 2016 study of 25 people, published in the Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology, found that cinnamon may be beneficial for people with poorly controlled diabetes. Participants consumed 1 g of cinnamon for 12 weeks. The result was a reduction in fasting blood sugar levels.
However, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine had a different result. The study, which used a more reliable method, had slightly more participants, at 70. The researchers found that 1 g of cinnamon per day for 30 days and 60 days offered no improvements in blood sugar levels.
A 2016 analysis published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, attempted to bring together existing research on the role of cinnamon in blood sugar reductions.
The authors looked at 11 studies of cinnamon in the treatment of diabetes. All 11 produced some reductions in fasting blood sugar levels. Studies that measured HbA1C levels also achieved modest reductions.
However, only four of the studies achieved reductions in line with the American Diabetes Association’s treatment goals. This suggests that cinnamon may be a useful treatment tool, but is not a replacement for traditional diabetes treatments.
An earlier analysis published in 2011 in the Journal of Medicinal Food, also points to the potential for cinnamon to lower blood sugars. Researchers comparing the results of eight previous studies, found an average blood sugar level reduction of 3-5 percent.
There is no research that suggests cinnamon negatively affects blood sugar. That means that it is a safe bet for people with diabetes who want a more healthful alternative to sugar, salt, and other diabetes-unfriendly flavoring agents.
Other health benefits of cinnamon for diabetes
Cinnamon has also shown promise in addressing other diabetes symptoms. The 2003 Diabetes Care study also found a reduction in blood fat levels and so-called “bad” cholesterol. The levels remained lower even 20 days after participants had stopped consuming cinnamon.
A 2016 study published in Blood Pressure, compared the effects of various intake levels of cinnamon to cardamom, ginger, and saffron. Cinnamon and the other herbs did not affect blood pressure, body measurements, or body mass index.
Tips for using cinnamon
The studies done so far on cinnamon’s effects on diabetes have used small quantities of cinnamon – usually a teaspoon or less.
People interested in trying cinnamon as a supplement to traditional diabetes medication should start small, with about 1 g per day (about ¼ to ½ teaspoon).
Just as different diabetes medications produce varying results and side effects in different patients, cinnamon won’t work for everyone. Some people may even experience side effects.
Some strategies to improve the chances of success while lowering risk include:
- Keeping a food log.
- Sticking with normal diabetes care plans. Cinnamon is not a substitute for blood sugar monitoring, a healthful diet, or diabetes drugs.
- Speaking to a doctor before trying any new diabetes remedies, including cinnamon and other herbal remedies.
- Using cinnamon as a flavoring agent for healthful foods, such as oatmeal and muesli. People should avoid eating cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, or other sugary foods that are rich in cinnamon.
- It’s also possible for people who dislike the taste of cinnamon to purchase cinnamon herbal supplements.
Who should avoid cinnamon?
Cinnamon is a safe flavoring for most people with diabetes. However, people with liver disease or who believe they are at risk from liver disease may need to avoid cinnamon, particularly in large amounts.
Cinnamon comes in two forms: Ceylon and cassia. Cassia is commonly used in the United States and contains small amounts of a substance called coumarin. Some people are sensitive to this chemical and, if they take it in large doses, they can develop liver disease. People who already have liver disease are especially at risk.
Most research on the role of coumarin in liver failure looks at significantly larger quantities of cinnamon than are recommended for diabetes management. This highlights the importance of starting with very small quantities of cinnamon.
People should consider also using a Ceylon cinnamon supplement rather than the more readily available cassia cinnamon.
Interactions with other drugs and herbs
Cinnamon is safe to take with most drugs and herbal remedies. People taking another remedy should always consult their doctor first. Even natural remedies such as cinnamon can trigger negative interactions.
People with diabetes who take a drug that can harm the liver should consult their doctor before using cinnamon. They should also consider Ceylon instead of cassia cinnamon.
Cinnamon may also interact with anti-blood clotting drugs, such as warfarin, and some blood pressure medications.
To reduce the risk of negative interactions and other side effects, people with diabetes should keep a log of any new or unusual symptoms. People with diabetes should also report any side effects to a doctor as soon as they appear. This helps people with diabetes to make good medication decisions and avoid potentially serious side effects.