Used by people throughout history as a medicine, spice, fragrance, healing herb, and more, from the ancient Chinese, to the Egyptians, the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, cinnamon is certainly one of our most quintessential panaceas, acting as an aromatic stimulant with anti-microbial, carminative, anti-fungal properties- the health benefits of cinnamon go on and on.
However, Cassia cinnamon (the common type of cinnamon) is actually high in coumarin, which can cause liver damage to people who might be sensitive. That’s why it’s important to do your research before diving into eating a ton of extra cinnamon, as much of a super-food as it may be.
Overall, this article spells out the full picture when it comes to cinnamon. If you’re researching cinnamon and want to know the health benefits and risks, I hope this helps.
What Is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon is the spice derived from the finely ground inner bark of the branches of Cinnamomum verum, also called “true cinnamon,” which is said to be native to Sri Lanka and perhaps parts of the Caribbean.
True cinnamon can be difficult to actually find in marketplaces around the world, and it is very expensive when you can encounter it. The country of Sri Lanka was formerly referred to as Ceylon, so that is why you will often see “Ceylon Cinnamon” as “true” cinnamon.
More common than Ceylon cinnamon is a similar spice often confused with cinnamon called “Cassia,” which is what you usually actually find out there at the store. Cassia is native to China, and is grown primarily there and in Indonesia. Cassia has a darker reddish tinge than true cinnamon (which is actually a pale tan).
Unfortunately, cassia is high in coumarin, which can cause liver problems for some people. That’s why it may not be just a snobbish choice to opt for the real cinnamon.
Cinnamon is world-renowned for its taste, and has been prized for centuries. Even back through the middle ages, cinnamon was one of the most sought-after, talked about, and imitated spices out there, and that even continues to this day, as much counterfeit cinnamon remains in circulation, especially in cinnamon supplements.
Common cinnamon as a healthy spice in small quantities, and if you’re sure you have real Ceylon cinnamon, then it’s actually safe to eat in large quantities and yields myriad health benefits.
What Is Cinnamon Good for?
Cinnamon is famously known for its flavor. Cinnamon was one of the key spices that dominated the spice trade of antiquity. Controlling the trade of cinnamon was a huge source of power for ancient societies, and this was all revolving around its strong, delicious flavor.
People back then didn’t know about antioxidants or flavonoids, but they still paid fortunes for cinnamon because of its taste.
That’s why no run-down of cinnamon would be complete without mentioning that this is one of the strongest and most recognizable flavors you can put into a dish.
Cinnamon goes well in the kitchen with almost any kind of dish. Classically paired with just about any dessert as a garnish or ingredient, cinnamon is also a classic on the breakfast table, pairing well with all the kinds of sweet dishes and sides that can be served there like cereal, waffles, pancakes or oatmeal.
But cinnamon also has a less well-known place in other types of cooking as well, such as savory dishes. Cinnamon is growingly popular for use in all kinds of salads, meats, and dinner-items, as well as sandwiches or soups for lunch.
Whether you are cooking something savory, sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or some combination of the above, cinnamon would likely make a great complimentary flavor.
Cinnamon is right up there with salt and pepper in terms of versatility in cooking- there’s almost no other spice you can use as ubiquitously as cinnamon.
Cinnamon is a nutritional juggernaut, and no one out there can deny how amazing it is for health.
Certainly there needs to be more research done out there in the academic circle about the specific scientific benefits of cinnamon, which is why for now we are often stuck saying things like “may” do this for your health, or “could” do that for a symptom, but overall, cinnamon is what it is, and it’s been helping people for thousands of years as a medicinal herb, cooking ingredient, and much more.
It’s vital to understand that Cassia Cinnamon actually has high levels of the substance coumarin, which if taken in high doses, or over enough of a span of time, can actually cause liver failure.
That’s why it’s important for people to know whether they want Cassia Cinnamon or Ceylon Cinnamon, the latter of which has less than a quarter the amount of coumarin. High-coumarin Cassia cinnamon was even banned in Europe for some time, but actually a German study found that it is impossible to regulate the amount of coumarin in cinnamon, because it can vary so widely.
Later studies came out actually proving that different parts of the exact same tree can produce cinnamons with wildly different amounts of coumarin, and not only that, but Ceylon Cinnamon is very frequently cut with much-cheaper Cassia, or replaced completely by Cassia, and still marketed and sold as Ceylon cinnamon.
This makes it very difficult for buyers to tell what they are getting, which is a big part of why most resources out there recommend against going with cinnamon capsules- Ceylon Cinnamon is easy to spot when it’s in stick form, which is more distinct and easier to distinguish from Cassia in its natural quill form.
1) Heart Disease : Cinnamon is well-renowned for its essential oils and minerals, such as manganese and calcium which do wonders for cardiac health. Cinnamon can be a powerful blood thinner, which can save a life after or during a heart attack.
Heart disease remains the number one most frequent killer of Americans, so anything we can do to reduce this risk in ourselves and our friends and family is a great step forward.
I’m sure we all know someone somewhere who has been affected by this disease, so it’s no trifle when we come across a natural food that we can eat raw or cooked that actually tends to reduce our risk of heart disease.
The FDA is very strict about exactly what they say about cinnamon’s effects on cardiac health, but regardless of the problems of missing research out there thus far, it could be the case that further research in a few years reveals even more benefits from cinnamon that causes the FDA to change its tune here, and of course such a change would have retroactive implications for health.
2) Immunity-Boost : Cinnamon’s high antioxidant composition also lends it strong immune response qualities. If you feel a cold coming on, many people recommend doing some kind of cinnamon and honey mixture (see recipe section below for more specific ideas).
Cinnamon is also rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols and proanthocyanidins, which also provide an additional power-up to our immune system. Cinnamon also has anti-viral, anti-fungal, and antibacterial properties that make it ideal as a topical skin treatment for wounds or rashes, as well as a great supplement to ingest and reap the benefits all over your body.
3) Brain Function : Research has shown that cinnamon actually has a strong positive effect on brain function and can help minimize the risk of later developing diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Cinnamon activates “neuroprotective proteins” that help brain cells avoid potential damage or spontaneous mutation they may experience.
4) Lowered Cancer Risk : Because of cinnamon’s high antioxidant content, it’s actually safe to say that cinnamon can help protect against damage to our genetic code, which prevents cell mutation and the formation of cancerous tumors.
Cancer remains the number 2 biggest killer of Americans every year, so it’s vital to reduce our risks for cancer whenever we can. Cinnamon has special ways of reducing cancer risks all over the body, because it is so healthy overall it truly supports the body’s overall ability to fight any types of cancer that may develop.
5) Dental Health : From gums to teeth and total oral health, cinnamon, and its essential oil, do wonders. Cinnamon is shown to help combat harmful bacteria living in the mouth that can cause plaque and decay of the tooth and gumline.
Cinnamon also freshens breath naturally, so it works perfectly as an aid for oral hygiene. Specifically, oil from the bark of the Ceylon cinnamon tree is such a powerful disinfectant and antibacterial that it kills the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay and cavities.
Cinnamon also can help delay or prevent tooth cavities from forming altogether. This is old knowledge, and as such cinnamon has been used for centuries to help people clean their teeth. Long before we had special kinds of toothpaste out there, people were using toothpicks dipped in cinnamon.
6) Healthier Skin : Cinnamon is well-known for its antiseptic and cleaning benefits, and since it can be so gentle when diluted properly, cinnamon makes a great cleanser for skin, mitigating the risks of rashes, allergic reactions, and infections.
7) Acne Prevention : Because cinnamon is such a strong anti-microbial and anti-bacterial, cinnamon will actually help kill the bacteria on our skin and in our pores that cause acne.
So if you dilute cinnamon bark oil into water and use it as a toner, you will be taking a strong step to reducing your risk of acne, and you can also use this as a great way to help specific outbreaks heal faster.
One great remedy for an annoying pimple is to mix 1 tablespoon of cinnamon powder with 3 tablespoons of honey and apply this on your pimple, leaving it on for at least 20 minutes, or even overnight, before rinsing with warm water. This also tends to unclog pores and bring blood out to the surface of the skin, increasing circulation and skin health.
8) Weight Loss : Cassia cinnamon does act as a strong blood thinner, which tends to increase circulation, boosting our metabolism, and that helps us lose weight.
However there are also strong health considerations to internalize before committing to eating Cassia cinnamon in large quantities or on a regular basis. Cinnamon has that ability to imitate the functions of insulin in the body.
If glucose levels get too high or too low, this can cause all kinds of health damage, up to and including diabetic shock or coma. With the ability to help regulate your blood sugar (without eating that Snickers’ bar) you are opening yourself up to a world of glucose level control without sugar.
Being able to control your glucose without eating sugar, especially for Diabetics, is a huge milestone, and this allows glucose control without risking all those extra calories and unhealthy fats and carbohydrates sugars introduce into the body, all of which heighten other health risks.
Cinnamon is a fantastic way to take control of your hunger and blood sugar levels without overeating, thus it’s a great way to accelerate your weight loss.
9) Asthma Attacks : Due to cinnamon’s strong immune boosting capacities and anti-inflammatory properties, cinnamon actually makes a great asthma preventer as well, or more specifically, cinnamon can dampen the symptoms of an asthma attack.
Cinnamon is an excellent home remedy for asthmatics, so if your inhaler access is limited, one great way to protect yourself or loved ones is to mix a tablespoon of honey and half a tablespoon of cinnamon powder, and take it just before sleep to reduce nighttime coughing.
One strong word of caution for asthmatics is about the popular “cinnamon challenge” – not a great way to eat cinnamon is by placing a large amount (over a tablespoon) in your mouth at one time. This powerful spice can and will in that quantity cause coughing, inhalation of cinnamon powder, choking, and suffocating.
Cinnamon is an extremely powerful, essentially unrefined natural substance, and should be treated with respect. If you have asthma, the “cinnamon challenge” is more than just a challenge for you, so stay far away from cinnamon in too large a quantity.
10) High Blood Pressure : Hypertension is a common health issue, affecting millions of people out there. Cinnamon is special because it is so high in folate and magnesium, cinnamon is famous for helping people control their blood pressure.
Study after study keeps rolling in about how cinnamon and magnesium help people with problems here overcome their obstacles and get back to controlling their health. Cinnamon is especially useful in reducing blood pressure for people with Diabetes.
11) Brain Function : A 2004 study led by Dr. P. Zoladz found higher cognitive functioning and memory skills in study participants who were given cinnamon flavored gum to eat while completing tasks.
Certainly more research is needed but it’s interesting to note that the very scent itself of cinnamon is what receives credit for this health benefit.
12) Improved Colon Health : The high fiber in cinnamon aids digestion and helps overall gut health. Calcium and fiber work together to bind to salts in the digestive tract to detoxify the body.
The active principles in cinnamon actually increase gastro-intestinal enzyme secretions which helps motility of the intestinal tract.
13) Blood Sugar Control : Especially the cinnamon bark oil is what lowers blood sugar very well, sometimes leaving people lightheaded as a result. Controlling blood sugar is especially important for people with diabetes, who have lost some of the natural ways the body regulates blood sugar.
Furthermore, insulin resistance (which is the cause of type 2 Diabetes) is actually minimized by cinnamon, which makes diabetic people more responsive to their medicines. There are a lot of ways cinnamon will work for you once you get the real stuff in your diet as a diabetic.
14) Natural Food Preservative : Cinnamon makes a great natural food preservative. Since it is so strongly antibacterial and antifungal, cinnamon prevents the typical spores of mold from growing on your food. Study after study keeps confirming that cinnamon makes a great non-toxic preservative. This is also worldwide common knowledge that dates back to centuries.
Cinnamon is more neutral for flavor than salt, and can be just as good of a preservative, which is actually one of the biggest reasons cinnamon was so popular and necessary as a spice through the middle ages, so people could better store their food over the winter.
15) Gingivitis : Since cinnamon has such strong anti-bacterial properties, it makes a great tool to fight the buildup of plaque and germs along the gumline that can lead to gingivitis.
That spicy feeling cinnamon gives you is definitely something that be on the verge of painfully intense for you, but for the harmful bacteria in your mouth it’s totally lethal.
So from mixing in cinnamon oil with water as a mouthwash, to including more of the dry cinnamon powder in your diet, you’re definitely looking at improved gum health by increasing your intake of cinnamon.
As you can see above, there is no shortage of benefits that cinnamon can bring someone looking for a healthier diet. Whether you are working with cinnamon oil, the powder, or applying it topically, you can’t go wrong with some good Ceylon Cinnamon.