Imagine cinnamon rolls baking in the oven with the delicious aroma wafting through the house. Or lazing on the porch with a hot cup of cocoa sprinkled with cinnamon spice.
Or having coffee with friends over a warm apple pie covered with cinnamon. Oh, indeed, cinnamon makes many of our comfort foods so much more comforting.
Aside from adding a distinctive taste and aroma to our food, cinnamon also brings tons of benefits to our health. Cinnamon has been used for various purposes since it was discovered centuries ago. In fact, it was a highly valued commodity in ancient civilizations.
Ancient Egyptians used it in the process of embalming mummies. Biblical history mentions its use in anointing oil. Romans considered it even more valuable than silver and gold. Then, of course, there’s also its widespread use in Chinese herbal medicine.
Even today, there are still many claims of various medicinal effects of this fragrant spice. They say it can alleviate the symptoms of colds, treat arthritis, control diabetes, and even prevent cancer. But before we delve into those medicinal properties, let’s get a few things straight.
Not All Cinnamon Is the Same
There are various kinds of cinnamon and they vary in color, taste, and aroma. Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka is purported to be the “true” cinnamon.
This kind is hard to come by and is the most expensive variety. It’s also purported to give the most health benefits. As such, most health practitioners recommend using this variety for medicinal purposes.
What you’d usually find in the market today is Cassia cinnamon. This comes in many varieties depending on where it grows. There’s Chinese Cassia, Saigon Cassia, Indonesian Cassia, and several others. McCormick, for one, primarily sources its cinnamon from Indonesia.
But, whatever the variety, all types of cinnamon are the same in that they all contain cinnamaldehyde. This volatile oil is what gives cinnamon that characteristic scent we’re all familiar with. More importantly, it’s the compound that provides us a host of health benefits.
Proven Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is indeed packed with essential nutrients. It can also be used in various forms such as bark, powder, or essential oil. Because of the increasing popularity of cinnamon as a health supplement, the internet is now teeming with information about its various health benefits. Here are some of those that have been validated by scientific studies:
1. High antioxidant content
Our body naturally produces both antioxidants and free radicals. Factors such as poor nutrition and exposure to toxins and pollutants can cause a proliferation of these free radicals in the body. This in turn results in accelerated aging, damaged cells, an overloaded immune system, and a host of other ill effects.
Antioxidants serve as balancing agents to these free radicals. They counteract the damage done by free radicals and protect healthy cells. While our body produces its own antioxidants, we need so much more of it to combat the free radical damage. We can get more of these by regularly consuming foods that are high in antioxidants.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) has developed a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of foods and supplements. They measure antioxidant content through Oxygen Radical Absorbance (ORAC) units. In a search for ORAC values of spices on Superfoodly, cinnamon ranked 5th among all the spices listed.
According to the same source, dried tea leaves have an ORAC score of 62,714; noni fruit, 800; and grapefruit, 1,640. What score did cinnamon spice get? A whopping 131,420! It’s less than half of clove’s score of 290,283—but you can’t enjoy hot cocoa with cloves, can you?
If this still hasn’t convinced you, perhaps this scientific study conducted in 2010 will. Its database lists cinnamon as among the top 5 spices with high antioxidant content. Of the 425 spices and herbs analyzed, cinnamon had the fourth highest antioxidant value. Only clove, peppermint, and allspice ranked higher.
2. Anti-inflammatory properties
Another health benefit of cinnamon is its anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon contains flavonoids, which effectively lower inflammation levels in the body. This in turn lowers the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other debilitating illnesses.
Because of its anti-inflammatory effect, cinnamon is also useful in pain management. It has been proven effective in reducing muscle soreness and alleviating menstrual pain. It can also be used as a natural treatment to lessen the symptoms of arthritis.
Another study shows that cinnamon can be used for the prevention and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Although done on animal models, it still provides us proof that cinnamon extracts have a protective effect against intestinal inflammation.
Indeed, there are numerous studies that validate the anti-inflammatory benefits of cinnamon.
3. Anti-diabetic properties
Cinnamon is also believed to have anti-diabetic properties. Studies have been conducted to analyze its effect on the levels of fasting plasma glucose (FPG) and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). These studies mostly aim to evaluate the use of cinnamon supplements in preventing and controlling Type 2 diabetes.
In 2016, a review of studies on the role of cinnamon in glycemic control in Type 2 diabetes was conducted. Eleven of the studies included in the review reported modest reductions on both FPG and HbA1c. However, only a handful of them reached the treatment goals of the American Diabetes Association.
ADA suggests an FPG level less than 7.2 mmol/L and an HbA1c level less than 7.0 mmol/L for a treatment to be deemed effective. The levels achieved by the research studies do not indicate the success of treatment. The review thus concludes that cinnamon may have only modest effects on lowering FPG and HbA1c levels.
A similar conclusion was reached in a placebo-controlled study on herb-drug interactions. The study showed a decrease in blood-glucose levels when cinnamon was used along with prescribed medication. But there wasn’t enough data that showed direct interaction.
However, there is one study that points to the lowering effects of cinnamon on glucose levels after a high glycemic index meal. The study showed that intake of cinnamon spice decreased the average rate of glucose change.
Not only that, plasma levels of insulin, C-peptide, and glucagon were also decreased. This study, therefore, confirms the positive effect of cinnamon on glucose management.
Scientists and health authorities remain ambivalent about the anti-diabetic properties of cinnamon. Be that as it may, we cannot discount that cinnamon can indeed help lower glucose levels. Taken with the usual hypoglycemic medication prescribed by doctors, it can aid in preventing and controlling diabetes.
4. Antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties
Cinnamon has been used as a medicinal agent for centuries, and it is considered to be a natural means of defense against diseases. In fact, in traditional Chinese herbal medicine, cinnamon is used to treat a wide range of ailments.
A study on the antibacterial effects of cinnamon has confirmed its use as a treatment for certain strains of bacteria. Cinnamon oil has potent antibacterial properties that protect against infections that can lead to colds, strep throat, or pneumonia.
It also acts as a natural mouthwash offering protection against bacteria that cause bad breath and tooth decay. Another study substantiates the antifungal effect of cinnamon oil against candida. During the research process, cinnamon oil successfully killed existing yeast cells and inhibited the formation of new ones.
As an antimicrobial, cinnamon can protect the skin from irritations and infection. Cinnamon oil applied directly on the skin can reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain.
Aside from protecting the skin, it has also shown potential as a preservation agent for certain foods. One study confirms the potential use of cinnamon oil in the preservation of cream-filled cakes and pastries.
The antiviral properties of cinnamon have been widely accepted for centuries. It was found to have been used as a remedy for influenza in the early 1900s. Research is currently being conducted to determine its effectivity against the avian flu and HIV.
Cinnamon is also believed to have the capacity to aid in the fight against cancer. This is mainly due to its antioxidant properties, which may deter the growth of cancerous tumors. While this claim is still being investigated, the other health benefits of cinnamon already merit adding it to your diet.
Add That Dash of Cinnamon
Studies remain inconclusive as to the full effect of cinnamon on our bodies. However, the results show that cinnamon indeed has beneficial effects on our health.
Be wary, though, of consuming too much Cassia cinnamon. It is high in coumarin, which, when consumed in huge doses, can cause liver damage. Consumed regularly in moderation, any variety of cinnamon can help boost your immune system and protect you against diseases.
To be on the safe side, keep daily consumption to only about 1 teaspoon or 2 grams. For maximum health benefits, only use cinnamon that is of high quality.
So, go ahead and add a dash of cinnamon to your milk or coffee. You can reap its health benefits as you savor its wonderful taste and aroma.