The sweet and spicy aroma of cinnamon makes it one of the world’s top spices. It’s been valued for its flavor and powerful health properties since at least 2800 BC.
Modern research has confirmed many important health benefits of cinnamon. Studies show that it contains powerful plant compounds that have an anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic effect. Consuming cinnamon regularly can also help your heart and brain health.
Here’s more about what makes this everyday spice so powerful and the proven benefits for your health.
The Fascinating History of Cinnamon
Cinnamon comes from the bark of Cinnamomum trees. These trees are native to regions of Southeast Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Vietnam are the four top exporters of cinnamon today.
To make the rolled up cinnamon quills you buy in the store, the outer bark of the trees has to be stripped to reveal the inner bark. The inner bark is then shaved and allowed to dry. As it dries, it rolls up into the familiar shape of cinnamon sticks.
To say that cinnamon has been valued since ancient times would be an understatement. It’s mentioned several times in the Bible as part of a sacred anointing oil and was used in ancient Egypt for embalming.
Cinnamon also used to be extremely expensive, even to the point of being an acceptable gift to give royalty. Celyon, the island “homeland” of the most valuable type of cinnamon, passed through many different hands as several countries fought to control the trade for this in-demand spice.
The search for cinnamon was even part of the motivation behind the voyages of both Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama.
Thankfully, it was eventually discovered that cinnamon could be grown in other regions. The price for it gradually became affordable for almost everyone, which is good news for us several centuries later.
Key Compounds and Nutrients
Cinnamon contains many different plant compounds, but one of the strongest and most important is called cinnamaldehyde. Cinnamaldehyde gives cinnamon its distinct fragrance and is also linked to many of the health benefits of cinnamon.
It might surprise you to learn that cinnamon also contains several vitamins and minerals. Just a teaspoon of the powdered version contains about 22% of the recommended daily value of manganese as well as smaller amounts of calcium, iron, and vitamin K.
That same teaspoon of ground cinnamon also has about 1.3 g of dietary fiber, which is fairly high for that small amount of spice.
Top Health Benefits of Cinnamon Bark and Powder
Your Blood Sugar Levels
Cinnamon’s ability to lower blood sugar is one of its most well-researched and well-known benefits.
Studies have shown that it can help regulate the amount of glucose entering your bloodstream after a meal. Its ability to do this comes from the fact that it slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in your digestive system. This, in turn, slows the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream.
If you’re wondering how much cinnamon to take, the studies showed an effective range between 1/2-2 teaspoons. Combine it with other diet and lifestyle changes for the best results.
Insulin resistance is a condition in which your body doesn’t respond normally to the hormone insulin. Insulin usually plays a large role in controlling the amount of glucose in your blood stream. When your body is resistant, glucose can’t easily enter into your cells and instead builds up in your blood, raising blood sugar levels.
Prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome are all linked to insulin resistance. Reducing it can lower your risk of developing diabetes or help with related symptoms.
Research has shown that cinnamon may significantly reduce insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity. Because of this, it has the potential to help prevent or alleviate symptoms of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Protect Your Heart
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the world. The good news is that there are some serious health benefits of cinnamon for your heart.
To start with, just a half teaspoon of cinnamon a day has been shown to reduce total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. Other research indicates that cinnamon may also raise “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
Along with high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure is another factor that puts you at a greater risk for heart problems. In studies, cinnamon has shown it may be a powerful way to help lower blood pressure. The effective dose in the human study was 2 grams a day, which is equal to about 1 teaspoon.
Whichever way you look at it, consuming cinnamon each day is outstanding for your heart!
Antioxidants are the key to protecting your health as you age. They reduce damage from free radicals and have an anti-aging effect on your whole body.
When your body gets overloaded with free radicals, damage from something called oxidative stress occurs. Oxidative stress is linked to many chronic diseases, including cancer, and is largely responsible for premature skin aging.
The best way to combat oxidative stress and free radical damage is to frequently consume antioxidants in the foods you eat. There are many great anti-aging foods, but herbs and spices are especially packed full of antioxidants.
While cloves top out as the most antioxidant-rich spice, cinnamon is not far behind. It’s fourth overall on the list of herbs and spices, beating out other contenders like oregano, thyme, and garlic.
Cinnamon is especially rich in a type of antioxidant known as polyphenols. Polyphenols have many beneficial properties, including heart-protective, anti-cancer, and anti-aging effects. They’ve also been proven to reduce damage from oxidative stress, making them excellent for your overall health!
Chronic Inflammation in Your Body
Most of us associate inflammation with something negative, but it isn’t all bad. Acute inflammation is your body’s response to damage from something like injury or infection. It’s actually crucial to your survival.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, isn’t so good for you. It’s a contributing factor to many age-related diseases and won’t go away on its own. Finding ways to reduce inflammation levels in your body is critical.
Along with fighting chronic inflammation, cinnamon has also shown some pain-relieving properties, likely because it reduces acute inflammation as well.
Your Brain Function
Certain research studies have revealed the protective health benefits of cinnamon for your brain. There haven’t been any human studies yet, but what has been done so far is very positive.
Specifically, cinnamon may help protect you from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Multiple studies have shown that compounds in cinnamon inhibit the buildup of tau, which is a protein considered one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Significantly, cinnamon extract was able to inhibit buildup without interfering with normal brain cell function.
Even though more research is needed to determine whether cinnamon can be a viable treatment for either of these conditions, it certainly has demonstrated a powerful ability to protect the health of your brain.
Antibacterial and Anti-Candida Properties
Cinnamon, especially in the form of an essential oil, has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties. The isolated compound cinnamaldehyde has also demonstrated similar properties.
In studies, cinnamon oil has shown effects against several strains of bacteria. It inhibited the growth of E. coli and Salmonella, which can both cause digestive problems, as well as several other gram-negative bacteria.
This could be significant because gram-negative bacteria have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics and many other drugs. Several outbreaks of infections caused by these resistant bacteria have occurred in the last few years. It could be that plant extracts like cinnamon and cinnamaldehyde hold at least part of the solution.
Besides bacteria, cinnamon oil is also proving to be effective against several species of Candida.
Candida is a yeast (which is a type of fungus) that lives on your skin and within your body. Normally, it doesn’t cause problems, but an overgrowth of specific types of Candida can cause infection. The most familiar species is Candida albicans, which is responsible for causing yeast infections.
As an antifungal agent, cinnamon oil can be effective against at least four species of Candida, including C. albicans.
Oral Health and Bad Breath
Better dental health is yet another of the top health benefits of cinnamon. Because of its antimicrobial properties, cinnamon is good for your teeth and can also help with bad breath.
Cinnamon oil was tested against ten different species of bacteria that can cause cavities and tooth decay. It successfully inhibited all of them.
Notably, cinnamon showed a strong effect against one of the major bacteria that causes plaque. This means that using a toothpaste or mouthwash with real cinnamon extract can protect your teeth over time and make your next trip to the dentist much easier.
By removing specific types of oral bacteria, cinnamon also freshens your breath. Even simply chewing a naturally flavored cinnamon gum can do the trick.
Any food or spice high in antioxidants has the potential to protect against cancer. This is because damage from free radicals and oxidative stress has a big impact on your risk of getting cancer.
Cinnamon is no exception and has shown an anticancer effect in numerous lab studies.
Once again, cinnamaldehyde has come to the forefront, this time as an anticancer agent. It has shown potential for inhibiting tumor growth, protecting DNA from damage, and killing cancer cells.
The antioxidant power of cinnamon has demonstrated an especially strong effect against colon cancer. In one study, cinnamon extract showed a protective response in colon cells that may reduce cancer risk. In another study, it was able to activate enzymes in the colon that protected against cancer growth.
Keep in mind that most research so far has been conducted in a lab. Whether cinnamon has the same effect in the human body as it does in these studies hasn’t been confirmed yet.
Still, one of the best ways to protect your body and reduce your risk of cancer is to continually fill up on antioxidant-rich foods- like cinnamon.
Different Types of Cinnamon
Now that you know more about the major health benefits of cinnamon, you may be surprised to learn that there are different types. There are around 250 different species of Cinnamomum trees grown, but only a few are harvested and sold commercially.
- Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)- Also called true cinnamon, this type comes from Sri Lanka and has a lighter color and taste than the others.
- Cassia cinnamon (C. aromaticum)- Cassia hails from China and has a darker color, more spiciness, and a stronger flavor than Ceylon.
- Indonesian cinnamon (C. burmanni)
- Vietnamese cinnamon (C. loureiroi)
Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon are the two kinds most frequently used and sold.
If you were to pick up a box of cinnamon sticks or powder, you’d most likely be buying the cassia type. It’s cheaper to grow and harvest than Ceylon and has the stronger, spicier flavor we associate with cinnamon.
However, when it comes to using cinnamon for health, Ceylon is the preferred option. Both types contain the powerful cinnamaldehyde, but Ceylon contains only trace amounts of potentially harmful compounds called coumarins. Cassia, on the other hand, has a much higher amount.
Are There Any Precautions for Cinnamon?
Most people can take therapeutic amounts of cinnamon without any side effects.
As the previous section mentioned, if you want to take large amounts of cinnamon for an extended period of time, choose Ceylon over cassia cinnamon. Cassia has relatively high amounts of a compound called coumarin that may harm your liver over time.
Because cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels, care should be taken if you’re already using medication for blood sugar. It’s also not a substitute for any current medication you may be taking.
Large amounts of cinnamon can be an irritant for your mouth or lungs, so be careful how much you take at a time.
Impressed by the Health Benefits of Cinnamon?
If you aren’t impressed by cinnamon yet, you should be! It’s one of the most powerful and well-researched spices with incredible health-boosting benefits.
You can get the most out of this antioxidant-rich spice by consuming it regularly. This could mean taking a certain amount of the powder every day or drinking a spicy tea made by simmering cinnamon sticks in water.
However you use it, your heart, brain, teeth, and whole body will certainly benefit!
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