Cinnamon has been valued throughout history for its delicious flavor as well as its medicinal properties.
This spice comes from the inner bark of the cinnamomum zeylanicum tree, which is native to Southeast Asia. The spice has been used since Egyptian times; since cinnamon was rare and difficult to obtain, it was considered extremely valuable.
The opposite is true in the modern world. Cinnamon is reasonably priced and can be found in the spice section of most supermarkets; it is widely used as an ingredient in many dishes.
Most of the cinnamon you’ll find is “Cassia cinnamon,” while “Ceylon cinnamon” is considered true cinnamon. (1)
Cinnamon is made by harvesting stems from cinnamomum trees; the inner bark is then extracted and woody parts are removed.
The drying process yields strips that curl up into rolls. Cinnamon is sold in stick form or ground into a powder.
The oily part of the powder or stick is rich in cinnamaldehyde, which is what gives cinnamon the intense flavor and smell; this compound is also responsible for the powerful effects of cinnamon on metabolism and health. (2)
Cinnamon is Rich in Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Agents
When researchers compared the antioxidant effects of 26 different spices, cinnamon ranked even higher than oregano and garlic, both of which are known as superfoods. (5)
Cinnamon’s antioxidant performance also makes it an excellent natural choice for food preservation. (6)
Taming inflammation is another area where cinnamon shines.
While inflammatory activity is one of the body’s defenses against infection and also works to repair tissue damage, ongoing chronic inflammation is one marker indicating a higher risk for developing chronic diseases.
Inflammation can also be very destructive when its target is the body’s own tissues, such as with autoimmune diseases like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis. (7)
Studies show the powerful antioxidants found in cinnamon can help reduce inflammation. (8)
Insulin Sensitivity and Blood Sugar Levels Are Positively Affected By Cinnamon
Metabolism and energy use are two of the important biological processes in which the hormone insulin plays key roles.
Insulin is integral to the transport of blood glucose to cells, and when people develop insulin resistance, the next step can be a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Cinnamon also helps regulate blood sugar levels after meals, decreasing the amount of glucose entering the bloodstream so the process happens more gradually, rather than all at once.
One of the mechanisms affecting blood glucose levels is associated with the inhibition of digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates. (11)
It takes only a little cinnamon to produce these effects; trials used amounts varying between half a teaspoon and two teaspoons daily.
Reduce the Risk of Chronic Diseases by Adding Cinnamon to Your Diet
More people die prematurely each year worldwide from heart disease than any other cause, and the use of cinnamon has been linked with reducing the risk of this deadly disease.
People diagnosed with type 2 diabetes taking a gram of cinnamon daily experience a reduction in total cholesterol, along with lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and blood triglycerides. Levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind) stay the same. (16)
A review of multiple studies indicated as little as 120 milligrams of cinnamon daily can exert the same positive effects as a larger dose, and can even raise HDL cholesterol levels. (17)
Animal studies suggest cinnamon may also be effective in dropping blood pressure. (18)
The combination of these positive effects could make cinnamon extremely promising for preventing heart disease.
Nuerodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are becoming more common in modern times, compromising the structure and function of brain cells in a progressive manner.
Animal studies indicate cinnamon can be helpful in normalizing neurotransmitter levels and improving motor function in mice with Parkinson’s disease. (21) Further research may establish whether the same effect can be achieved with humans.
A host of laboratory studies using test tubes experiments and animals have focused on how cinnamon affects the uncontrolled growth of cells in cancer.
It appears that extracts of cinnamon can inhibit the growth of cancer cells and even cause cell death. Blood vessels in tumors form at slower rates as well, offering the potential of protection against this devastating disease. (22, 23, 24)
Research conducted on mice with colon cancer also showed promising results. Cinnamon discouraged further growth of cancer cells through activating detoxifying enzymes in the colon. (25)
Laboratory experiments using cinnamon with human colon cancer cells in test tubes show similar conclusions. (26)
Other Health Benefits
Cinnamaldehyde is the most powerful active compound in cinnamon, and has been found to have properties that help fight infection.
Respiratory tract infections resulting from exposure to fungi have responded well to treatment with cinnamon oil, and the growth of certain bacteria, such as salmonella and listeria, are also inhibited by cinnamon. (27, 28)
Compounds found in cinnamon may also lead to the development of new approaches for treating the HIV-1 virus, which is the most common strain infecting humans.
When researchers tested 69 medicinal plants for their effects on the HIV-1 virus, cinnamon outperformed all others. (31)
These experiments were done in the laboratory with Cassia cinnamon, so trials with human subjects will be needed to determine real life results. (32)
If you’re considering using cinnamon to improve existing health conditions, the variety can make a difference.
Commonly found in supermarkets, Cassia cinnamon contains coumarin, which can be harmful in large quantities.
Ceylon cinnamon has much lower amounts of coumarin and is considered the safer choice for medicinal use. (33)
Summary: Cinnamon is a delectable way to flavor foods and has a track record confirming its medicinal value; it can be useful to help fight infection, reduce the risk of developing heart disease, and lower blood sugar levels.