Cinnamon has been part of human history since 2800 BC when it first appeared in Chinese medical writings.
Our ancestors recognised the medicinal magic of cinnamon, using it for respiratory, bacterial and digestive diseases. Modern science is catching up with ancient wisdom to unearth the power and potency of what many consider a miracle spice.
Cinnamaldehyde is the main volatile oil in cinnamon and is responsible for most of its medicinal properties. True cinnamon, also known as Ceylon cinnamon, comes from the small Cinnamomum verum tree native to Sri Lanka. Most of the cinnamon available in the West, however, is of the Cassia variety, mainly grown in Indonesia and China.
If using cinnamon abundantly, as I argue you should, which kind you use matters. Cassia varieties contain a natural blood thinner, coumarin, which can be toxic to the liver in large quantities. Ceylon cinnamon has negligible amounts of coumarin so it is definitely worth going the extra mile to procure it (via health food stores or on Amazon).
Here are 7 science-backed reasons we should all be having more cinnamon.
Studies on type II diabetics have shown that even less than 1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon a day for 4 months can lower blood glucose levels (1) by improving the function of insulin, a hormone that coaxes our cells to soak up blood sugar and use it for energy (2). Rice pudding flavoured with cinnamon spiked blood sugar far less than bland rice pudding (and probably tasted loads better, too)! (3)
Cinnamon can kill bacteria, viruses and even some drug-resistant fungi (4). It can disrupt stubborn bacterial colonies called biofilms that coat the surface of medical devices and wreak havoc in hospitals. To be an effective medicinal antibiotic, cinnamaldehyde would have to be improved substantially, which is no small pharmaceutical feat. Nonetheless, one can feel good about adding cinnamon to a dish to prevent unwanted bacterial contamination.
Inflammation is important for our body’s defence, but high levels of unwanted inflammation can lead to chronic diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s (5). Cinnamon is an anti-inflammatory spice—it blocks inflammatory molecules like arachidonic acid (6), keeping unnecessary inflammation in check and inflammation-related diseases at bay.
Animal studies have shown that cinnamon improves memory and learning and reduces oxidative stress in the brain (10). Cinnamon may also protect neurons in Parkinson’s disease (11). A small study with humans demonstrated that the mere scent of cinnamon improved cognitive function (12).
Cinnamon can slow tumour growth in several animal models although human studies have not been conducted yet. The spice inhibits a molecule called NF-kappa B and others proteins that help cancers grow and spread (13, 14).
Regulating Female Hormonal Cycle
In a provocative study conducted by researchers at Columbia University in New York, cinnamon improved menstrual regularity in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) (15). Larger trials are necessary but the findings are intriguing given the link between insulin resistance and PCOS and cinnamon’s positive effects on insulin function.
Unsurprisingly, nature’s pantry and pharmacy merge once again.My favourite ways to enjoy cinnamon with zero fuss are by sprinkling it into my coffee, over yoghurt, fruit, chocolate, oatmeal and even vanilla ice-cream. We could all benefit from enjoying more of another one of nature’s magical ingredients that happens to taste great too.
Kanchan Koya, Ph.D. combines her Doctorate in Molecular Biology from Harvard Medical School and her training from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to elevate the health of families with science and flavour. She is a Certified Health Coach and creator of Spice Spice Baby, which educates home cooks about the science-based benefits of spices, encouraging their use in babies’, kids’ and families’ foods in simple and delicious ways. For recipes, science of spices, nutrition tips and inspiration for your family’s health, visit Spice Spice Baby where the above article was originally published.