The most extensive research on the health benefits of cinnamon has focused on its impact on blood sugar levels, but may also help fight inflammation.
People think of combining cinnamon with sugar, in cinnamon rolls, or sprinkled on toast. But there are many ways to get the health benefits of cinnamon alone. You might sprinkle it in your oatmeal or on grapefruit halves, or put sticks in chamomile tea. Many Middle Eastern recipes based on lamb and chicken are flavored with cinnamon powder or sticks. You can also take it in capsules as a supplement.
Cinnamon comes from the bark of a tropical evergreen tree. It first grew in the tiny island at the tip of India, Sri Lanka, which the British called “Ceylon,” when they ran the island as a colony. Ceylon cinnamon is still considered the highest-quality, and healthiest; to find it, you’ll have to look specifically for a label that says Ceylon cinnamon. In the United States, a container simply labeled “cinnamon” most likely contains different varieties grown either in China or Indonesia, which have a stronger taste and may actually be dangerous if you eat too much.
In the past, people valued cinnamon highly not only for its flavor but as a way to preserve food. It is a longstanding folk remedy, and research suggests early evidence of many health benefits. The spice fights certain parasites and unfriendly bacteria. It appears to fight inflammation and have properties that could protect your bones and help stop brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
In a study that compared the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon beat “superfoods” like garlic and oregano. Antioxidant effects may help prevent cancer.
The most extensive research on the health benefits of cinnamon has focused on its impact on blood sugar levels. Early studies do suggest that it can help people with type 2 diabetes. In fact, in some research with diabetics, a half to two teaspoons of cinnamon reduced blood sugar levels by up to 10 to 29 percent.
The spice works through at least two mechanisms. First, it slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in the digestive tract. By mimicking insulin, but acting more slowly, it stimulates the cells to absorb glucose so less remains in the blood. If you have type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor before you begin loading up on cinnamon. You also can’t think of it as a substitute for any other medication or as a reason to stray far from a low-glycemic diet.
If you decide to make cinnamon a regular part of your diet, consider looking for Ceylon cinnamon, which is available online and at better spice outlets. You can also find Ceylon cinnamon supplements.
Cassia cinnamon, which is common in the United States, contains a chemical called coumarin, which is associated with cancer and damage to the liver. Some people may be more vulnerable than others to its toxic effects. According to a German study, one teaspoon of cassia cinnamon powder contains more coumarin than you ought to eat in any day.
Both kinds of cinnamon have good effects on blood sugar, and you’ll see debates online about which variety is better. Ceylon cinnamon, however, contains almost no coumarin. Researchers testing Ceylon cinnamon on animals have reported numerous benefits. It stimulates the release of insulin and reduces fasting blood sugar levels while increasing HDL “good” cholesterol. It also showed beneficial effects against two big risks of diabetes, nerve pain and kidney disease, with no significant toxic effects.
March 07, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN