Evoking delicious thoughts of an aromatic chai latte in the deep mid-winter, cinnamon is a well-loved, heart warming spice.
Cinnamon has been held in high regard for thousands of years in many different civilizations, not only as a delightfully fragrant cooking ingredient, but also for its medicinal uses.
We take a more detailed look at cinnamon, and why it has been held in such high esteem for so many years.
What Is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon is classed as a spice. It originates from the tree species cinnamomum. During processing, the outer layers of the tree are discarded to reveal the inner layers of the bark of the tree. It is the inner layers which are harvested and the tough, woody part removed.
The remainder of the inner bark is dried, and formed into the distinctive curls seen when buying whole cinnamon sticks. The sticks are also ground into cinnamon powder for ease of use.
There are a variety of different sub-species of the cinnamomum tree.
The cinnamon which is widely available comes from two of the different species, and are known as Ceylon cinnamon (also known as “true” cinnamon) and Cassia cinnamon.
The active ingredient in cinnamon is a substance called cinnamaldehyde, which is responsible for its beneficial health effects.
Cinnamaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic chemical compound. It is a type of flavonoid – one of the substances that gives plants their color, aroma and flavor.
The essential oil which is produced from cinnamon bark is made up of approximately 50 per cent cinnamaldehyde. (source)
What Are The Health Benefits Of Cinnamon?
Many health benefits of cinnamon have been reported over the years, but much of the information reported has been anecdotal. We investigate the evidence behind the claims of many of the health benefits of cinnamon.
Cinnamon Is An Antioxidant
Antioxidants are chemicals which help to protect the body from cell damage by absorbing free-radical chemicals.
Some leading experts believe that antioxidants prevent or limit damage to blood vessels, and may even help to prevent a variety of different medical conditions – for example, atherosclerosis, some types of cancer, macular degeneration, some types of arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.
Cinnamon has been shown to contain a large amount of potent antioxidant substances – for example, polyphenols.
Research suggests that antioxidants are important for a variety of different reasons, including reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. (source)
Cinnamon Is A Powerful Anti-Inflammatory
Inflammation is the way in which the body responds to infection or injury. While inflammation can be useful immediately following an injury, prolonged inflammation can delay healing and lead to complications.
Inflammation is also a key symptom of inflammatory disease such as asthma, chronic ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s disease and many types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Some research suggests that cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties. This is supported by its action as an antioxidant, as these two mechanisms work together in the body. (source)
Cinnamon and Diabetes
Insulin is the substance in the body that helps control blood glucose levels.
Cinnamon has been proven to make the body more sensitive to the effects of insulin. In this way, cinnamon optimizes the effects of insulin within the body, making it more effective in controlling blood sugar levels. (source)
Cinnamon also has a direct effect on blood glucose levels. This has been studied in people with type II diabetes.
Cinnamon has been shown to significantly decrease blood glucose levels compared to a control group (who did not consume cinnamon).
Other research findings draw similar conclusions. The study concluded that people with a higher blood glucose level – for example, diabetic patients with poorly controlled blood glucose levels, can benefit from including cinnamon in their diet. (source)
Cinnamon Protects Against Cancer
Many scientific studies have shown cinnamon to be effective in the treatment of cancerous cells.
One scientific study showed that the components of cinnamon strongly inhibited the growth of 29 different kinds of human cancer cells.
This research was conducted on cells taken from the body. More research is needed to investigate the effects on cells while they remain inside the body. (source)
Protects The Nervous System
Our nervous system is what makes us function. Without it, nothing else in the body is able to do its job.
In recent research, cinnamon was shown to have a significant role in protecting the nervous system by protecting the individual neurons (nerve cells) in the brain, and by helping to normalize the transmission of messages within the nervous system.
The study concluded that cinnamon can potentially improve conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease. (source)
The neuro-protective properties of cinnamon have also been shown to decrease changes which occur in the brain which are associated with Alzheimer’s Disease – a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.
One of the key features of Alzheimer’s is the clustering together of a specific protein, tau, in the brain. Research has indicated that some of the components in cinnamon prevent tau from clumping together without impairing its natural biological function, and also protect tau from oxidation.
This prevents the formation of the tangle formation of neurons which is thought to cause many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. (source)
Protects The Heart
The importance of a healthy heart is well known. One of the biggest dangers to heart health is a high level of a type of cholesterol in the body referred to as low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Scientific research has proven that cinnamon, taken at a regular dose of 120mg per day, causes a significant decrease in cholesterol and LDL.
Some experts maintain there is a strong case for the suggestion that cinnamon can help to heart health and possibly reduce the risk of heart disease. (source)
Cinnamon Is Effective Against HIV
HIV is a serious condition which can lead to a life-threatening illness.
In research conducted to examine the effectiveness of 69 different medicinal plants against the HIV-1 and HIV-2 viruses, cinnamon was found to be one of the most effective. It has been proven to prevent the HIV virus from entering and infecting cells. (source)
Cinnamon As An Antifungal Agent
Cinnamon has been proven to fight a variety of infections which are caused by fungus and molds. This includes fungal respiratory tract infections. (source)
Cinnamon has also been shown to be effective against various types of yeast, such as Candida Albicans, the type of yeast responsible for the uncomfortable symptoms of thrush. (source)
Cinnamon Is A Powerful Anti-Bacterial
We now know that many different types of bacteria are present in the body and in everyday life.
We also know that some types of bacteria can be helpful and other types are harmful, and can cause health problems.
Given the right environment, bacteria can reproduce quickly in your body.
Many types of bacteria produce chemicals called toxins, which can damage tissue and make you sick. Cinnamon has been proven to inhibit the growth of many types of bacteria which can cause serious illnesses and health complications, including Salmonella and Listeria.
Interestingly, cinnamon has also been proven to be effective against bacterial strains which are more resistant to traditional medical treatments, such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus. It has been suggested that cinnamon could be used for its broad-spectrum antibiotic properties. (source)
Cinnamon Is Effective Against Bad Breath
Bad breath, or halitosis, is a condition which affects many people. It is socially undesirable, and in terms of health, the cause of halitosis is often found to be an underlying dental problem such as decay or infection.
Cinnamon has been shown to improve the symptoms of halitosis by reducing the amount of bacteria in saliva and reducing the sulfur compounds which are produced by oral bacteria. (source)
Cinnamon Guards Against Insect Bites
Many people choosing to vacation in hot destination know the irritation, or even downright misery, of insect bites.
Research suggests that cinnamon is an effective natural insecticide for mosquitoes and other insects. (source)
Cinnamon Is A Coagulant
Coagulation, or blood clotting, is essential in the body. When we cut ourselves and the wound starts to bleed, the body immediately sends blood clotting agents to seal the wound to minimize the risk of infection and to stop blood loss.
It is well known that people who suffer from hemophilia lack essential blood clotting factors, and are at risk of excessive bleeding from open or internal wounds. This can potentially be life-threatening for them.
Cinnamon has been proven to significantly increase coagulation and prevent bleeding. (source)
The Last Word On Cinnamon
Overall, scientific research proves that in terms of its medicinal properties, cinnamon is at least as effective as centuries of use suggest.
It can have significant benefits to health in terms of its antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as positively affecting the health of the nervous system and the heart.
Cinnamon has an extremely effective role to play in fighting bacterial, fungal and yeast infections, and can be beneficial in conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis and HIV.
In addition to all of the research findings, the fact that cinnamon has such a fantastic flavor and enhances a huge variety of culinary dishes makes the decision of whether or not to include cinnamon in your diet is an outright yes.
Cinnamon really is the king of spices.