By Dr. Mercola
The warming spice cinnamon has been valued for its culinary, medicinal, and natural preservative powers since ancient times. First described by Shen Nung, the father of Chinese Medicine, circa 2800 BC, ancient Egyptians used cinnamon as part of the mummification process.
In the first century CE, Europeans treasured the spice so much that they paid 15 times more for it than silver.1 Cinnamon is actually the brown bark of the cinnamon tree. It can be found in quill form (the dried "stick" variety) or ground as a fine powder.
Rich in essential oil, cinnamon contains active components including cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol, which account for some of its many therapeutic benefits.2
7 Surprising Reasons to Eat More Cinnamon
There's good reason to use cinnamon for far more than just a dash in your morning coffee or tea. Cinnamon is known to enhance your antioxidant defenses, and it's been found to kill E. coli and many other bacteria. Its anti-inflammatory compounds help relieve pain and stiffness of muscles and joints due to arthritis.
It also helps prevent urinary tract infections, tooth decay, and gum disease, and helps with blood sugar control.3 Specifically, seven top reasons to add more cinnamon to your diet include:
1. Calm Inflammation
Cinnamon is an anti-inflammatory, in part due to its cinnamaldehyde content.4 According to research published in the journal Molecular Biology, chronic inflammation plays a major role in the development of various neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, brain tumor, and meningitis.
In Asia, where people regularly consume spices, rates of certain neurodegenerative diseases are much lower than in the US.
The study suggests that cinnamon (and other spices like turmeric, red pepper, black pepper, licorice, clove, ginger, garlic, and coriander) target inflammatory pathways, thereby potentially helping to prevent neurodegenerative diseases.5
2. Boost Brain Function
The scent of cinnamon boosts brain function, according to research presented at the 2004 annual meeting of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences.
Participants who smelled cinnamon (or chewed cinnamon-flavored gum) had improved scores on tasks related to attentional processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor response speed.6 The scent of cinnamon worked better than both peppermint and jasmine at enhancing cognitive function.
3. Support Weight Loss
Cinnamon reduces blood glucose concentration and enhances insulin sensitivity. In obese and healthy-weight individuals, cinnamon is also effective in moderating postprandial glucose response (or the amount of sugar in your blood after a meal).7
By helping to regulate blood sugar spikes, cinnamon may have a favorable impact on hunger and weight gain. Nutritionist Tara Ostrowe, RD, MS, of Columbia University told The Express Tribune:8
"Cinnamon really is the new skinny food. Scientists already credit cinnamon in helping lower blood sugar concentration and improve insulin sensitivity. When less sugar is stored as fat, this translates to more help for your body when it comes to weight loss."
4. Soothe Sore Throat or Cough
By soaking cinnamon sticks in water, you create cinnamon water with a water-soluble fiber called mucilage. This helps to coat and soothe your throat.
Cinnamon also has antibacterial properties that may help certain sore throats, and its warming properties increase blood flow and blood oxygen levels to help fight infection. According to traditional Chinese medicine, cinnamon is useful for phlegmy coughs.9
5. Anti-Cancer Properties
The cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon appears to suppress colon cancer cells10 and may also be effective against human liver cancer cells.11 As reported by the George Mateljan Foundation:12
"In addition to its unique essential oils, cinnamon is an excellent source of fiber and the trace mineral manganese while also a very good source of calcium.
The combination of calcium and fiber in cinnamon is important and can be helpful for the prevention of several different conditions.
Both calcium and fiber can bind to bile salts and help remove them from the body. By removing bile, fiber helps to prevent the damage that certain bile salts can cause to colon cells, thereby reducing the risk of colon cancer."
6. Relieve Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Children with ADHD who received cinnamon aromatherapy along with rehabilitation had significantly reduced symptoms.13,14
For starters, cinnamon has been shown to enhance motivation and performance, while decreasing frustration and anxiety while driving,15 which may explain some of its beneficial effects on ADHD symptoms.
In addition, children with ADHD have been shown to be under increased oxidative stress,16 and cinnamon is a powerful antioxidant that may help counteract this.
7. Diabetes Support
Cinnamon is known to help improve glycemic status, including levels of fasting blood glucose, among people with type 2 diabetes.17 Another study found that the spice increased glucose metabolism by about 20 times, which would significantly improve your ability to regulate blood sugar.
Cinnamon has even previously been indicated as a potential insulin substitute for those with type 2 diabetes due to a bioactive component with "insulin-like" effects.18
Interestingly, cinnamon lowers your blood sugar by acting on several different levels. It slows the emptying of your stomach to reduce sharp rises in blood sugar following meals and improves the effectiveness, or sensitivity, of insulin.
Still other research has shown that consuming cinnamon (about 2 grams daily for 12 weeks) improves blood pressure and lipid profiles in people with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes.19
Cinnamon for Brain Health
In addition to potentially boosting cognitive function, cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin, two compounds found in cinnamon, have an inhibitory effect on the aggregation of a particular protein called tau. Tau plays a large role in the structure and function of neurons.
But while a normal part of cell structures, this protein can begin to accumulate, forming "neurofibrillary tangles" that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Both compounds were found to protect tau from oxidative damage that can lead to dysfunction.20
It's interesting to note that there's a high correlation between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Some even believe Alzheimer's may be a form of brain diabetes. Insulin and insulin receptors in your brain are crucial for learning and memory, and it's known that these components are lower in people with Alzheimer's disease.
As mentioned, in addition to the above findings, cinnamon has also been found to have beneficial effects on blood glucose management in type 2 diabetics.
Cinnamon for Gastrointestinal Complaints
Germany's Commission E has approved cinnamon for use for a variety of gastrointestinal conditions, including:
- Loss of appetite
In addition, according to the American Botanical Council:21 "The German Standard License for cinnamon bark tea infusion lists it for complaints such as a feeling of distension, flatulence, and mild cramp-like gastrointestinal disorders due to reduced production of gastric juice. In France, cinnamon bark is traditionally used to treat symptoms of digestive disorders, functional asthenias [weakness], and also to facilitate weight gain."
As mentioned, cinnamon has an incredibly long history of traditional use around the world. With antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties, cinnamon has been used for "several millennia" in both Eastern and Western medicine. The American Botanical Council reported on the diversity of cinnamon's traditional uses:22
"…folk medicine uses [for cinnamon] include dyspnoea (shortness of breath or labored breathing caused by serious disease of the airways, heart, or lungs), eye inflammation, 'frigidity,' impotence, neuralgia, rheumatism, toothache, and wounds. It also has been used to alleviate tongue paralysis, as well as externally to relieve poisonous insect stings and acne.
In Indian Ayurvedic and Unani medicine, cinnamon bark oil …is used as a single drug to treat flatulence, impaired digestion and metabolism, intestinal tract inflammation, peptic ulcer, vomiting, hemorrhoids, failure of penile erection, worm infestation, dryness of mouth, thirst, rhinitis/sinusitis, acute pain of nervine origin, blood disorders, tubercular ulcers, scorpion bite, and toothache. Cinnamon leaf oil has been used externally for rheumatism and inflammation.
Also in the Ayurvedic system of medicine, the powdered inner bark… is indicated for treating throat and mouth diseases, dryness of mouth, thirst, urinary bladder diseases, hemorrhoids, worm infestation, rhinitis/sinusitis, and heart disease. In Siddha medicine, the powdered inner stem bark… is used for treating all types of poisons and toxins, dysentery, painful gastrointestinal disorders with indigestion, flatulence, and wheezing.
In Unani medicine, the dried inner bark… is used for complete suppression of urine formation and excretion, sexual debility, the fungal infection tinea versicolor… bad breath, and asthma."
While in the US cinnamon is often associated with sweet treats like cinnamon rolls or cinnamon toast (which will only negate the health benefits that cinnamon is known for), you can add cinnamon to healthy treats too, like raw grass-fed yogurt and kefir. Cinnamon works well added to savory dishes, too, including curry and vegetable side dishes, and of course, tea. For a quick anytime treat, try combining 1 teaspoon of cinnamon with about four tablespoons of freshly ground flax seeds and a sliced banana or green apple. It's a sweet treat that's rich in healthy fats, antioxidants, and all that cinnamon has to offer.