All About CinnamonFayyaz Alam
How much do you know about cinnamon? You probably know it’s used in baking a lot and it’s often used to dust the whipped cream on your coffee. Did you also know cinnamon is thought to be the oldest spice in the world? It was prized by our ancient ancestors not just for its taste but also for its medicinal properties as well. There are also different types of cinnamon as it’s taken from the inner bark of several diverse species of trees. Which cinnamon type is best for you? What health benefits can it provide? Keep reading and we’ll tell you all about how and why to use cinnamon for optimal health.
- Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices in the world.
- Where it grew was a well-guarded secret for many centuries.
- There are different varieties of cinnamon available.
- Cinnamon can help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
- Cinnamon has been shown to help people with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Studies have shown Cinnamon has one of the highest levels of antioxidants in the spice world.
- Cinnamon can lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing good cholesterol levels.
Cinnamon: The Oldest Spice in the World
Cinnamon is a spice that is produced from the inner bark of several different species of trees from the genus Cinnamomum. This is what leads to the various varieties of cinnamon, which we’ll discuss more about below. Since antiquity, cinnamon has been known and prized for its aromatic effects, flavoring uses, and medicinal properties. Along with black pepper, it is thought to be the oldest spice in the world. It was so highly prized during this time it was considered an acceptable gift for monarchs and deities. History even reports the gift of cinnamon and cassia to the temple of Apollo (an important Olympian deity) at Miletus.
In Ancient Egypt, cinnamon was used to embalm mummies. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, cinnamon and cassia grew in Arabia. They were grown along with frankincense, myrrh, and labdanum, and were said to be guarded by winged serpents. However, the use of cinnamon in early times was not as common due to how expensive it was. Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and philosopher, wrote in 77 CE that one pound of cinnamon cost the equivalent of fifty months of labor. So, at the time, it was not something common people would be able to get their hands on.
The price of cinnamon could be traced back to the fact that where it came from was a mystery to most. It wasn’t until the 1500s that Ferdinand Magellan was sent out on a search by Spain to find spices and he found cinnamon in the Philippines. It wasn’t exactly the same cinnamon the rest of the world was using but rather, it was a closely related cousin, Cinnamomum mindanaense. Because the source of cinnamon was a closely guarded secret for so long, that is another reason we now have several varieties available to us in modern times.
The Different Types of Cinnamon
A number of species from the genus Cinnamomum are used and sold as cinnamon. These include:
- Cinnamomum cassia (cassia or Chinese cinnamon)
- Cinnamomum burmannii (Indonesian cinnamon)
- Cinnamomum loureiroi (Vietnamese cinnamon)
- Cinnamomum verum (Ceylon cinnamon or Sri Lanka cinnamon)
- Cinnamomum citriodorum (Malabar cinnamon)
The most popular from this list are cassia and Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia is the most common type used in commercial production. It has a strong, spicy flavor and is most often used in baking since it handles heat well. Ceylon cinnamon, however, doesn’t fare as well in cooking. It has a subtler flavor, and finer, crumbly texture compared to cassia. Visually speaking, Ceylon cinnamon is a lighter brown and the sticks will be made up of multiple thin layers. Cassia cinnamon is a deeper brown almost reddish color. There is usually only one “layer” and it is much thicker than Ceylon cinnamon.
The scientific name for Ceylon cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum, actually translates to “true cinnamon”. It is considered by some to be the only true cinnamon. It is native to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. While cassia is native to China.
The Proven Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon has been used since ancient times for its medicinal properties. Modern-day science has caught up and proven most of the ideas our ancestors already had. Keep reading to find out the top proven health benefits of cinnamon.
It should be noted that cassia and Ceylon cinnamon are the most common types used in medical research.
Cinnamon Can Help Decrease the Risk of Heart Disease
Multiple studies have shown that cinnamon can reduce the commons risks of heart disease.
The first study was published in 2003 and it created quite a stir in the medical community. It found that in doses ranging between 1g – 6g daily, cinnamon improved glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. The same study also found that cinnamon reduced LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) levels and triglycerides.
In 2013, researchers at the Western University of Health Sciences wanted to test this theory again and update the results. During this study, they found that 120mg of cinnamon per day was enough to replicate the results. Plus, they also found that this daily dose of cinnamon increased HDL cholesterol (the good kind) levels. Finally, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine also found that cinnamon reduced blood pressure in animals.
All of these factors are known to reduce the overall risk of heart disease.
Cinnamon Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Cinnamon has been well-researched for its ability to lower blood sugar and increase insulin resistance.
When cinnamon is ingested, it has been shown to disrupt some of the digestive enzymes. This slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in your body and decreases the amount of glucose that enters your bloodstream after a meal.
It has also been found that cinnamon can act on cells by mimicking insulin. When doing this, the glucose uptake by your cells is greatly improved. Since the compound in cinnamon acts much slower than insulin itself, it is much better for your body and blood sugar levels.
While all of this sounds amazing, what are the actual results? Numerous studies have confirmed that cinnamon lowers your blood sugar. In the most recent study, published in the Journal of Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism, they found promising results! Participants with type 2 diabetes that used a cinnamon supplement daily had significant fasting blood glucose reductions between 18-29%. One of the surprising finds was that non-diabetic patients also had a reduction of 8.4% in fasting blood glucose. This means it could also help with the prevention of type 2 diabetes.
Cinnamon May Reduce Your Risk of Cancer
Cinnamon is loaded with powerful antioxidants that protect your body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. In fact, when it was tested alongside 25 other spices, cinnamon was shown to have the most antioxidant power.
Cinnamon has also been shown to reduce the growth of cancer cells, reduce the formation of blood vessels in tumors, and promote cancer cell death. Multiple studies have been done in test-tubes and on animals and it shows cinnamon extracts may protect against cancer.
Cinnamon May Help with Neurodegenerative Diseases
Neurodegenerative Diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are devasting illnesses. While no cure has been found yet, cinnamon has shown promising results in stopping the buildup of a protein called tau in the brain (which is one of the main symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease). In a similar study focused on Parkinson’s disease, researches found that cinnamon helped to protect vital neurons, normalized neurotransmitter levels, and improved motor function in mice with the disease.
Cinnamon May Help with More Diseases
Cinnamon is being researched to help with or prevent the following ailments:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heart Disease
- HIV Virus
- General Infections
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Autoimmune Disorders (such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus)
It is important to note here that the most common types of cinnamon you’ll find are cassia and Ceylon cinnamon, as we have discussed. Some studies indicate cassia cinnamon contains higher amounts of a compound called coumarin. In Ceylon this is found in only trace amounts, however, in cassia, you’ll find anywhere from 7 – 18mg of coumarin per teaspoon. While the limit of coumarin recommended per day is only 5mg.
You might read about some dangers involved in the consumption of coumarin but it’s important to note here that there are studies supporting both sides. Some studies have found that too much coumarin can cause liver toxicity and damage. However, this was only shown in a small group of people that already had preexisting conditions. Other studies have shown no adverse effects from coumarin. One study even found no adverse effects when subjects were given 100 times the maximum human daily intake. The results are inconclusive at best and at worst risks are minimal in a very small and selective group of people who are already dealing with existing medical issues.
All of this is not said to scare you, rather educate you on the difference between the two varieties. Recently, people specifically prefer Ceylon cinnamon, also known as “true cinnamon”, when looking to increase their cinnamon intake. Perhaps the marketers have done an excellent job with their scare tactics. You would be safe with either option and reap the benefits of his powerful superspice. However, always opt for organic and nonirradiated varieties when using for optimal health.
There are no reported adverse side effects in healthy adults using cinnamon as part of their daily diet. The most common reported side effect was due to allergic reactions.
Use Cinnamon Daily for Optimal Health
Cinnamon has been long treasured throughout history for its aromatic properties, delightful taste, and medicinal uses. Medical research has shown that cinnamon can prevent your risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and more. It can also help lower blood sugar, act as an anti-inflammatory on the body, and is filled with powerful antioxidants.
When looking to increase your cinnamon intake, you should look for the varieties of Cinnamomum verum sometimes labeled as Cinnamomum Zeylanicum or Cinnamomum cassia. Both of these varieties are the ones most used in medical research. Cinnamomum verum can also be known as Ceylon cinnamon or “true cinnamon”. While Cinnamomum cassia can also be known as cassia.
Cassia is the variety most often found in supermarkets, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find. While Ceylon cinnamon may not be easy to find locally. With either option, it’s not always easy to eat that much cinnamon in one day. For that reason, we suggest looking for it in supplements. You’ll find many options to choose from. We recommend looking for a whole-food based supplement that includes cinnamon among other beneficial spices and herbs such as rose hips, elderberry, and cloves.