Cinnamon has been consumed since 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt, where it was highly prized. In medieval times, doctors used cinnamon to treat conditions such as coughing,arthritis, and sore throats.
It is now the second most popular spice, after black pepper, in the U.S and Europe.
Best grown in tropical regions, the main type of cinnamon is Ceylon cinnamon, from the Cinnamomum Zeylanicum plant which originates in Sri Lanka. The other main type is Cassia cinnamon which has a stronger taste and is slightly cheaper.
To maximize the medicinal value and health benefits of cinnamon, regardless of type, the key thing is its freshness. Some prefer the sweet, subtle flavor of Ceylon cinnamon in desserts and the stronger potency of Cassia in savory dishes, however most forms of commercial cinnamon is a mixture of the two.
1. Blood pressure
There is some evidence to suggest that consumption of cinnamon (short term) is associated with a reduction in blood pressure. Although the evidence is hopeful, it would be premature to recommend cinnamon for blood pressure control until a comprehensive randomized controlled trial (RCT) involving a larger number of patients has been carried out.
2. Blood sugar and type 2 diabetes
While it’s true that there’s no cure for Type 2 diabetes, cinnamon can be an effective tool in managing the disease.
According to Lori Kenyon Farley, a Certified Nutrition Consultant specializing in wellness, fitness and anti-aging and one of the experts behind Project Juice, cinnamon can help manage this disease in two different ways. “It can reduce blood pressure and have a positive effect on blood markers for those with Type 2 diabetes,” she explains. Cinnamon can also reduce insulin resistance, which, Farley explains, “has been shown to lower fasting blood sugar levels by up to 29%, which can reduce the instance of Type 2 diabetes.”
Shane Ellison, MS, a medicinal chemist and founder of the Sugar Detox, explains how exactly this works. “(Cinnamon) works directly on the muscle cells to force them to remove sugar from the bloodstream, where it is converted to energy,” he says. “It’s even shown to work better than most prescription meds.” The key is in increasing insulin sensitivity in the body, a sensitivity that, while present at birth for those without type 1 diabetes, slowly decreases as we age and consume more sugar. As a result, sugar floats around in the blood, causing diabetes and other health problems. “Cinnamon, which is completely non-toxic, repairs the receptors so they are once again responsive to insulin,” Ellison explains. “In time, sugar levels normalize due to an increase in insulin sensitivity.”
Add to this the fact that cinnamon has a naturally sweet taste that is devoid of sugar, making it a great addition to foods like plain yogurt as a dessert or snack, and you’ll soon see why we suggest it as a staple for the pantries of those with Type 2 diabetes.
3. Digestive discomfort
Cinnamon extract has been used to alleviate gastrointestinal problems in both Eastern and Western medicine for years. It has been described as a carminative, renowned for its digestive, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, cinnamon bark oil is cited as the active part for treating flatulence and digestive imbalance. It is believed that the warmth of cinnamon increases blood flow and improves blood oxygen levels to help fight off illness. To alleviate digestive symptoms, cinnamon is taken as part of a hot drink (much like a tea). In this instance, it’s easier to use ground cinnamon rather than trying to grate the sticks yourself.
4. Cinnamon can help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are two neurological conditions that, for the moment, are incurable. An enormous part of treating these diseases is therefore in symptom management, and this can be boosted with the addition of cinnamon to a regular regime.
“Cinnamon has been shown to help neurons and improve motor function in those suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s,” explains Farley. These contributions can help sufferers of these two diseases continue their regular routines with far less impediment.
5. Cinnamon may have anti-carcinogenic properties.
Many superfoods are attributed with anti-carcinogenic properties, but it’s important not to jump from super food to super power. Parikh explains why it’s important not to get carried away.
“Evidence suggests that cinnamon may have anti-carcinogenic effects as well, although the research thus far is limited to animal studies,” she says. “These experiments demonstrate that cinnamon extract slows the growth of cancer cells and induces cancerous cell death.”
If these properties do extend to humans, then cinnamon may in fact be able to slow growth and kill cancerous cells. And even if these properties do not extend to a cure or treatment for cancer in humans, other characteristics of cinnamon, including the presence of antioxidants and free radicals, can contribute to its possible anti-carcinogenic effects.
6. Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties.
Consumption of cinnamon can reduce both systemic and specific inflammation. The former is particularly important in the Western world, according to Parekh.
She says that in the West, “Systemic inflammation is a prominent problem that has led to the rise in chronic disease.” By adding cinnamon to a regular diet, this systemic inflammation can be reduced significantly.”
Specific inflammation reduction means that consumption of cinnamon can help treat certain types of pain and headaches, as well as arthritis pain. It plays a double role in this particular type of pain, according to Baron, as cinnamon can also boost circulation. “With circulation problems such as Raynaud’s syndrome or arthritis, this helps stimulate and push circulation to the joints,” she explains.
7. Cinnamon May Help Fight The HIV Virus
HIV is a virus that slowly breaks down the immune system, which can eventually lead to AIDS if untreated.
This is the most common strain of the HIV virus in humans.
A laboratory study looking at HIV infected cells found that cinnamon was the most effective treatment of all 69 medicinal plants studied (36).
Human trials are needed to confirm these effects.
How to store and use
Cinnamon needs to be kept in an airtight container in a dark place. Whole cinnamon lasts for about a year, but cinnamon that has been ground will start to lose flavor after a few months. It’s worth going through your cupboards to check the use by dates on cinnamon as the fresher the better.
Take Home Message
At the end of the day, cinnamon is one of the most delicious and healthiest spices on the planet.
It can lower blood sugar levels, reduce heart disease risk factors, and has a plethora of other impressive health benefits.
Just make sure to get Ceylon cinnamon, or stick to small doses if you’re using the Cassia variety.