February 3rd, 2018
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
There are some scents that remind us of the comforts of home and can soothe our bodies in the process. Case in point: the sweet and warm smell of cinnamon. This spice is derived from the stems of the cinnamomum tree. The inner bark is then extracted, and the woody parts are removed and left to dry. This results in the formation of strips that eventually curl into the cinnamon sticks known today.
These strips can also then be ground to form cinnamon powder.1 The spice is native to the Caribbean, South America and Southeast Asia.2 There are two known types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon. Also known as Cinnamomum verum, Ceylon cinnamon is considered to be “true cinnamon,”3 and is produced in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean.
Cassia cinnamon or Cinnamomum aromaticum, on the other hand, is the variety that’s more commonly used nowadays4 because it is less expensive compared to the former.5 This type of cinnamon is grown in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
The first recorded use of cinnamon dates back to circa 2800 B.C. by Emperor Shen Nung, known as the Father of Chinese Medicine.6 Cinnamon was also utilized in ancient Egyptian society to mummify the dead. This spice became highly prized,7 and since cinnamon was rare and valuable, it was regarded as a gift fit for kings.8 In medieval times, doctors used cinnamon to treat ailments such as coughs, sore throat and arthritis.
Nowadays, cinnamon is ranked as the second most popular spice in the U.S. next to black pepper.9 Even more important, recent research has proven that cinnamon is loaded with nutrients that your body will greatly benefit from.
Choose Cinnamon for Its Amazing Health Benefits
There is more to this spice than its comforting smell. Cinnamon has high amounts of calcium, fiber and manganese, as well as antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral and antioxidant properties. It’s highly useful for:
|Enhancing antioxidant defenses: Polyphenols in cinnamon10 can help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.||Exhibiting anti-inflammatory properties:Cinnamaldehyde, an oily compound responsible for cinnamon’s aroma and flavor,11 can help alleviate inflammation.12
A study revealed that cinnamon can target inflammatory pathways and assist in preventing neurodegenerative illnesses.13
|Enhancing cognitive function: One study proved that the smell of cinnamon worked better than peppermint and jasmine in boosting cognitive function.
Study participants reported better scores on tasks that involved attentional processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory and visual-motor response speed after they smelled cinnamon or chewed cinnamon-flavored gum.14
|Improving brain health: Two compounds in cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin, were shown to inhibit the aggregation of a protein called tau.
Tau plays a big role in the structure and function of neurons.
Although this protein is normal in cell structures, if tau accumulates, it can develop “neurofibrillary tangles,” a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.15
Cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin were proven to protect tau from oxidative damage that can lead to dysfunction.16
|Supporting weight loss: Cinnamon was proven to be effective in regulating postprandial glucose response, or the amount of blood sugar found in your blood after a meal.17||Helping soothe sore throat and/or coughs: A water-soluble fiber called mucilage is created when you soak cinnamon sticks in water.
Mucilage then coats and soothes the throat when you drink this infusion. The antibacterial properties of the spice also help treat these ailments.
Increased blood flow and blood oxygen levels (that can assist in fighting infections) could also occur because of cinnamon’s warming properties.
|Keeping cancer at bay: Cinnamaldehyde was proven to thwart colon cancer cells18 and may be effective versus human liver cancer cells.19||Preventing heart disease:20 Not only does cinnamon help stabilize HDL cholesterol levels, but it can reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well.|
|Alleviating ADHD symptoms:21,22 Research has shown that cinnamon was able to help enhance motivation and performance and reduce anxiety and frustration while driving.23
Further, the spice assists in counteracting oxidative stress’ effects that typically manifest in kids with ADHD.24
|Helping diabetes patients: Cinnamon helps lower blood sugar levels, boost insulin sensitivity and slow down the emptying of the stomach to reduce sharp blood sugar rises after a meal.
Cinnamon was also proven to improve glycemic status, especially in the levels of fasting blood glucose among type 2 diabetes patients.25
The body’s glucose metabolism is also increased by about 20 times, helping enhance the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar.
Lastly, cinnamon exhibited potential in becoming an insulin substitute for Type 2 diabetes patients because of the presence of a bioactive component with insulin-like effects.26
How Is Cinnamon Typically Used?
Most people know cinnamon because it’s a popular ingredient in pastry.27 Did you know, however, that cinnamon can be utilized for medicinal purposes as well? This spice is known to help in treating muscle spasms, vomiting, diarrhea, infections, appetite loss, erectile dysfunctions and colds,28 as well as help prevent ailments such as urinary tract infections, tooth decay and gum disease. Here are other brilliant ways to use cinnamon:
|Athlete’s foot solution: Soaking your feet in cinnamon tea aids in killing athlete’s foot-causing fungus. Mother Earth Living suggests boiling water first and then adding a few cinnamon sticks after.
Once the mixture is ready, soak your feet in the warm water for a few minutes per night.29
|Nausea relief: When ingested, cinnamon tea works well in helping relieve nausea because of the catechins in the spice. Boil 1 teaspoon of cinnamon bark in a cup of water for about 10 minutes, strain the liquid and drink.
However, if you’re pregnant, do not drink this mixture.30
|Hair mask: If you want to help avoid hair loss and promote hair growth, a hair mask mixed with cinnamon can lessen your worries.
Start by warming half a cup of olive oil in a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of both cinnamon powder and honey, and stir. Work this mixture onto your scalp, leave on for 15 minutes and wash hair.
Make sure to consult your physician first before applying this hair mask, especially if you’re already treating this problem.31
|Natural bronzer: Ditch the typical bronzers that are loaded with harsh chemicals — you can make your own with three ingredients only.
Combine cinnamon powder, cocoa powder and cornstarch until the color suits your skin. Simply add more cocoa powder if you want a darker hue or more cornstarch if you want a lighter shade.
Once you get the color you wanted, mix it with plain and unscented lotion and store in a clean jar with a lid.32
|Massage or baths: Combine one-half teaspoon of ground cinnamon, one-half cup of almond or sesame oil and one-half teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. Before using, shake the oil gently.33||Ant repellent: If ants have become a recurring problem in your home, sprinkle powdered cinnamon along the windowsills to help prevent these insects from coming in, as they have an aversion to cinnamon. Just be sure to replace the powder when it gets wet.34|
|Holiday home décor: Should you feel like your home needs extra decorating, especially during the holidays, you can use cinnamon sticks to make a wreath.
You will need about 80 to 120 cinnamon sticks and a wooden wreath ring from a local craft store. Using a hot glue gun, stick the cinnamon sticks onto the frame.
Finish off the wreath by attaching a seasonal ribbon or other embellishments.35
Grow Cinnamon in Your Garden
While cinnamon isn’t typically grown in home settings, it can be easy to grow. Cinnamon typically blooms during spring to summer. It grows best when the soil is kept slightly dry, since it allows the plant to thrive for years in a pot without special care. A well-drained and acidic potting mix works best. Cinnamon plants need full to partial sun, a minimum indoor temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit and adequate protection from frost.36
Last but not the least, you will need cinnamon seeds. According to Laurelynn and Byron Martin, authors of the book “Growing Tasty Tropical Plants in Any Home, Anywhere,” Ceylon cinnamon can be grown from either seeds, vegetative cuttings or grafts, but it’s more difficult to propagate vegetatively than Cassia cinnamon.
Cinnamon plants, on some occasions, also produce seeds that can be picked and planted. Just make sure to get seeds when they’re ripe and black in color and plant them as soon as possible.37
To ensure proper growth, fertilize the plants either weekly or biweekly only during active growth in the late winter until fall. These plants stay as small as 3 feet if you prune them regularly, but you can allow them to reach up to 8 feet tall when you repot the plant over time into a 12- to 14-inch pot.38
To know when the plant has developed, check the leaves. Matured leaves often appear green or light green (when kept in high light). The cinnamon plant also allows the development of small white flowers, as well as purplish and black berries, although they are inedible.39
Delicious Cinnamon Recipes
Although the two cinnamon types look and smell almost the same, this does not guarantee that both will give you the full health benefits the spice has to offer.
As noted by Authority Nutrition, the commonly used Cassia cinnamon contains high amounts of a compound called coumarin. Large doses of coumarin could be harmful and may lead to a higher risk of liver damage,40 loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea or blurred vision, to name a few.41,42 You’re better off using Ceylon cinnamon. Studies have shown that this type of cinnamon has lower coumarin content.43 If you want to tell Ceylon cinnamon apart from Cassia cinnamon, take note of these pointers, especially if you want to buy the spice in stick form:44
|Ceylon cinnamon||Cassia cinnamon|
|More expensive, as the price may spike 10 times more than Cassia cinnamon||Commonly available and very cheap|
|Tan brown color||Reddish, dark brown color|
|Thin and paper-like textured bark that forms multiple layers when rolled up||Uneven and thick bark that forms only a few layers when rolled up|
|Fragile and easily broken||Tough, and difficult, if not impossible, to grind to a powder|
|Delicate and sweet scent with subtle notes of clove||Pungent and full-bodied taste|
To maintain the spice’s freshness and taste, store it in a glass container in a cool and dark place. Ground cinnamon will last about six months, while cinnamon sticks remain fresh for at least one year. You can also extend the shelf life by storing it in the refrigerator.45
You can use cinnamon to flavor sweet dishes such as this Healthy Carrot Cake Protein Ball Recipe and Dr. Mercola’s Breakfast Recipe. However, cinnamon can also enhance the taste of savory dishes. Examples include Almond Crusted Salmon with Steamed Broccoli and Sweet Potato Hash Brown Recipe, Flavorful Butternut Squash Breakfast Bowl Recipe and Healthy, Creamy Eggplant Moussaka Recipe. Feel free to sprinkle cinnamon on raw, grass-fed yogurt or kefir too, or add to hot water to make a potent but delicious tea.
Try Cinnamon Essential Oil, Too
Apart from utilizing cinnamon in either stick or powdered form, you can also make use of cinnamon leaf oil or cinnamon essential oil. This is typically extracted from the leaves of the Ceylon cinnamon tree via steam distillation46 and can be used for the following purposes:47
|Soap additive||Flavoring for seasonings|
|Ingredient in products such as creams, lotions or shampoos||Aromatherapy (try mixing 20 to 25 drops of this essential oil with one-fourth cup of almond or olive oil and place the finished blend in a glass container with a narrow opening)|
|Disinfectant to clean surfaces like kitchen counters, toilets and chopping boards, appliances such as microwaves and refrigerators and even sneakers||Odor eliminator by combining with a few drops of water|
There are a variety of ways that you can benefit from cinnamon essential oil. If you’re feeling stressed or drowsy, or need an energy boost or pick-me-up, sniff this oil. You can also help soothe sore muscles and joints, or relieve pain from muscular aches, sprains, rheumatism and arthritis. The warm and antispasmodic capability of the oil is responsible for this feat.
This essential oil also has medicinal benefits. It aids in preventing viral infections such as coughs and colds from spreading and in fighting staph infection-causing bacteria and germs in the gallbladder. Respiratory conditions such as chest congestion and bronchitis can also be relieved using this essential oil, especially when diffused in a vaporizer or burner.
Lastly, cinnamon essential oil was found to help enhance your blood by helping remove impurities and improving blood circulation. This ensures that the body’s cells get enough oxygen,48 assists in promoting metabolic activity and helps lower risk for heart attacks.
Although food with ground cinnamon or cinnamon infusions can be consumed, the same cannot be said for cinnamon essential oil. Never take this oil internally. Instead, blend with a safe carrier oil, such as coconut, olive or almond oil, or other spice oils such as black pepper, cardamom clove and ginger oils and use topically only.
Before using this essential oil, consult your physician first and take a skin patch test to see if the oil triggers allergies. Generally, cinnamon essential oil is not advised for pregnant women, since it has emmenagogue effects that can cause menstruation. It is recommended that young children avoid using this essential oil too. Once you get the ‘go’ signal to use cinnamon essential oil, always remember to properly dilute it and use in moderation. Convulsions may occur if you ingest high amounts of the oil. Cinnamon essential oil has also been linked to skin irritation, mouth sores, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and when taken internally, irritation in the urinary tract, intestines and stomach lining.
Sources and References:
- 1, 4, 8, 10, 11, 20, 32, 33, 42, 43 Leech, “10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Cinnamon”, Authority Nutrition
- 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 27, 28 Nordqvist and Ware, “Cinnamon: Health Benefits, Nutritional Information”, Medical News Today, November 25, 2015
- 6 Vattem and Maitin, “Functional Foods, Nutraceuticals and Natural Products”, DEStech Publications, Inc., Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 2016
- 12 “Cinnamon, ground”, World’s Healthiest Foods
- 13 Kannappan, R., Gupta, S. C., Kim, J. H., Reuter, S., & Aggarwal, B. B. (2011). Neuroprotection by Spice-Derived Nutraceuticals: You Are What You Eat!
- 14 “Cinnamon boosts brain activity”, Nutra Ingredients, April 6, 2004
- 15, 16 George, Lew and Graves, “Interaction of cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin with tau: implications of beneficial effects in modulating Alzheimer’s disease
- 17 http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672(12)01349-4/abstract
- 18 Long, M., Tao, S., de la Vega, M. R., Jiang, T., Wen, Q., Park, S. L., … Wondrak, G. T. (2015). Nrf2-dependent suppression of azoxymethane/dextran sul
- 19 Lin, L.-T., Wu, S.-J., & Lin, C.-C. (2013). The Anticancer Properties and Apoptosis-inducing Mechanisms of Cinnamaldehyde and the Herbal Prescription
- 21, 24 Chen and Chen, “The Effect of Applying Cinnamon Aromatherapy for Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”, J Chin Med 19(1,2): 27-34, 2
- 22 “Cinnamon for ADHD”, Cinnamon Vogue, November 28, 2014
- 23 “Study Finds That Peppermint and Cinnamon Lower Drivers’ Frustration And Increase Alertness”, Wheeling Jesuit University
- 25 “Effects of Cinnamon Consumption on Glycemic Status, Lipid Profile and Body Composition in Type 2 Diabetic Patients.” Int J Prev Med.
- 26 Early, Oliff, Henson, Milot et al, “Re: Cinnamon Compounds with Insulin-like Activity”, Herb Clip, American Botanical Council
- 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 46, 47 Pitcher, “13 Household Uses for Cinnamon”, Mother Earth Living, November/December 2014
- 36, 37, 38, 39 Martin and Martin, “Growing Tasty Tropical Cinnamon”, Mother Earth Living, January 24, 2011
- 40 Nordqvist, “Coumarin In Cinnamon Causes Liver Damage In Some People”, Medical News Today, May 13, 2013
- 41 “coumarin-type drugs-oral”, MedicineNet
- 44, 45 Tan, “Ceylon Cinnamon Versus Cassia Cinnamon”, Benefits-of-Honey, May 2015
- 48 “Health Benefits of Cinnamon and Its Oil”, Organic Facts
Recommended articles by Dr. Joseph Mercola:
- Anxiety Overtakes Depression as No. 1 Mental Health Problem
- How LED Lighting May Compromise Your Health
- Magic Mushrooms May Hold Key to Long-Term Relief from Anxiety and Depression
- Medical Errors: Still the Third Leading Cause of Death
- Photobiology: How Therapeutic Use of Full-Spectrum Light Can Improve Your Health
- Scientific Links Between Processed Foods and Depression
- How Sugar Harms Your Brain Health and Drives Alzheimer’s Epidemic
- Is Most Back Pain Caused by Repressed Emotions?
About the author:
Born and raised in the inner city of Chicago, IL, Dr. Joseph Mercola is an osteopathic physician trained in both traditional and natural medicine. Board-certified in family medicine, Dr. Mercola served as the chairman of the family medicine department at St. Alexius Medical Center for five years, and in 2012 was granted fellowship status by the American College of Nutrition (ACN).
While in practice in the late 80s, Dr. Mercola realized the drugs he was prescribing to chronically ill patients were not working. By the early 90s, he began exploring the world of natural medicine, and soon changed the way he practiced medicine.
In 1997 Dr. Mercola founded Mercola.com, which is now routinely among the top 10 health sites on the internet. His passion is to transform the traditional medical paradigm in the United States. “The existing medical establishment is responsible for killing and permanently injuring millions of Americans… You want practical health solutions without the hype, and that’s what I offer.”