Cinnamon has been used for centuries and is the oldest spice known to man.
The Egyptians regarded it as more precious than gold and used it as a healing medicine, in cooking and also as an embalming agent.
In medieval Europe its huge popularity and demand, meant that cinnamon became one of the very first commodities to be traded regularly between Europe and the Near East.
In This Article:
- 1 What is Cinnamon?
- 2 Cinnamon Sticks
- 3 Health Benefits
- 4 Video
- 5 Side Effects of Cinnamon
- 6 Conclusion
What is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon comes from the bark of an evergreen tree grown primarily in South East Asia and Sri Lanka.
The essential oil contained within the bark (called cinnamonaldehyde) is what gives cinnamon its characteristic aroma and flavor.
Although there are arguably hundreds of varieties of cinnamon trees, there are just 2 types of cinnamon that are primarily consumed throughout the world: Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon.
Ceylon cinnamon is grown in Sri Lanka and is referred to as ‘true cinnamon’.
It is the highest grade of cinnamon and indigenous to Sri Lanka.
In fact the Latin name cinnamomum zeylanicum is derived from the former name of the island, Ceylon. Naturally it also commands a higher price.
Cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) is grown throughout Southeast Asia from the closely related Cassia tree.
It is considered slightly inferior in taste to Ceylon cinnamon.
It is a darker, reddish brown color, with a stronger, bittersweet taste. Cassia cinnamon is the more popular of the two in North America, and is less expensive.
Cinnamon sticks come from the dried bark of various laurel trees in the cinnamomun family.
The trees are allowed to grow for approximately 2 years, growing to around 30-50 feet before being harvested.
They are then cut near to the ground so the shoots form from the roots and will grow again the following year.
The bark is then stripped, dried, rolled and pressed. It naturally curls around to form a quill or tubular shape known as cinnamon sticks.
Alternatively, cinnamon can be ground down into powder form.
Left as they are, cinnamon sticks can be used as a decorative garnish, used as a stirring stick for warm drinks, or used to infuse hot liquids.
They are perfect for grating and for use in recipes or to garnish a delicious cappuccino. My favorite use of the spice!
These spicy treats have also been used to chew on, to help smokers kick the habit.
They will keep fresh for long periods if they are stored in air tight containers.
Ideally in a cool, dark and dry place. This goes for storing any spice.
Cinnamon and Heart Disease
Cinnamon contains cinnaldehyde which helps prevent the release of the body’s inflammatory fatty acid (arachidonic acid) thus preventing irregular inflammation around the artery walls – a major cause of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
Controlling inflammation and keeping the blood from clotting ensures good circulation and a healthy supply of oxygen to your body’s cells.
This further protects against heart disease and maintains high metabolic activity.
The anti-inflammatory qualities of cinnamon are still subject to further tests and studies, but there seems little argument in the medical profession that it does have measurable, anti-inflammatory benefits.
Treatment for Arthritis
As well as preventing blood clotting and controlling inflammation around the heart, cinnamon can help lessen muscle and joint pain associated with arthritis due to its prostaglandin-inhibiting properties.
Research carried out at Copenhagen University, gave arthritis sufferers half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder and one tablespoon of bee’s honey every day before breakfast.
Within a week, patients felt significant relief and within just one month could walk without pain.
People with Type-2 diabetes and hypoglycemia can benefit from adding cinnamon to their foods.
Cinnamon releases specific polyphenols which researchers say may help activate the body’s insulin and transport glucose.
In effect, cinnamon slows down the rate at which the stomach empties after eating and reduces the sudden rise in blood sugar levels.
Rich in Antioxidants
Surprisingly, pound for pound, cinnamon is one of the most antioxidant packed food sources available.
Just one teaspoon of cinnamon contains as much antioxidant properties as a half cup of blueberries and a full cup of pomegranate juice.
Antioxidants are essential for the body’s overall health and well-being. Needed for healthy skin, muscles and bones, while strengthening the immune system.
They protect us from harmful ‘free radicals’ that develop as we use up energy and as we grow older.
Free radical production also occurs through eating a poor diet, stress, excessive exercise, smoking, exposure to too much sun and certain chemicals in the environment.
The more natural antioxidants we consume, the less damage free radicals can cause.
Cinnamon’s essential oil is recognized as an antimicrobial, which means it contains anti-bacteria, anti-fungi and anti-parasitic properties.
This can help the body fight common yeast infections such as Candida albicans, the fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infections and thrush (oral yeast infection).
A study in Germany showed how cinnamon completely suppressed the cause of most urinary-tract infections (Escherichia coli bacteria).
Antimicrobial can also help fight and prevent Helicobacter pylori (the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers), and even head lice.
Studies have also proved that these antimicrobial properties can act as a natural preservative when added to foods. It keeps foods from spoiling longer and improves the taste.
Cinnamon Boosts Brain Function
Perhaps the most interesting of cinnamon health benefits, is its label as a ‘brain food’.
Research discovered that be chewing cinnamon-flavored gum, or simply smelling cinnamon improved a patients memory and overall performance when asked to complete certain brain orientated tasks, such as memory recall, visual-motor speed, recognition, attention, and focus.
These significant findings need more study, but researcher’s are now looking at how cinnamon could potentially be used to help brain function in the elderly and even patients with Alzheimer’s and other degenerative neurological diseases.
Rich in Essential Nutrients
Cinnamon is packed with a number of health inducing vitamins and minerals, including manganese, fiber, iron and calcium.
The unique combination of calcium and dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
As well as these important nutrients, cinnamon also provides a natural resource of carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids.
Cinnamon and Weight Loss
Weight loss is always an emotive issue and people are always interested in ways they can lose weight.
Consuming cinnamon alone will not make you lose weight. However, the properties of cinnamon, combined with the other foods you eat and the exercise you take, can effectively promote weight loss.
First of all, cinnamon is a powerful spice that boosts the body’s metabolism.
A higher metabolism enables the body to burn calories at a faster and more efficient rate.
A study conducted by the Department of Agriculture in the US reported that consuming just one and a half teaspoons of cinnamon a day can increase the body’s metabolism by as much as 20 times its natural rate.
The diabetic world has known for some time the effect cinnamon has in controlling blood sugar levels and allowing a natural level of insulin to be produced.
So how does this relationship affect weight loss?
Well for example; when we eat a meal, the body turns the food into glucose, which in turn is used to feed our brain and muscles, and give us energy.
If we eat too much, or eat foods high in saturated fat, our bodies become flooded with excess blood sugar.
The body reacts by pumping out enough insulin to combat the blood sugar spike. If not enough insulin is produced, the glucose is stored as fat.
It also means our appetite becomes suppressed and so we still feel the need to eat.
The properties contained in cinnamon help to ensure the body continues to produce enough insulin to control the blood sugar spikes, which in turn prevents too much glucose turning into fat.
The lower the levels of blood sugar, the less likely we are to feel hungry, as this is what triggers the brain into telling us if we need to eat or not. So we are less likely to binge because we won’t receive those hunger signals from the brain.
Cinnamon and weight loss is certainly not a standalone solution, but it’s another food source that you can benefit from in helping to lose weight or keep the weight off.
Not only that, you are also getting all the other health benefits of cinnamon.
Side Effects of Cinnamon
I always like to inform people if there are potentially any adverse effects of consuming natural products. Fortunately the side effects of cinnamon are few and extremely rare.
Cassia cinnamon, which is the most popular cinnamon and sold primarily in the US, contains a chemical called coumarin which can be toxic if consumed in large quantities.
Ceylon cinnamon, regarded as the ‘true cinnamon’, does contains very little coumarin and is considered perfectly safe.
The recommended dose of either cinnamon is approx 1 to 2 teaspoons a day.
Medical problems could occur if people get carried away and start consuming way too much.
The toxic effect of overdosing in cinnamon could lead to certain health problems including:
- Someone suffering from kidney problems may experience a partial or complete shut down of the kidneys due to excessive consumption of cinnamon.
- Too much cinnamon combined with blood thinning medicine could lead to excessive bleeding.
- Cinnamon powder may cause an allergic reaction, resulting in itching, rashes and general skin irritation.
- Cinnamon overdose could lead to an increased heart rate, and dyspnea (which is a respiratory disorder).
- While perfectly safe in small amounts, women who are either pregnant, or breastfeeding, should consume less cinnamon than the recommended dosage.
- Mixing cinnamon with herbs and other spices may have an unknown reaction as will combining it with medication.
The possibilities of side effects here are endless and also minuscule. Common sense and a sensible outlook will usually keep you from falling ill or experiencing any adverse reactions.
What is clear is the health benefits of cinnamon far outweigh any unlikely side effects.
As you can see, cinnamon can benefit a wide range of health issues.
If you are interested in adding it to your daily consumption, there are plenty of ways to incorporating cinnamon it into your cooking or simply taking a natural cinnamon capsule.
If you have any comments or questions, please drop them below.
Photo credit: cinnamon sticks – S. Diddy / Foter