Cinnamon is one of fall’s most prevalent spices: the warm, stimulating flavor and scent play a role in everything from your pumpkin spice latte to bingeable holiday cookies. It’s also present in many savory dishes, including curries and roasts.
Did you know that cinnamon also has significant medicinal properties? It’s true: this beloved spice can also contribute to your overall health. Here’s an overview of why we think cinnamon might just be the perfect spice.
What is cinnamon?
Cinnamon is sourced from the bark of the Cinnamomum tree, which is native to Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and South America. You have probably seen cinnamon “sticks” as well as powdered cinnamon: the sticks are simply whole pieces of the bark, which can be ground into a powder form once dried. Cinnamon essential oil can be used throughout the home, and cinnamon supplements are popular for those hoping to harness the medicinal properties. Keep in mind that concentrated forms of cinnamon, such as essential oil, can be very irritating to the skin. You may wish to avoid using cinnamon as a topical solution.
There are two different types of cinnamon: cassia and Ceylon. Both have different nutritional and medicinal benefits. Ceylon is considered “true” cinnamon and is better for you, since cassia has coumarin, a compound which can be dangerous in high doses.
Cinnamon has been used as early as 2000 BC, in ancient Egypt—and it’s the second most popular spice in the United States and Europe. (Black pepper comes in first, if you’re keeping track.)
Cinnamon’s health benefits
Besides that warm, cozy feeling you get when eating a cinnamon-laden treat, the spice actually has measurable health benefits. In some of these examples, more research is necessary before the scientific community is fully convinced. However, there’s evidence to suggest cinnamon can do all of this, and help you bake the perfect pumpkin pie.
Here’s what cinnamon can do for you:
- Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories: Cinnamon is high in antioxidants, which reduces the amount of oxidative stress by free radicals. In fact, it’s so high in antioxidants, it can be used as a food preservative—and tends to outrank superfoods like oregano and garlic. Furthermore, its anti-inflammatory properties help your body recover from illness and repair tissue damage.
- Antibacterial and antifungal properties: Cinnamon can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, like listeria and salmonella. It’s also known to help treat fungal respiratory tract infections, and scientists suspect it can even fight tooth decay and bad breath.
- Increase insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar: Insulin resistance is associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Cinnamon help lower insulin resistance, which helps manage metabolic disorders and reduces your risk of developing a serious condition. It also lowers blood sugar levels by interfering with how much glucose can enter your bloodstream.
- Fight neurodegenerative disorders: Neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia occur when the structure or function of brain cells is damaged. Cinnamon can help protect neurons, improve motor function and normalize neurotransmitter levels.
- Reduce heart disease risk: Cinnamon helps lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) while allowing the “good” levels to remain stable. A half-teaspoon per day (one gram) is all you need to help fight off heart disease and keep your cholesterol levels steady.
- Fight HIV: While more research is needed, cassia cinnamon appears to fight the HIV-1 virus, which breaks down the immune system and can lead to AIDS.
- Prevent cancer: Cinnamon can actually help reduce cancer cell growth and prevent the formation of blood cells in tumors, which leads to eventual cell death—at least in animals. More research is needed to ensure the same effect occurs in humans.
Talk to your doctor about the benefits of cinnamon
Because dosages and drug interactions can vary, it’s important to talk to your doctor about whether you should use cinnamon supplements or oil to treat health concerns. The health properties above are often researched in animals first—so while there’s good reason to believe that cinnamon will have the same effects in humans, it’s not a guarantee.
In general, though, cinnamon is a safe and delicious way to boost your health and the flavor of your food. Whether you’re preparing a spicy, savory Moroccan tagine or a classic snickerdoodle, getting more of this popular and prevalent spice in your diet definitely won’t hurt.