What is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon is probably the most popular spice in the world. Dating back to ancient Egypt, humans have been using it to bring sweet-spicy flavor and delicate, heart-warming aroma to a wide assortment of traditional foods. Yet it is more than a culinary delight. Its medicinal qualities have been widely recognized for ages, so let’s see what modern science has to say.
Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree which people cultivate in many tropical regions around the world. It’s unique aroma and flavor come from its aromatic oil that contains “cinnamaldehyde” which researchers and scientists believe is the active ingredient that promotes health and healing.
Although it is mostly affordable and easily available world-wide, it was once a rare and highly prized commodity. In the United States, there are two main varieties available. The most common and least expensive is called Cassia. It’s what most people purchase and think of as cinnamon. The other grows in Sri Lanka and many consider it the “true cinnamon” or Ceylon.
Both Cassia and Ceylon have anti-microbial properties and both may aid in regulating blood sugar levels. However, Cassia contains a substance called “coumarin”. In fact, it contains far more than Ceylon which has just a trivial amount. As noted here, taking large amounts of coumarin and/or taking it for a long period of time could cause serious health problems including liver damage. In order to know what you’re buying, you must read the label, and the label must say “Ceylon Cinnamon”. Medical News Today explains the difference here, and this article will tell you how to know when you are getting true Ceylon cinnamon.
Studies have shown that cinnamon has a number of healing properties. Here are some of cinnamon’s potential health benefits:
The American Heart Association reports that, in animal studies, cinnamon shows a cardio-protective effect by “activating the body’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory systems and slowing the fat-storing process”.
This 2013 NIH-published article is a meta-analysis of cinnamon’s use in type 2 diabetes concluding that it is associated with lower levels of fasting glucose, total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides, and an increase in HDL levels, but with little effect on hemoglobin A1c.
For updated, relevant information, here’s a 2019 analysis of the potential benefits of cinnamon.