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Introduction

Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several tree species, belonging to the Lauraceae family.

For centuries cinnamon has been regarded as one of the best foods for medicinal purposes.

Nowadays it is one of the most common spices across the world, used mainly as an aromatic condiment and flavoring additive in many popular dishes, in addition to being added to breakfast cereals, snacks, and teas.

Cinnamons main components are vital oils and other derivatives, such as cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid, and cinnamate.

There Are Different Types of Cinnamon

There are two main types of cinnamon; Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon.

Cassia cinnamon is what is found in most food items or in supermarket stores.

Ceylon cinnamon is more representative of ‘real’ cinnamon that has been used throughout history.

The only notable difference between the two sources is the amount of coumarin, which can potentially cause liver damage in susceptible individuals.

The Cassia variety has found to contain significantly more coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon, and can therefore be viewed as a safer option.

All cinnamon should have health benefits, but Cassia may cause problems in large doses due to the coumarin content.

However, Ceylon cinnamon can only be found in online health stores and it is unlikely they will be sold in today’s supermarkets.

1. Antioxidant Components

Antioxidants protect your body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.

Some cinnamon extracts, such as ether, aqueous, and methanolic extracts have shown to produce significant antioxidant activities [1].

However, the main antioxidants isolated from cinnamon are flavonoids, that have demonstrated to be capable of scavenging free radicals and negating their activity [2].

Interestingly, when 26 spices were thoroughly examined, cinnamon showed the highest antioxidant activity [3]. This may be an important consideration if an individual is using spices for health reasons as opposed to only flavor purposes.

2. Anti-inflammatory Properties

Inflammation helps your body fight infections and repair tissue damage. However, inflammation can become a problem when it’s chronic and directed at healthy tissues.

Cinnamon has many flavonoid compounds that have shown to induce anti-inflammatory activities and therefore reduce the level of chronic inflammation in the body; gossypin, gnaphalin, hesperidin, hibifolin, hypolaetin, oroxindin, and quercetin [4].

Cinnamon has even been said to be a potential food source for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases that stem from high levels of inflammation [5].

Extracts of cinnamon have also exhibited a direct inhibitory effect on the production of nitric oxide – a free radical that is considered a pro-inflammatory mediator and may cause mitochondrial damage.

3. May be Neuroprotective

In animal studies, a component of cinnamon, Cinnamophilin, offers protection against ischemic damage to the brain. Specifically, it is able to reduce the narrowing of arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the brain by ~40%, which is speculated to enhance neurobehavioral outcomes [6].

Another substance within cinnamon, known as trimer 1, may also improve glutamate uptake to the brain by mediating calcium activity within cells [7]. Glutamate is the most important brain neurotransmitter involved within the central nervous system.

Cinnamon could even have a specific therapeutic effect for Parkinson’s disease by increasing the production of neuroprotective proteins that defend cells from damage and the detrimental effects of oxidative stress [8].

Limited evidence also suggests a protective role for Alzheimer’s disease by reducing the formation of toxic chemicals, preventing the toxicity of neuronal cells, and improving cognitive behavior [9].

4. May Have Anti-Diabetic Effects

In animal studies, the antidiabetic effects of cinnamon are clear, with an isolated substance from cinnamon being termed as “insulin-potentiating factor” (IPF) [10].

Some data from human trials have revealed that cinnamon can lower blood glucose, but only in those who previously have poor glycemic control [11]. In other words, the benefits of cinnamon are heightened if the starting plasma glucose levels of an individual are clinically elevated.

The mechanisms for this effect are unknown, however it seems that several polyphenols from cinnamon (rutin, catechin, quercetin) show insulin-like activity, and may potentially improve insulin sensitivity – how well the body reacts to insulin [12].

This is backed by another study that found cinnamon helps with glycemic control in diabetics due to enhanced insulin secretion. It is plausible that this result is from a reduction in oxidative stress and  protection to pancreatic β cells which are responsible for producing insulin [13].

5. May Reduce Cancer Growth

Some scientists have claimed that cinnamon could potentially be used in cancer prevention, although the current evidence base is scarce [14].

A fraction of cinnamon called procyanidins may inhibit the blood and oxygen supply to cancer cells, causing an inadequate growth environment for tumors.

Another chemical that can be synthesized from cinnamon, called 2′-hydroxycinnamaldehyde, may also inhibit tumor growth via its antitumor and growth-inhibitory properties [15].

6. Potential Antimicrobial Effects

Cinnamaldehyde, one of the main active components of cinnamon, may help fight various kinds of infection.

Cinnamon oils have been reported to inhibit the growth of bacterial, fungal, and yeast species, such as; Staphylococcus aureus, Aspergillus flavus, and Candida lipolytica [16].

Cinnamon oil may even be able to effectively treat respiratory tract infections caused by fungi.

This is an early indication that cinnamon may present itself as a natural antimicrobial agent, but more research is needed.

Conclusion

Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several tree species, is one of the most common spices across the world.

Its main components are vital oils and other derivatives, such as cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid, and cinnamate.

Cinnamon has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and may be useful for cognitive function, insulin sensitivity, and fighting cancer and different forms of infection.

If cinnamon is going to be consumed for health purposes, then it is best to stick to the Ceylon variety.

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This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.