Cinnamon is one of the most popular spices in the world. It has a central place in holiday baking and is versatile enough to be used in cooking as well. There are also many powerful health benefits of cinnamon, giving you a good reason to incorporate more of this spice into your life.
Medicinally, cinnamon has a rich history of use. It's an important herb in both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine and was highly valued by the ancients Egyptians and Romans.
Here's more about the most important health benefits of cinnamon and what makes this spice truly outstanding.
All About Cinnamon
Cinnamon sticks are the inner bark of fast-growing trees native to tropical regions in India and Sri Lanka. The trees can grow up to 60 feet tall but are often kept much shorter in cultivation for an easier harvest.
The modern way to process cinnamon still closely resembles traditional methods. Shoots from the base of the trees are harvested after the tree is two years old. Harvesting is typically done after a monsoon when the process is easier. The inner bark then has to be separated, pressed, and laid out to dry, which is when it curls up, forming cinnamon sticks.
Cinnamon is a warming and stimulating spice. It's been frequently used for colds, flus, and digestion in Chinese medicine as well as coughing and sore throats by medieval physicians.
It sounds surprising today, but wars were once fought for control of the cinnamon trade. It used to be grown mainly on the island of Ceylon. This island went through Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British control before the discovery was made that cinnamon could be grown in other areas.
One of the strongest compounds in cinnamon bark is called cinnamaldehyde. It's believed to be responsible for the fragrance and many of cinnamon's health benefits. Other key compounds and nutrients include antioxidants, manganese, calcium, and iron.
Types of Cinnamon
There are two main types of cinnamon grown and sold.
Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum syn. Cinnamomum verum) is sometimes referred to as true cinnamon. It originates from Sri Lanka (what used to be Ceylon) and was once valued at 15 times its weight in silver.
Cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) is native to China. It's spicier and stronger flavored than Ceylon and is the type most frequently sold in grocery stores because it's less expensive to grow and harvest.
Both types have medicinal benefits and can be used interchangeably for the most part. However, most herbalists consider Ceylon cinnamon to be more potent. If you want to use large amounts of cinnamon long term, Ceylon is definitely the better choice.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is a warming digestive aid that can stimulate a sluggish digestion and relieve bloating. It can help you after a day of overeating (perhaps around the holidays) and combines well with other herbs for digestion like peppermint and ginger.
The astringent (toning) nature of cinnamon can also aid diarrhea because it helps to tone your lower digestive tract. Try it heated up with milk and honey for a soothing, nutritive drink, or get the most of its stimulating effects by drinking it in a homemade chai with other spices.
Improves Circulation and Warms the Body
Cinnamon is the perfect spice for cold weather because it warms your body. If you constantly have cold hands and feet (a sign of poor circulation), cinnamon will boost your circulation, improving blood flow.
A cup of cinnamon tea is a great way to get its properties for improving circulation, but you can also use it externally to massage areas that need better blood flow. Just dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil to make a massage blend and apply as needed.
Helps Lower and Stabilize Blood Sugar
Cinnamon is one of the most helpful (and well-researched) herbs for stabilizing blood sugar levels. It has a lot of potential for helping people with type 2 diabetes in several ways.
First, cinnamon has shown an ability to slow and decrease the amount of glucose (sugar) that enters the bloodstream after a high carb meal. (1)(2) It's also been shown to reduce fasting blood sugar levels in participants with type 2 diabetes. (3)
From the research done in studies, 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon a day is the normal dose to help with blood sugar. You can also try an extract like this Glycemic Assist tincture or these Metabolic Manager capsules.
Boosts Your Immune System
Another of the powerful benefits of cinnamon is its ability to boost your immune system and ward off viruses. It has strong antimicrobial properties against certain viral and bacterial pathogens, which makes it a good ally during cold and flu season. (6)
Cinnamon oil has also shown strong action against the fungus Candida albicans. In one study done with participants who had intestinal Candida infections, cinnamon and pogostemon oils were paired together and had a nearly 72% success rate of getting rid of the infection. The other 28% of participants experienced an improvement in their condition. (7)
The pleasant taste of cinnamon makes it a great ingredient for giving children an immune boost. Try it in this Immune Fortifier extract or drink lots of chai with cinnamon throughout the winter!
Supports and Protects Heart Health
Heart disease is the most common cause of death around the world. There are many factors that increase your risk of developing heart disease. Cinnamon has been found to help with several of those factors, especially high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
One study with participants who had type 2 diabetes found that supplementing with cinnamon for 12 weeks significantly lowered blood pressure. This has been demonstrated in animal studies as well. (8)(9)
Other research has shown that cinnamon supplementation can lower bad LDL and total cholesterol levels. It has also been found to increase good HDL cholesterol levels. (10)
Eases Inflammation and Pain
Using herbs for pain and inflammation is a natural way to give your body relief from everyday aches and injuries. Cinnamon has strong anti-inflammatory properties and has often been used in various ways for pain relief. (11)
Because it improves circulation as well as inflammation, cinnamon has particular benefits for relieving menstrual cramps, especially when combined with other herbs like ginger or cramp bark. It can also help relieve the symptoms and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. (12)
Contains Anti-Aging Antioxidants
You've probably heard by now how important antioxidants are for overall health. They protect our bodies and cells from free radical damage that can cause chronic diseases and skin aging. (13)
Lots of fruits, vegetables, and herbs contain antioxidants, but cinnamon is especially high in them. It was ranked as the highest in antioxidant activity out of 26 popular herbs/spices, beating out others like rosemary, garlic, oregano, and thyme. Studies have found this antioxidant activity is powerful enough to make cinnamon a natural food preserver. (14)(15)
Getting the Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is easy for most people to add to their diet because of its pleasant flavor. The trick to using it for health is to consume more than just a sprinkle here and there.
The recommended daily dosage of cinnamon powder is anywhere from 0.5-2 teaspoons per day. You can add it to food, smoothies, etc. or take it in capsules.
Cinnamon tea is another delicious way to take this healthy spice. You can simply steep a cinnamon stick in hot water for 10-15 minutes or simmer it on the stove with other chai spices like cardamom, ginger, and cloves.
You can also buy or make cinnamon tincture and take the recommended dose daily. The essential oil is great for diffusing or using topically in a massage oil.
Cinnamon is not recommended in large doses during pregnancy. It's possible that it could irritate the tissues of an infant's mouth if present in breast milk, so you may want to avoid it while breastfeeding as well.
A substance called coumarin is present in cassia cinnamon and has been linked to negative side effects. You can mostly avoid it by using Ceylon cinnamon.
Be sure to dilute the essential oil before using it on your skin, since cinnamon is very strong. Don't stop taking insulin or other diabetic medication without talking to your doctor first.
Spice Up Your Health with Cinnamon
Many people love cinnamon for the flavor alone and are pleasantly surprised to learn of all its health benefits. You can use it for better digestion, blood sugar, circulation, immune health, and more. Cinnamon has even been found to help keep your teeth white and healthy.
The key to getting the health benefits of cinnamon is to take it consistently and in a high enough amount. You might be surprised by the results!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.