Cinnamon is a spice, sprinkled on toast and lattes. But extracts from the bark as well as leaves, flowers, fruits, and roots of the cinnamon tree have also been used in traditional medicine around the world for thousands of years. It’s used in cooking and baking, and added to many foods.
Types of Cinnamon
There are four major types of cinnamon. Darker-colored cassia cinnamon is the one most commonly sold in the United States. It’s grown in southeastern Asia. Ceylon cinnamon, also known as true cinnamon, is frequently used in other countries.
The cinnamon you buy at the store could be one of the two main types, Ceylon or cassia, or a mixture of both. Ceylon is easier to grind but it may not have the same health benefits.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
One of the most important active ingredients in cinnamon is cinnamaldehyde. It’s used in flavorings and fragrances. It may be responsible for some of cinnamon’s possible health benefits.
Some research shows cinnamon may be good for people with diabetes. A review of 18 studies suggests that cinnamon might lower blood sugar. But it didn’t affect hemoglobin A1C, which is an indicator of blood sugar levels over a long period. It may also lower cholesterol in people with diabetes. Many of the studies don’t indicate what type of cinnamon was used or have other problems that make their findings uncertain. One review suggests that cinnamon might help with obesity and weight loss. It’s sometimes used for irritable bowel syndrome or other stomach or intestinal problems. But it isn’t clear that it works.
It’s been suggested that cinnamon also might help with:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Tooth decay
But many of the studies done have been done in cells or animals.
Cinnamon does have antioxidant, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties, but for now, there aren’t enough studies to prove it works that well in people.
Consuming normal amounts of cinnamon isn’t likely to have a big impact on your health. It’s not a good idea to eat a lot of it either.
Because cinnamon is unproven as a treatment, there isn’t a set dose. Some experts suggest 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (2-4 grams) of powder a day. Some studies have used between 1 gram and 6 grams of cinnamon. High doses might be toxic.
Lower Blood Sugar
Several studies of adults and animals with diabetes have found that cinnamon can help lower blood sugar, though others haven’t shown similar results. Scientists still don’t know how cinnamon may work. It’s also unclear how much you would take and how long the results might last.
An essential oil in cinnamon called cinnamaldehyde can target your fat cells and make them burn more energy, according to a lab study. This is exciting news for anyone trying to lose weight, but the research is still in the early stages. We have a long way to go.
Search the internet for “cinnamon face mask” and you’ll find plenty of DIY recipes that claim they’ll fight pimples and redness. There’s very little to back this up — just one small study that found Ceylon cinnamon, specifically, can fight the types of bacteria known to cause acne. Another small lab study suggests that cinnamon can boost collagen production, which might help your skin look younger.
Help Treat Cancer
In studies using animals or cells grown in labs, cinnamon has shown promise for its ability to slow cancer growth and even kill tumor cells. We need well-run studies of humans to know what role, if any, cinnamon could play in curing or preventing cancer.
Lower Blood Pressure
Several studies suggest that eating cinnamon every day for 3 months can bring your systolic blood pressure (the top number) down by as much as 5 points. Larger studies are needed to check things like does it really work, how much to eat to get the best results, and how long the effect lasts. And since these were people who had prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, we don’t know if cinnamon has the same effect when you don’t have blood sugar issues.
Protect Your Brain
In a lab setting, cinnamon stopped the buildup of a brain protein that’s a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. In another study, rats who had cinnamon did better in a water maze designed to test their memory. Of course, we need to see if these findings carry over when tested on humans.
It turns out that cinnamon was a top inflammation-fighter in a recent laboratory study that looked at 115 foods. Since inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis become more common as you age, more research could support using cinnamon as a natural remedy for older adults to help with these types of conditions.
When 60 adults in a small study ate about 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon every day for 40 days, their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol went down. Other research has found that similar amounts of cinnamon, eaten daily for up to 18 weeks, can lower LDL and total cholesterol while raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol. But it’s too early to recommend cinnamon as a treatment for high cholesterol.
Cinnamon can fight many types of bacteria that make people sick, including salmonella, E. coli, and staph. Perhaps it could be used as a natural preservative in foods and cosmetics.
Get Rid of a Yeast Infection
It seems cinnamon has the power to destroy the fungus Candida albicans, which causes most vaginal yeast infections. At least, it works in the lab. It’s not clear how — or even if you could — use cinnamon to fight off or treat a yeast infection.
Regulate Menstrual Cycles for PCOS
While taking a dose of 1.5 grams (about 1/2 teaspoon) of cinnamon each day for 6 months, women with polycystic ovary syndrome in one small but well-designed study had more regular periods. Their insulin resistance and androgen levels didn’t change, though.
Cinnamon Side Effects
- Irritation and allergies. Cinnamon usually causes no side effects. But heavy use could irritate your mouth and lips, causing sores. Some people are allergic to it. It might cause redness and irritation if you put it on your skin.
- Toxicity. Eating lots of cassia cinnamon could be toxic, especially if you have liver problems. Coumarin, an ingredient in some cinnamon products, can cause liver problems, but the amount you’d get is so small that it probably won’t be a problem. Given the lack of evidence about its safety, children, pregnant women, and women who are breastfeeding should avoid cinnamon as a treatment.
- Lower blood sugar. Cinnamon may affect your blood sugar, so if you have diabetes and take cinnamon supplements, you might need to adjust your treatment.
- Interactions. If you take any medication regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using cinnamon supplements. They could affect the way antibiotics, diabetes drugs, blood thinners, heart medicines, and others work.