Cinnamon is a spice with many uses. That’s why it can be found in most kitchen cupboards. This comforting and subtly sweet spice doesn’t just taste good — cinnamon has some amazing health benefits too!

What is cinnamon?

Cinnamon has been used for thousands of years. It comes from the inner bark of several trees of the Lauraceae plant family and can be consumed as a tea by steeping cinnamon sticks in boiling water, as a ground spice in your cooking, or as an essential oil.

These trees thrive in tropical and subtropical environments where some grow large enough to be harvested in as little as two years. Once the tree is cut down, it’s outer bark is peeled off and often discarded. The inner bark is sliced into strips that once dry, either curl inwards on their own to form quills (or what we refer to as cinnamon sticks) or are manually layered and wrapped to form a quill. This same inner bark can be dried and ground into the more common powdered form of what we usually think of as cinnamon!

There are four main species of the Lauraceae family that are harvested to produce different types of cinnamon (1):

  • Ceylon cinnamon or Sri Lankan cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum or verum)
  • Cassia cinnamon or Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum)
  • Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi)
  • Indonesian cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii)

What is the difference between Ceylon (true cinnamon) and Cassia cinnamon?

Many people are curious about the best type of cinnamon for health benefits. Ceylon cinnamon is often referred to as “true cinnamon” and is more expensive and often less accessible for purchase than the Cassia variety of cinnamon from China that most people have in their cupboards. Cinnamon from Vietnam (Cinnamomum loureiroi) and Indonesia (Cinnamomum burmannii) are similar in profile to Cassia cinnamon, whereas Ceylon cinnamon differs in significant ways.

Ceylon cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka, located off the southeastern tip of India, which before 1972 was known as the region of Ceylon. Ceylon cinnamon is also often referred to as Cinnamomum verum, which in Latin means true, which is why some people refer to Ceylon cinnamon as “true cinnamon.” (2) Its bark is softer, a lighter brown color, and breaks apart more easily than the Cassia varieties. Ceylon cinnamon also has a lighter and sweeter taste than Cassia, which is often difficult to pull apart, darker in colour, and less sweet.

By contrast, Cassia cinnamon contains a larger quantity of a compound called coumarin as compared to the Ceylon variety, which only has trace amounts. Many plants contain coumarin which helps as a chemical defense against predators. However, if consumed in large quantities, it can be damaging to the liver. (1)

What are the top health benefits of cinnamon?

Cinnamon is rich in powerful antioxidants

Cinnamon bark and its oils are rich in over 40 different antioxidants such as flavonoids and polyphenols. Antioxidants are enormously beneficial to our health because they help to prevent free radical damage to our cells caused by oxidative stress. Free radicals are byproducts of oxygen metabolism. Although they are produced from normal cell metabolism, when they accumulate as a result of external sources such as pollution, certain foods, medications and radiation, they can cause oxidative stress, a contributor to the promotion of disease. (3)(4)

Antioxidants are so prevalent in cinnamon bark and oil that along with its antibacterial capabilities, cinnamon can act as a preservative for food or cosmetics. (5)

How are the health benefits of ground cinnamon different from cinnamon?

raw cinnamon sticks and cinnamon powder

Ground cinnamon is more versatile than cinnamon oil or sticks. You can enjoy many of the same health benefits that cinnamon provides and it is much easier to consume regularly. Put it in your baked goods, hot dinners, or even your morning smoothie.

Protects against foodborne pathogens

Cinnamon contains antimicrobial properties that help increase the safety and shelf life of food products by preventing the spread of foodborne pathogens and bacteria that can cause food to spoil. (5)

Cinnamon, cinnamon tea and especially cinnamon essential oil also contain compounds that are antifungal and antiviral. As a result, cinnamon may support the immune system and prevent common colds. (6)

Did you know?
Cinnamon has many antibacterial benefits; cinnamon essential oil may prevent bad breath caused by certain oral bacteria. (7)

What are the health benefits of cinnamon oil?

Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties

Various studies of cinnamon and its essential oils have found a number of flavonoids —such as quercetin and hypolaetin— possess anti-inflammatory capabilities. Cinnamon and cinnamon oil may relieve pain associated with certain inflammatory conditions and symptoms such as body pain. (8)(9)

cinnamon sticks and cinnamon essential oil in a bottle

The essential oil of cinnamon bark is much more concentrated than the bark on its own, so less of it is needed to benefit your health.

Cinnamon is beneficial for heart health

Several studies talk about the protective and beneficial effects of compounds found in cinnamon on cardiovascular health, including cholesterol levels, circulation, and blood pressure. These connections continue to be studied. (9)

Some studies also found that oxidative stress from free radicals contributes to cardiovascular conditions such as atherosclerosis (i.e. plaque build-up in the arteries). Consuming antioxidant-rich foods and spices such as cinnamon may help reduce or prevent unwanted symptoms associated with these conditions. (10)

Managing blood sugar with cinnamon

Studies continue to look at the potential positive effects of cinnamon and cinnamon products for those with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance and on people’s blood sugar levels in general. (11)(12)(1)

While additional research is required, there is some evidence that suggests that cinnamon helps slow the rate of sugar being absorbed into the bloodstream by preventing digestive enzymes from breaking down carbohydrates. (13)

Combining cinnamon with other foods

A study from the University of Medical Sciences in Isfahan, Iran and the School of Nutrition and Food Science looked at the use of cinnamon and ginger for addressing muscle soreness associated with inflammation. It found that compared to a placebo, the cinnamon and ginger groups had a decrease in muscle soreness. (8)

The bottom line

Cinnamon is one of the most popular and widely used spices in the world. Its health benefits are impressive as it can help address symptoms related to inflammatory conditions, oral bacteria causing bad breath, and cardiovascular and blood sugar related issues. Its spicy-sweet flavor makes it a delicious addition to all types of cuisine.

Talk to your medical practitioner before taking cinnamon supplements. Because cinnamon may have an effect on blood sugar levels, you should also talk to your medical practitioner before consuming cinnamon supplements if you are on medication that lowers blood sugar levels, or if you have diabetes. Cassia cinnamon also contains a compound called coumarin which has been shown to have a negative effect on liver cells. As such, it should be consumed in moderation.

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