Cinnamon is one of the world’s most popular spices, used to flavor hot drinks or to spice up numerous dishes. It’s practically synonymous with Christmas and Thanksgiving. Now, scientists have turned the spotlight on cinnamon for a different reason: its medicinal and health value.
The spice, harvested from the bark of a tropical plant, is being studied for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, CNN reports. Lauri Wright, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said,
Medicine started as herbs and plants. So it almost comes full circle, as we’re now going back and proving what some of these plant substances may do for health.
Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon as part of their embalming process, while Romans used it as a perfume to mask the smell of burning flesh in funeral pyres. Ayuverdic medicine used the spice as a respiratory and digestive treatment, while the Old Testament mentioned cinnamon as an ingredient in anointing oil.
The two basic types of cinnamon are Ceylon and cassia. Ceylon is the more expensive kind, produced in Sri Lanka. Cassia is cheaper, produced in Indonesia and China, and has a stronger flavor and aroma. Cassia is what is commonly bought in supermarkets to use in food.
Ceylon, which has a milder, sweeter flavor is said to be better for health, as cassia contains high amounts of coumarin, which can damage the liver. Melinda Maryniuk of the American Diabetes Association said, “A challenge with some of these herbal solutions, because they are not a regulated drug, is that you don’t know exactly what you are getting. A lot of things affect the makeup of the product: where it’s grown, the soil, growing conditions, even how the spice was stored and dried.”
There are various studies that have shown different results in the benefits of cinnamon. But the strongest evidence so far is in type 2 diabetes.
Wright said, “I think the strongest evidence lies so far with diabetes and the promise of cinnamon and blood sugar control.” Small studies have shown that the spice helps with insulin sensitivity and can reduce inflammation. The differences appear to be in the doses of cinnamon.
The American Diabetes Association warns that there is not enough evidence yet to tout cinnamon as the new wonder spice. Maryniuk said, “A 2013 meta-analysis, which is one of the most rigorous of reviews, found that cinnamon had no impact on hemoglobin A1c levels, which is what we look at to measure how well blood sugar is being controlled over time. If that had gone down, I’d be more impressed.”
In the meantime, type 2 diabetes patients can do a self-test to see what happens to their blood sugar levels. “We still need a bit more work before we roll this out. And you must be careful to work with your doctor when using cinnamon with diabetes medications, as it might drop your blood sugars too low,” Wright said.