Once upon a time cinnamon was more valuable than gold. And while these days, most of us would rather get our hands on 24 karats instead of 24 ounces – a gold bar over a brown stick – this bark-cum-spice has just as much bite as it does bark. The potential health benefits of cinnamon could be stated as nothing short of astonishing.To help us sort myth from fact, we've enlisted the help of several health experts to give us their two cents on one of our favorite spices.
1. Cinnamon may help treat Type 2 diabetes.
While it's true that there's no cure for Type 2 diabetes, cinnamon can be an effective tool in managing the disease.
According to Lori Kenyon Farley, a Certified Nutrition Consultant specializing in wellness, fitness and anti-aging and one of the experts behind Project Juice, cinnamon can help manage this disease in two different ways. "It can reduce blood pressure and have a positive effect on blood markers for those with Type 2 diabetes," she explains. Cinnamon can also reduce insulin resistance, which, Farley explains, "has been shown to lower fasting blood sugar levels by up to 29%, which can reduce the instance of Type 2 diabetes."
Shane Ellison, MS, a medicinal chemist and founder of the Sugar Detox, explains how exactly this works. "(Cinnamon) works directly on the muscle cells to force them to remove sugar from the bloodstream, where it is converted to energy," he says. "It's even shown to work better than most prescription meds."
The key is in increasing insulin sensitivity in the body, a sensitivity that, while present at birth for those without type 1 diabetes, slowly decreases as we age and consume more sugar. As a result, sugar floats around in the blood, causing diabetes and other health problems. "Cinnamon, which is completely non-toxic, repairs the receptors so they are once again responsive to insulin," Ellison explains. "In time, sugar levels normalize due to an increase in insulin sensitivity."
Add to this the fact that cinnamon has a naturally sweet taste that is devoid of sugar, making it a great addition to foods like plain yogurt as a dessert or snack, and you'll soon see why we suggest it as a staple for the pantries of those with Type 2 diabetes. Even if you do not suffer from diabetes, you may want to include cinnamon in your diet for many of the same reasons as those who do.
2. Cinnamon can lower your bad cholesterol (or LDL).
As Carina Parikh, MScN, MSiMR, the holistic nutritionist for Kate Naumes ND Holistic Wellness in Dallas explains, the positive impact on Type 2 diabetes symptoms is due to a number of factors, notably "improving serum glucose, lowering fasting blood glucose, and reducing triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol." These are all benefits that can help even those not suffering from diabetes, including those with hereditary cholesterol worries or problems.
"(Cinnamon) also raises HDL (the "good") cholesterol," she explains. HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from the body.
And that's not all. "Regular intake of cinnamon may also help to mitigate the effects of high-fat meals by slowing the increase in blood sugar post-meal," says Parikh. This means that when cinnamon is added to your diet, the effects of occasional high-fat choices may not be quite as detrimental to your health as they would otherwise be. Cinnamon has been proven to fight fungal, bacterial, and viral elements in foods, thus preventing spoilage. It's no surprise that in the Middle Ages, when food spoilage was far more frequent due to lack of refrigeration, many recipes, both sweet and savory, were flavored with the spice.
3. Cinnamon has antifungal, antibacterial, and even antiviral properties.
But these properties of cinnamon do not extend merely to the foods cinnamon seasons. Consumers of cinnamon can benefit from these properties as well, according to our experts, who say cinnamon can be used as part of a treatment for anything from lung problems to the common cold.
Denise Baron, a wellness educator and director of Ayurveda for Modern Living explains that cinnamon can help with all sorts of lung congestion issues. "It helps clear up mucus and encourages circulation," she explains, thus lending its powers to everything from a simple seasonal cough to bronchitis, when used in tandem with other remedies.
But perhaps the most surprising use of cinnamon is in combatting viruses, and not just the common cold. "Research shows that cinnamon extract may help fight the HIV virus by preventing the virus from entering cells," says Parikh. "Therefore, cinnamon extract could potentially contribute to the management of HIV." Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases are two neurological conditions that, for the moment, are incurable. An enormous part of treating these diseases is therefore in symptom management, and this can be boosted with the addition of cinnamon to a regular regime.
4. Cinnamon can help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
"Cinnamon has been shown to help neurons and improve motor function in those suffering from Alzheimer's or Parkinson's," explains Farley. These contributions can help sufferers of these two diseases continue their regular routines with far less impediment. Many superfoods are attributed with anti-carcinogenic properties, but it's important not to jump from super food to super power. Parikh explains why it's important not to get carried away.
5. Cinnamon may have anti-carcinogenic properties.
"Evidence suggests that cinnamon may have anti-carcinogenic effects as well, although the research thus far is limited to animal studies," she says. "These experiments demonstrate that cinnamon extract slows the growth of cancer cells and induces cancerous cell death."
If these properties do extend to humans, then cinnamon may in fact be able to slow growth and kill cancerous cells. And even if these properties do not extend to a cure or treatment for cancer in humans, other characteristics of cinnamon, including the presence of antioxidants and free radicals, can contribute to its possible anti-carcinogenic effects. Consumption of cinnamon can reduce both systemic and specific inflammation. The former is particularly important in the Western world, according to Parekh.
6. Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties.
She says that in the West, "Systemic inflammation is a prominent problem that has led to the rise in chronic disease." By adding cinnamon to a regular diet, this systemic inflammation can be reduced significantly."
Specific inflammation reduction means that consumption of cinnamon can help treat certain types of pain and headaches, as well as arthritis pain. It plays a double role in this particular type of pain, according to Baron, as cinnamon can also boost circulation. "With circulation problems such as Raynaud's syndrome or arthritis, this helps stimulate and push circulation to the joints," she explains. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a problem with numerous symptoms that need to be managed, and cinnamon can be a key element of this management due to a number of characteristics.
7. Cinnamon can help manage PCOS.
First would be the management of insulin resistance in women with PCOS, which can contribute to weight gain. "A recent pilot study found that cinnamon reduced insulin resistance in women with PCOS," explains Parekh, extending cinnamon's recommended consumption from diabetes sufferers to anyone with an insulin resistance problem.
"Cinnamon can also help mitigate heavy menstrual bleeding associated with common conditions of female health, such as endometriosis, menorrhagia, and uterine fibroids."