Cinnamon – Surprises and Cautions

Now a common and oft used flavor, learn more about its uses and balance.

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Cinnamon conjures up images of warmth for many of us, and while we can use it liberally anytime of the year, it certainly appears here and there more often when those foods of fall start to show up on our tables: apples, squash, pumpkins, cider. Can you see the forest of colorful fall leaves, a steaming mug, or a cozy blanket already?

Cinnamon has been beloved for as long back as we can look. I am sure that whatever people first scraped the bark off the non-descript cinnamon tree they paused and scaped more – simply to inhale the exotic scent. It always seems an extra bonus that such a lovely scent packs a substantial medicinal punch and can be used, safely, on a regular basis. The first time I met cinnamon alive and growing I marveled at how such an exciting medicine could come from a humble tree bark.

The idea that cinnamon is associated with warmth isn’t coincidental. Herbalists around the globe use a system of energetics to ascribe traits to both human health and disease, as well as the herbal medicines which can be used to support them. We have herbs which are hot, cool, damp, dry, and anything in between. While energetics can be challenging to discern energetics at times, there are those herbs, like cinnamon, which are undoubtedly warming. Warming herbs pair beautifully with cool constitutions and health conditions which might be a bit stagnant or cold, but with the gentle warming nature of cinnamon it can be applied in most any situation. Cinnamon may be sweet and tasty, but don’t let the simplicity or amicability of cinnamon fool you into thinking it isn’t strong medicine – because the sweet and spicy bark is a veritable medicine chest in itself.

In writing this article, I was reminded of the power of cinnamon when I found myself at a rental house, cooking a simple breakfast of sauteed apples and French toast for my kids. However, there was no cinnamon to be found, and my children treated it like a crime that they would be given warm apples on a cool fall day without cinnamon. “It’s just not all warm and tasty like fall!” they complained.

Are you already familiar with cinnamon? I’m sure you had had it in your baked goods and fall treats. However, you might not know some of the surprises cinnamon has in store for us:

1. A Daily Dose

Even if you don’t take cinnamon every day, studies suggest that regular dietary use has a positive effect. So, you can focus on using cinnamon in your food and skip the encapsulated supplements – using cinnamon a few times per week in a therapeutic dose is easy as pie. Several studies have shown that a single gram of cinnamon has beneficial effects (a gram is a heavy sprinkle, and teaspoon of cinnamon is about 5 grams) so it’s simple to get the medicinal dose with a generous sprinkle on your oatmeal, apples, fruit, yogurt, or anyway you like it. If you haven’t tried cinnamon in savory foods it can add a lot to roasted meats or veggies.

2. A Pinch of Prevention

If you, or your ancestors, have health conditions which involved a blood sugar imbalance (such as diabetes or metabolic syndrome) cinnamon might be just what you are looking for in the way of prevention. Cinnamon has been shown in a number to studies to improve HA1C levels (an indicator for blood sugar stability). You don’t have to have a metabolic health condition or a blood sugar imbalance for it to be helpful. In fact, if you have concerns about diabetes or other metabolic conditions in your family it can be a great opportunity to add it into your daily family meals for household prevention. A shaker of cinnamon left out on your table or counter might encourage you to cook with it more or top your food with it. Even morning cereal, toast, or oatmeal can be easily given an extra medicinal punch by topping with some cinnamon. Just be sure to choose the correct type!

3. Finding the Balance

We know that blood sugar balance can be implicated in many different health conditions, but are you familiar with the role blood sugar plays in health conditions experienced by people with a uterus? A number of conditions, such as PCOS (and even menstrual cramps), have been shown to be related to blood sugar balance. Several studies have looked at the role cinnamon can play in glycemic levels in people with PCOS (Ainehchi et al, 2019; Borzoei et al, 2018). PCOS has significant metabolic factors, and a regular dose of cinnamon can be helpful for maintaining a healthy blood sugar balance in these conditions. A recent meta-analysis found Cinnamomum zeylanicum eases menstrual pain (Xu et al, 2020), which is convenient, as this warming herb can be lovely in a tea or other tasty preparation you can enjoy at that “time of the month”. Cinnamomum zeylanicum, or Ceylon cinnamon, has even shown positive results in several trials of people suffering from dysmenorrhea (Xu iet al, 2020), so you can plan to increase your monthly dose of cinnamon and see if it might make some of your difficult cycle days a bit less difficult.

4. Working it Out

Do you enjoy a hard workout? While your workout might be great for your heart, the associated muscle soreness can indicate quite a bit of inflammatory markers in your body. In a 2013 six-week, double-blind randomized controlled trial of 60 healthy female martial arts athletes, aged 13 to 25 (mean age 19) they measured the effects of ginger, cinnamon, and placebo on muscle soreness. Pre- and post-study plasma levels of pro-inflammatory marker Interleukin 6 (IL-6) were taken, and perceived muscle soreness was also assessed via a Likert Scale model. Participants were given a daily dose of 3 grams of ginger, cinnamon, or placebo for six weeks, with no other dietary changes. Both ginger and cinnamon reduced the IL-6 plasma levels, and ginger also significantly reduced muscle soreness (Mashhadi et al, 2013). So, you can try taking cinnamon a few hours before your usual workout, or just make a daily habit of it.

5. Cinnamon, cinnamon, cinnamon?

But is that bottle of “cinnamon” in your spice cabinet even the “real thing”? What you might not be aware of is cinnamon’s many species, each with a different phytochemistry, coumarin content and associated medicinal properties. With types of cinnamon, you want to maximize the compounds with health benefits while avoiding those which can be harmful in higher doses. In some species of cinnamon, there are high levels of coumarins, which can be harmful if taken regularly over time in larger doses. Coumarins possess strong anticoagulant properties and can have potentially toxic effects on the liver (Ghosh et al 1997).

Depending on the desired outcome, it’s important to choose the right cinnamon for the job at hand, and avoid taking too much of the wrong one, so you’ll want to source your cinnamon from a place with more detailed information on the label so you can accurately assess the genus and species, or at least the type, in the bottle.

Cinnamomum cassia is the most common species sold in North America and has a strong, trademark cinnamon smell. It contains high levels of coumarins, it’s best used to flavor food and not regularly for therapeutic purposes. If it doesn’t say otherwise, you can assume it is Cinnamomum cassia.

The cinnamon you are looking for with optimal medicinal properties is sometimes called “true cinnamon” or “Vietnamese cinnamon” and has a sweeter taste with a more delicate aroma, and is technically known as Cinnamomum verum. You can find true cinnamon at many spice stores and online retailers, as well as in stores with a wider variety of quality spices.

6. So Many Ways to Take It

Like many herbs, a therapeutic dose of cinnamon can take many forms, but unlike many herbs, the pleasurable and delicious options are plentiful. You can strike out with something new, such as experimenting by adding cinnamon to savory Asian dishes such as in an “five-spice” powder which can be used in a variety of Asian meat and vegetable dishes and is a combination of sweet and savory containing cinnamon. You can create your own super red hot cinnamon syrup to add to your cinnamon tea, or you can call on a bit of nostalgia and make some cinnamon toast with perhaps a quality butter, whole grain bread, and a high cinnamon to raw-sugar ratio.

Of course, cinnamon can also be taken in more traditional herbal preparations. It can be taken as a tea by boiling cinnamon chips or sticks in water for five minutes and drinking hot or cold. It can be used as capsules if you aren’t a fan of the flavor, and it is a sweet and delicious tincture which can even flavor less pleasant herbal extracts. In fact, cinnamon is often added in tinctures not only for its medicinal properties but as a catalyst or synergist to help the body assimilate the tincture as a whole.

7. Lore on Cinnamon

Well, maybe you won’t fall for the tales of the magic and wonder of cinnamon and the challenge of its acquisition, but explorers and traders in the past lapped right up the lore of cinnamon which kept it being precious and sought after. Aristotle and Herodotus both waxed on about the rare and enormous cinnamon bird, with bat-like wings, who built its nests of cinnamon twigs high on the side of a sheer cliff. The harvesters lured these beasts away with carrion and other temptations in order to risk their lives and collect the twigs.

Of course, cinnamon was gathered from mere tree bark, but given the distances and exotic locations, the traders and harvesters undoubtedly risked their lives and had tales to tell. Even without these stories story, we make a bee line for cinnamon as the weather turns cold, and now you can understand why our bodies crave this wonderful medicinal spice!

Recipes

Reminds-Me-of-Pie Blend

Supports heart health, stabilizes blood sugar, warms digestion.  This blend is used in the two recipes below.

The spices commonly found in delicious fall foods like apple crisp and pumpkin pie offer significant cardiovascular benefits. This blend maximizes the medicine of cinnamon and ginger and there are endless ways to use it. Try adding it to your morning oatmeal or yogurt, using it in pumpkin pie, sprinkling it on sweet potatoes, or spooning some into a latte or warm almond milk.

16 parts ground cinnamon
4 parts ground ginger
1 part freshly ground black pepper
2 parts ground clove
1 part ground cardamom

Cinnamon Apple Oat Bake

 Yield: 4 servings

Dose per serving: black pepper 0.4 grams | cardamom 3.3 grams cinnamon 3.9 grams | clove 0.5 grams | ginger 1.1 grams

This not-too-sweet apple and oat bake is perfect as a healthy dessert or topped with yogurt for a delicious breakfast. You can add more oats for a heartier dish.

3 tablespoons Reminds-­Me-of-Pie Blend
3 tablespoons maple syrup
8 apples sliced into wedges (peeled if you want) with cores removed
2 cups rolled oats
½ teaspoon salt
½  cup melted coconut oil or butter

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Grease an 8-inch square baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the apples with 1 tablespoon of the Reminds-Me-of-Pie Blend and 1 tablespoon of the maple syrup. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly.
  3. Combine the oats, salt, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of the Reminds-Me-of-Pie Blend in the now-empty bowl and mix well. Add the oil and the ­remaining 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup and stir until blended.
  4. Spread the oat mixture onto the apple mixture and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the topping is golden and the apples are soft. Serve warm or cold.

CINNAMON SPICE JELLIES

 Yield: 4 servings
Dose per serving: black pepper 0.25 grams | cardamom 0.2 grams | cinnamon 2.6 grams | ginger 0.75 grams

These jiggly jelly candies are healthy and made with natural ingredients. Play around with adding different spices, juices, or fruits — so fun!

1 cup apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
1½ tablespoons unflavored gelatin or agar-agar
2 tablespoons Reminds-Me-of-Pie Blend

  1. Warm the cider in a small saucepan over medium heat until it boils. Off heat, whisk in the gelatin until it is completely dissolved. Stir in the Reminds-Me-of-Pie Blend.
  1. Pour mixture into a 4-inch round or square baking dish or silicone mold. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until fully set. Slice into cubes or use cookie cutters to create shapes. Serve chilled or store in the refrigerator.

These recipes are from Bevin’s delightful book Spice Apothecary: Blending and Using Common Spices for Everyday Health (Storey Publishing, 2020).

Bevin Clare, M.S., R.H., CNS, is an herbalist, nutritionist, mother and Professor and Program Director of the Master’s of Science in Clinical Herbal Medicine at the Maryland University of Integrative Health. She holds a MSc in Infectious Disease from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and has studied herbal medicine around the world to blend her knowledge of traditional uses of plants with modern science and contemporary healthcare strategies as a consultant and educator. She serves as an adjunct Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Northeast College of Health Sciences.

References

Ainehchi N, Khaki A, Farshbaf-Khalili A, Hammadeh M, Ouladsahebmadarek E. The Effectiveness of Herbal Mixture Supplements with and without Clomiphene Citrate in Comparison to Clomiphene Citrate on Serum Antioxidants and Glycemic Biomarkers in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Willing to be Pregnant: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Biomolecules. 2019 Jun 3;9(6):215. doi: 10.3390/biom9060215. PMID: 31163689; PMCID: PMC6628289.

Borzoei A, Rafraf M, Asghari-Jafarabadi M. Cinnamon improves metabolic factors without detectable effects on adiponectin in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2018;27(3):556-563. doi: 10.6133/apjcn.062017.13. PMID: 29737802.
Ghosh P, Markin RS, Sorrell MF. Coumarin-induced hepatic necrosis. Am J Gastroenterol. 1997;92(2):348-9.

Ranasinghe P, Galappaththy P, Constantine GR, Jayawardena R, Weeratunga HD, Premakumara S, Katulanda P. Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Ceylon cinnamon) as a potential pharmaceutical agent for type-2 diabetes mellitus: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2017 Sep 29;18(1):446. doi: 10.1186/s13063-017-2192-0. PMID: 28962661; PMCID: PMC5622575.

Santos HO, da Silva GAR. To what extent does cinnamon administration improve the glycemic and lipid profiles? Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2018 Oct;27:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2018.07.011. Epub 2018 Aug 13. PMID: 30144878.

Xu Y, Yang Q, Wang X. Efficacy of herbal medicine (cinnamon/fennel/ginger) for primary dysmenorrhea: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Int Med Res. 2020 Jun;48(6):300060520936179. doi: 10.1177/0300060520936179. PMID: 32603204; PMCID: PMC7328489.

  • Updated on Feb 23, 2022
  • Originally Published on Dec 14, 2021
Tagged with: Cinnamomum, cinnamon, diabetes, does, menstrual cramps, recipes
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