This month's file
Cinnamon does not only taste good, it also contains many health benefits such as: anti-clotting and anti-microbial actions, blood sugar control, it boosts brain function, its calcium and fiber protect against heart disease and improve colon health, among other things.
Although available throughout the year, the fragrant, sweet and warm taste of cinnamon is a perfect spice to use during the winter months. Cinnamon has a long history both as a spice and as a medicine. It is the brown bark of the cinnamon tree, which is available in its dried tubular form known as a quill or as ground powder. The two varieties of cinnamon, Chinese and Ceylon, have similar flavor, however the cinnamon from Ceylon is slightly sweeter, more refined and more difficult to find in local markets.
Cinnamon’s unique healing abilities come from three basic types of components in the essential oils found in its bark. These oils contain active components called cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol, plus a wide range of other volatile substances.
Cinnamaldehyde (also called cinnamic aldehyde) has been well-researched for its effects on blood platelets. Platelets are constituents of blood that are meant to clump together under emergency circumstances (like physical injury) as a way to stop bleeding, but under normal circumstances, they can make blood flow inadequate if they clump together too much. The cinnaldehyde in cinnamon helps prevent unwanted clumping of blood platelets. (The way it accomplishes this health-protective act is by inhibiting the release of an inflammatory fatty acid called arachidonic acid from platelet membranes and reducing the formation of an inflammatory messaging molecule called thromboxane A2.) Cinnamon's ability to lower the release of arachidonic acid from cell membranes also puts it in the category of an “anti-inflammatory” food that can be helpful in lessening inflammation.
Cinnamon’s essential oils also qualify it as an “anti-microbial” food, and cinnamon has been studied for its ability to help stop the growth of bacteria as well as fungi, including the commonly problematic yeast Candida. In laboratory tests, growth of yeasts that were resistant to the commonly used anti-fungal medication fluconazole was often (though not always) stopped by cinnamon extracts.
Cinnamon’s antimicrobial properties are so effective that recent research demonstrates this spice can be used as an alternative to traditional food preservatives. In a study, published in the August 2003 issue of the International Journal of Food Microbiology, the addition of just a few drops of cinnamon essential oil to 100 ml (approximately 3 ounces) of carrot broth, which was then refrigerated, inhibited the growth of the foodborne pathogenic Bacillus cereus for at least 60 days. When the broth was refrigerated without the addition of cinnamon oil, the pathogenic B. cereus flourished despite the cold temperature. In addition, researchers noted that the addition of cinnamon not only acted as an effective preservative but improved the flavor of the broth.(October 1, 2003)
Blood Sugar Control
Cinnamon may significantly help people with type 2 diabetes improve their ability to respond to insulin, thus normalizing their blood sugar levels. Both test tube and animal studies have shown that compounds in cinnamon not only stimulate insulin receptors, but also inhibit an enzyme that inactivates them, thus significantly increasing cells’ ability to use glucose. Studies to confirm cinnamon’s beneficial actions in humans are currently underway with the most recent report coming from researchers from the US Agricultural Research Service, who have shown that less than half a teaspoon per day of cinnamon reduces blood sugar levels in persons with type 2 diabetes. Their study included 60 Pakistani volunteers with type 2 diabetes who were not taking insulin. Subjects were divided into six groups. For 40 days, groups 1, 2 and 3 were given 1, 3, or 6 grams per day of cinnamon while groups 4, 5 and 6 received placebo capsules. Even the lowest amount of cinnamon, 1 gram per day (approximately ¼ to ½ teaspoon), produced an approximately 20% drop in blood sugar; cholesterol and triglycerides were lowered as well. When daily cinnamon was stopped, blood sugar levels began to increase. (December 30, 2003)
Cinnamon's Scent Boosts Brain Function
Not only does consuming cinnamon improve the body’s ability to utilize blood sugar, but just smelling the wonderful odor of this sweet spice boosts brain activity! Research led by Dr. P. Zoladz and presented April 24, 2004, at the annual meeting of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences, in Sarasota, FL, found that chewing cinnamon flavored gum or just smelling cinnamon enhanced study participants’ cognitive processing. Specifically, cinnamon improved participants’ scores on tasks related to attentional processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor speed while working on a computer-based program. Participants were exposed to four odorant conditions: no odor, peppermint odor, jasmine, and cinnamon, with cinnamon emerging the clear winner in producing positive effects on brain function. Encouraged by the results of these studies, researchers will be evaluating cinnamon’s potential for enhancing cognition in the elderly, individuals with test-anxiety, and possibly even patients with diseases that lead to cognitive decline. (May 9, 2004)
Calcium and Fiber Improve Colon Health and Protect Against Heart Disease
In addition to its unique essential oils, cinnamon is an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese and a very good source of dietary fiber, iron and calcium. The combination of calcium and fiber in cinnamon is important and can be helpful for the prevention of several different conditions. Both calcium and fiber can bind to bile salts and help remove them from the body. By removing bile, fiber helps to prevent the damage that certain bile salts can cause to colon cells, thereby reducing the risk of colon cancer. In addition, when bile is removed by fiber, the body must break down cholesterol in order to make new bile. This process can help to lower high cholesterol levels, which can be helpful in preventing atherosclerosis and heart disease. For sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome, the fiber in cinnamon may also provide relief from constipation or diarrhea.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known. It was mentioned in the Bible and was used in ancient Egypt not only as a beverage flavoring and medicine, but also as an embalming agent. It was so highly treasured that it was considered more precious than gold. Around this time, cinnamon also received much attention in China, which is reflected in its mention in one of the earliest books on Chinese botanical medicine, dated around 2,700 B.C. Cinnamon’s popularity continued throughout history. It became one of the most relied upon spices in Medieval Europe. Due to its demand, cinnamon became one of the first commodities traded regularly between the Near East and Europe. Ceylon cinnamon is produced in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean, while cassia is mainly produced in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Cinnamon is not a commonly allergenic food and is not known to contain measurable amounts of goitrogens, oxalates, or purines. Nutritional Profile Introduction to Food Rating System Chart The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please go to www.whfoods.org.
Density World's Healthiest Foods Rating
World's Healthiest Foods Rating Rule
For references and more information, visit: www.whfoods.org