Cinnamon is one of my favorite tastes and smells all year, and I love how prominent it is during the holiday season. For me, the spice smells like home (probably because my mother used to put a pot of water with cinnamon sprinkled in on the stove as an air freshener — something I do now in my own apartment). Beyond that, she has long touted its health benefits, which I think of each morning as I put cinnamon in my coffee. But is there any medical basis to this? I spoke with a few doctors to find out.
Turns out, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward. According to Dr. Rahil Bandukwala, an endocrinologist at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, there are multiple theoretical and suggested benefits from cinnamon covering anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antidiabetic actions.
But Dr. Bhavesh B. Shah, the medical director of interventional gastroenterology at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center in Long Beach, California, points out that there are some conflicting studies and theories about cinnamon and health benefits, and at this stage, there have been no conclusive trials demonstrating any clear health benefit.
Shah explains it is important to consider, though, that a study attempting to discern the health benefits of cinnamon would be very difficult to conduct, and the results would be in question regardless for several reasons, including bias, lifestyles, genetic effects and other medical conditions.
If there are health benefits, what are they?
Some of the proposed health benefits are related to the fact that cinnamon is considered an antioxidant, Shah explains.
It also has the reputation for being beneficial for those with diabetes, specifically, Bandukwala notes, it is thought that derivatives of the spice may improve insulin secretion.
Other proposed health benefits are a reduced level of glucose in diabetic patients, improvement in blood pressure, improvement in symptoms of multiple sclerosis and reduction in cholesterol, he adds, noting that some of these studies were conducted solely on animals, but have been proposed to be beneficial for humans as well.
How much should you take?
The U.S. Department of Health does not recommend a dose higher than 6 grams per day for six weeks or less, Shah says. There are two main types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon, each of which has slightly different ingredients and makeup.
“Coumarin, a chemical compound, is present in cassia cinnamon and has been reported to cause liver damage in rare cases as well as acting as a blood thinner,” he explains, noting that this is important to consider if you are on a blood thinner already as per your physician. Also — and this seems like common sense — don’t take or use cinnamon if you are allergic to it.
Like anything else, don’t take too much cinnamon. According to Dr. Theodore Sy, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Medical Group in Aliso Viejo, California, although there is some mixed evidence showing improvement in fatty liver disease and glucose intolerance and diabetes, certain types of cinnamon can be toxic to the liver in large amounts.
“My practice is to encourage adding cinnamon to the diet as a supplement but not as a replacement for any medications I prescribe for diabetes,” Bandukwala explains.
While it might not be a miracle supplement, cinnamon does appear to have some properties that could end up being beneficial. Either way, go ahead and add that extra sprinkle to your coffee.