28 Aug Cinnamon
What you now consider a common household item was once considered so rare, valuable, and even more precious than gold it deemed a “gift fit for a king.”
Cinnamon is an indigenous spice made from the inner bark of Cinnamomum trees. The inner bark is then dried until they roll into what we refer to as cinnamon sticks or “quills”. From there it can be ground into powder or extract.
The distinct flavour and aroma of cinnamon comes from the one of its main active components, Cinnamaldehyde, which is found in the bark oil. Cinnamaldehyde is believed to be responsible for most of cinnamon’s incredible and unique health benefits.
But is what you are actually buying true cinnamon? Unfortunately, the cinnamon in your pantry is most likely cheaper “cousin” spice.
There are actually two types (1) of Cinnamon:
Ceylon Cinnamon: “true” cinnamon is higher quality with around 50- 63% of its oil being cinnamaldehyde giving it a milder flavour and sweeter scent. Ceylon is typically more expensive and can be identified by its lighter shade of brown and more fine powder.
Cassia cinnamon: is the more common variety which we typically use today. Its oil has around 95% cinnamaldehyde giving it a much stronger more potent flavour then its counterpart. Cassia tends to be thicker with the two ends of the “quill” rolling toward each other rather than in one direction only like Ceylon. However, it is important to note that the Cassia variety contains the a high amount of the compound, coumarin, which in large doses can be harmful (2).
Cinnamon has been used for centuries with first recordings dating as far back as ancient Egypt. Cinnamon has functioned in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine as a remedy for respiratory and digestion ailments, specifically with dairy products and fruits, as well as its anti-microbial qualities (3). The Cinnamaldehyde component works to fight infections caused by bacteria including Listeria and Salmonella, fungus, and the common yeast, Candida, whilst supporting the immune system and preventing common cold and flu.
Cinnamon is also full of powerful antioxidants like polyphenols, which protect your body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. In one study (4), comparing the antioxidant activity of 26 common spices, cinnamon came out the winner. It is even so powerful that the ancient Egyptians used it as an embalming agent, however, nowadays it can be used as an effective natural food preservative (5). The antioxidative properties of cinnamon also make it a great anti-inflammatory (6) and useful in fighting chronic diseases. The mystical spice may even help fight the HIV virus (7) and certain cancers (8).
Further research shows tremendous effects in health especially among those with metabolic conditions, type 2 diabetes, or just those wishing to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Despite the differences in types of cinnamon, both have anti- diabetic properties as it is claimed to benefit blood health. There have been studies on both cassia and ceylon cinnamon in their effects on blood sugar levels. While ceylon (9) powder has been mainly studied in animals and labs, research suggests it has the potential to increase insulin sensitivity, reduce blood sugar spikes, and improve metabolic markers associated with insulin resistance.
Lowers Blood Sugar
Studies have been done on the effects of cassia powder on humans and many concluded that cassia possess antihyperglycemic properties (10) and has a moderate effect in reducing blood glucose levels (11)for patients with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. This is because the hydroxychalcone found in cinnamon functions as a mimetic for insulin (12) which improves glucose uptake by the body’s cells.
Improves Insulin Resistance
Insulin is essential is regulating metabolism and transporting blood sugar throughout the body. A study has concluded found that cassia cinnamon, specifically the antioxidative compounds of chromium and polyphenols can improve insulin sensitivity (13). Cinnamon improves the body’s ability to respond insulin and normalize blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics by slowing the digestion rate of the stomach after eating.
Coumarin has also been discovered as a powerful blood thinner (14) which works to prevent blood platelets from clotting. The most common anticoagulant medication, Warfarin (Coumadin), is derived from Coumarin.
Alters Blood Lipid Profile
Studies (16) concluded that consuming as little as 120 mg of cinnamon per day can have significant effects on blood markers of those with type 2 diabetes. One USDA study (17) found that consuming between 1-6 grams cinnamon for 40 days was found to reduce blood sugar levels by 18-29%, lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol by 7-27% and even decreased triglycerides levels by 23-30%. HDL “good” cholesterol either remained stable or increased and total cholesterol was lowered by 12-26%.
Improves Brain Activity
Who would have thought that chewing on a piece of your favourite cinnamon gum or just getting a whiff of the spice has the power to improve brain activity (18).
Research has concluded that cinnamon enhances cognitive processing by boosting memory, attention, and visual- motor speed. It also suggests cinnamon has the potential to reduce chronic inflammation associated with various neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Much like everything in life, too much of one thing can be harmful so it is important not to overdo it. Therefore, these studies recommend not replacing cinnamon for proven standard of care or exceeding a daily intake of more than 0.1 mg/kg body weight.
Cinnamon can be easily added to your diet as a flavouring agent through smoothies, coffee drinks, oatmeal, or baked goods.
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