Cinnamon, one of the most identifiable spices in the world, is a pretty unique substance. It comes from the inner tissue of cinnamon trees native to India, Sri Lanka, and other countries in South East Asia. People native to these lands have known of cinnamon’s usefulness for some time. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the Ancient Egyptian culture imported it from the Fear East as early as 2000 BC.
In many ancient cultures, cinnamon was appreciated more for its exotic scent than as a culinary tool. The Hebrew Bible makes mention of cinnamon as an ingredient in anointing oil. Kings and queens of the past were gifted cinnamon by their contemporaries and citizenry. The Greek and Roman cultures even offered cinnamon as a gift to certain gods. In the Middle Ages, cinnamon found its way into Europe, where its culinary uses were developed.
It was not until relatively recently, however, that cinnamon’s potential health benefits were discovered. As increasing medical evidence suggests, cinnamon does much more for us than add flavoring to our favorite sweet foods and drinks. Read on as we detail a few of the most potentially beneficial health effects of cinnamon consumption.
In terms of necessary micronutrients, cinnamon is absolutely loaded with good stuff. In fact, a single 2 teaspoon serving contains nearly half of one’s daily need for manganese. That same two teaspoon serving also has roughly 10% of your daily value of dietary fiber, 10% for iron, and between 5% and 10% for calcium. Astonishingly, all of these nutrients come at only 11 calories – or about half of one percent of the average person’s suggested calorie intake.
Because cinnamon is so dense in essential micronutrients, it’s a fantastic diet-fortifier. A cup of tea with cinnamon, for instance, would pack a serious one-two punch of antioxidants and micronutrients. Because of its high calcium content, those with worries about their bone density might stand to benefit from cinnamon consumption. Every dash is laden with the bone-building mineral. Its high dietary fiber content, meanwhile, is good for digestion, and is cited as a natural way to solve intestinal problems both preventatively and after symptoms begin to occur.
Aside from micronutrients, cinnamon also contains certain essential oils that many believe to have significant health benefits. Those oils are cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol. These oils perform multiple functions in the body when consumed. Cinnameldehyde, for instance, is a anti-clotting agent in the blood. While this isn’t necessarily helpful for a wound, it can help to improve overall internal blood flow, as coagulants that slow down blood flow are dispersed. Additionally, cinnamon’s essential oils work to suppress inflammation of tissues inside the body. The process by which they do this is similar to the anticoagulant one. In essence, they stop the coagulant platelets in blood from secreting the molecule that causes tissues to inflame.
These essential oils don’t just work with molecules in your body. They are also known to interact with (or destroy) foreign microbes. One scientific study conducted in 2003 tested cinnamon as a preservative for the fungal yeast Candida. They used refrigerated carrot broth, and injected one sample with cinnamon’s essential oils while leaving the other pure. The results of the experiment were uncommonly clear, demonstrating that the carrot juice with infused cinnamon largely prevented the formation of fungal growth in the broth. Thus, cinnamon is being considered as an alternative to artificial preservatives in some foods.
A new, still controversial apparent health benefit of cinnamon’s essential oils is currently in the preliminary stages of research. A few current experiments report that cinnamaldehyde may help to prevent colon cancer. The reasoning behind these findings is that its anti-inflammatory properties prevent cell mutation and eventual cancerous growth. For this reason, doctors are considering cinnamon as a preventative dietary measure for colon cancer.
Cinnamon Application for Diabetics
Preliminary medical experiments performed with test tubes and certain animals seem to indicate that cinnamon could be useful for insulin response in people with type 2 diabetes. Sufferers of the disease typically don’t produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, and therefore have to deal with sometimes severe implications. The aforementioned controlled experiments showed that insulin receptors in humans may be stimulated into action by the substances in cinnamon, therefore improving the body’s overall insulin response.
These conclusions are supported strongly by tests relating cinnamon consumption to blood sugar levels. In one experiment, 14 patients were given a bowl of a high-carbohydrate food – namely rice pudding. The control group ate the pudding alone, while the test group ate it seasoned with cinnamon. Results showed that those who ate the cinnamon seasoned pudding had blood sugar levels 2.5% lower than those who ate it plain. And though it might seem small to the leman’s eyes, this percentage difference is huge in the medical world. The explanation behind these findings lies, again, in cinnamon’s insulin response effects. By activating those insulin receptors, compounds in cinnamon help the body to respond appropriately to carbohydrates.
There’s no question that cinnamon is great for you in many ways. But keep in mind, it should only be used as a seasoning. Cinnamon does contain trace amounts of a toxic substance named coumarin. And though this compound will have no adverse effect with a reasonable level of consumption, it is unwise to copiously over-consume cinnamon on a regular basis.
Cinnamon’s Overall Impact
From 2,000 years before Christ all the way to today, cinnamon has been appreciated by cultures worldwide. And though great taste and smell are its most obvious properties, the tiny substances that the spice contains are the most significant and unique qualities. From fighting foreign microbes to helping the body’s insulin response system, cinnamon has health benefits in a surprisingly high number of areas. So, the next time you’re having some hot tea or a bowl of oatmeal, consider sprinkling a little cinnamon on the top. Both your taste buds and your body will be appreciative.