The smell of cinnamon can make you melt with sentiment. Whether it reminds you of the holidays, fresh baked cookies, or your favorite candle, cinnamon is one of the most recognizable spices. It fills your kitchen with warm smells and adds amazing flavor to so many dishes. And while you've probably been using cinnamon for as long as you can remember to add flavor to your favorite foods, you may not realize that this spice has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries and there are countless health benefits of cinnamon.
If you needed any more reason to sprinkle cinnamon onto your overnight oats or over your latte, here are 10 health benefits of cinnamon—along with a few side effects you should be made aware of.
What is cinnamon?
Cinnamon is actually bark that comes from various cinnamon tree species. The cinnamon tree is cut down, the outer bark is removed, and the inner bark is harvested and then dried to make cinnamon sticks. It naturally curls in from both sides as it dries due to the circular shape of a tree trunk.
What many people don't know is that there are two kinds of cinnamon. "There are two types of cinnamon: Cassia cinnamon, which is the regular kind of cinnamon we find at the store, and Ceylon cinnamon which is known as 'true' cinnamon. Ceylon has a lighter and less bitter taste," says Maggie Michalczyk, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist who runs the blog Once Upon a Pumpkin.
What are the health benefits of cinnamon?
Cinnamon has been found to benefit health in a number of ways; however, research that directly links cinnamon as a treatment for different ailments has been inconclusive.
"According to the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the research we do have on human subjects has not supported the use of cinnamon for any health condition," says Whitney Linsenmeyer, PhD, RD, LD, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Keeping that in mind, there is a plethora of cinnamon research that has found health benefits worth knowing about.
1. It may improve blood sugar regulation.
A 2019 meta-analysis of 16 randomized control trials with patients with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes identified that cinnamon reduced fasting blood glucose, but not HgA1C (a long-term measure of blood glucose levels).
2. Cinnamon may improve insulin sensitivity.
Cinnamon has been studied to make insulin more efficient in people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
3. It may improve blood lipid (cholesterol) levels.
Cinnamon reduces levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), as well as triglycerides. It also increases the level of HDL (the good kind) of cholesterol.
4. It's antimicrobial.
Cinnamon is high in the compound cinnamaldehyde, which has been found to inhibit the growth of different types of bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella.
5. It may prevent neurological disorders.
Research has found that cinnamon may be able to help prevent Alzheimer's and dementia. Studies show that the compounds cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin may prevent the development of tau protein tangles seen in people with Alzheimer's.
6. May prevent cell damage (aka inflammation).
Cinnamon is packed with polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that has been found to prevent cell damage, making it an anti-inflammatory.
7. May improve gut health.
A Journal of Food Science study found that cinnamon could help in the regulation of intestinal microbiota, and acts as a prebiotic, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
8. Cinnamon may help manage Polycystic Ovary Syndrome symptoms.
Columbia University researchers found cinnamon to help manage symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome. Specifically, cinnamon may improve insulin resistance, hence restoring a regular menstrual cycle.
9. It may help prevent colon cancer.
A 2015 study in mice found that cinnamaldehyde helped the animals' cells protect themselves against exposure to a carcinogen through detoxification and repair.
10. It may help prevent tooth decay.
How much cinnamon should you eat to reap any of these benefits?
Although studies have uncovered countless health benefits of cinnamon, it's hard to say how much you can (or should) consume to reap these benefits.
Experts agree that due to the different varieties of cinnamon, delivery mechanisms, and serving sizes, it makes it difficult to recommend a specific dosage. "The research is complicated, given that there are different varieties of cinnamon and different forms of ingestion (food, supplement, essential oil, tea)," says Linsenmeyer.
"There is no established recommended dose of cinnamon," says Michalczyk. "Some recommend 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (2 to 4 grams) of powder a day. Some studies have used between 1 gram and 6 grams of cinnamon to see benefits."
Michalczyk also notes that "too much cinnamon has its cons, which is something to keep in mind when taking cinnamon." (More on this in the next section.)
However, there is a typical serving size for cinnamon. "Generally, you should use a dash or 1/4 tsp of cinnamon at a time in food or beverages," says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition.
"Unfortunately, it's unlikely that the dash of cinnamon in your day will cause any significant or noticeable improvements in health," says Auslander Moreno. "In the larger scope of a nutrient-dense diet with synergistic effects of other foods and spices, it is potentially beneficial, but unknown to which degree and for whom."
Are there any negative side effects of cinnamon?
"Like any food/drug/herb, there are upper limit toxicities. Cassia cinnamon, the most common variety, can actually have blood coagulation effects and interact with certain blood thinners like Coumadin if ingested at high doses," says Auslander Moreno. This negative side effect is due to high levels of coumarin in Cassia cinnamon. In many cases, consuming just one to two teaspoons could cause you to ingest toxic levels of the compound.
Cinnamon may also negatively affect your liver. "High doses of cinnamon can be toxic to the liver. This would not be of concern to those adding cinnamon to actual foods, but is more of a concern for those taking supplements where the dose is much higher than what we would ever consume through foods," says Linsenmeyer. "Cinnamon can also be an allergen."
While supplementation is a personal choice, you should take caution before starting any cinnamon supplements.
"Cinnamon supplements definitely exist, but you should be wary of any label claims. These are structure-function claims and do not have to be proven true in order to show up on supplement labels," says Linsenmeyer. "If you're interested in taking a cinnamon supplement, talk to your doctor to make sure it is safe for you, and if so, to find a trusted brand."
How can you add more cinnamon to your diet?
You can use cinnamon in both sweet and savory dishes. "It's amazing in savory dishes like soups, stews and on protein like meat, poultry or tofu," says Seattle-based registered dietitian Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Owner of ChampagneNutrition.
"I like to add cinnamon to smoothies, coffee, and desserts of all kinds—it's great on crisps, chocolate, ice cream and pudding. You can also brighten up fruit salad or yogurt with it as well," Hultin says.
Ultimately, cinnamon can enhance any number of foods and drinks.
"Add a dash into coffee, oatmeal, smoothies, onto any nut or seed butter dish (peanut butter + cinnamon + banana on sprouted toast is amazing!), onto baked sweet potatoes, into chocolate-based mousses and desserts, into hot chocolate, onto baked apples/peaches/pears/figs, and into yogurt/cottage cheese/kefir," says Auslander Moreno.
While cinnamon's health benefits have widely been studied, the verdict is still out on its overall efficacy, according to the NIH. Be sure to consult a doctor if you do plan to take it in supplement form, or if you're hoping to try cinnamon for preventative uses.