Cinnamon – spice up your health

Cinnamon and health benefits

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of evergreen trees (Cinnamomum verum, C. zeylandicum, C. aromaticum), native to Sri Lanka and other Asian countries.  The bark is peeled away from the tree and curls up into tubes, called quills, as it dries.

 

Cutting cinnamon bark

 

In addition to its use as a spice, cinnamon or its oil is used as a flavouring agent in pharmaceutical, personal health and cosmetic products.

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known.  It was imported to Egypt from China as early as 2000 BC, where it was used as a medicinal herb, a flavouring for drinks and as an embalming agent.  At one time it was considered to be even more valuable than gold.  Cinnamon is also mentioned in the Bible.

Moses was commanded:

“Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels” (Exodus 30:23)

Moses and the Red Sea

 

In Proverbs, the lover says:

“I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon” (Proverbs 7:17)

And Solomon describes the beauty of his beloved as

“Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices” (Song of Solomon 4:14)

The Roman Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year’s supply of cinnamon at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina in 65 AD, to express the depth of his loss.

As its popularity grew, cinnamon was one of the first spices to be traded regularly between Europe and the Near East.

Cinnamon spice

 

Cinnamon has many medicinal uses.  It is reported to be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis, asthma, cancer, diarrhoea, fever, heart problems, insomnia, menstrual problems, peptic ulcers, psoriasis, and spastic muscles.  Some of the confirmed effects of cinnamon are as a sedative for smooth muscle, circulatory stimulant, digestive aid, antibiotic, anticonvulsant, diuretic and antiulcerative.

Some studies suggest that cinnamon may be useful for people with diabetes.  In one trial, 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon taken daily for forty days reduced fasting blood glucose by 18 to 29 per cent, triglycerides by 23 to 30 per cent, LDL cholesterol by 7 to 27 per cent, and total cholesterol by 12 to 26 per cent.  In contrast, there were no clear changes for the subjects who did not take cinnamon[1].

Another trial showed that a cinnamon extract had a moderate effect in reducing fasting plasma glucose concentrations in diabetic patients with poor glycaemic control[2].

Other research has shown that a substance in cinnamon called methylhydroxychalcone acts as an insulin mimetic; it stimulated glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis to a similar level as insulin[3].

Cinnamon may thus be useful for helping to treat insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, conditions that are becoming increasingly more common in the UK and elsewhere.

Statistics published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in February 2009 indicate that the incidence of diabetes in the UK climbed 74 per cent between 1997 and 2003.  By 2005, over 4 per cent of the population were classified as having some type of diabetes.  The majority of new cases are type 2 diabetes, linked to diet and growing obesity rates. A research team from Spain and Sweden analysed the results, and made it clear that the trend was not due to more screening tests or an ageing population.

Ideas for incorporating cinnamon into your diet

  • Add 1 tsp ground cinnamon to oat porridge at breakfast
  • Drizzle flaxseed oil over whole-wheat toast and then sprinkle with cinnamon and a little rice malt syrup
  • Simmer a cinnamon stick with 1 cup rice milk  for a delicious warm drink
  • Add a cinnamon stick to home-made squash soup to make a warming lunchtime meal
  • When poaching fish, add cinnamon sticks to the poaching liquid
  • Add ground cinnamon when preparing curries or spicy Middle Eastern dishes using chickpeas
  • Add ground cinnamon to stewed apple and mix with ground almonds for a creamy dessert

 

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References

[1] Khan et al. Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes.  Diabetes Care 26:3215-3218, 2003

[2] Mang et al. Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA1c, and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2 European Journal of Clinical Investigation:Volume 36(5)May 2006p 340-344

[3] Jarvill-Taylor et al.  A Hydroxychalcone Derived from Cinnamon Functions as a Mimetic for Insulin in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 20, No. 4, 327-336 (2001)

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