Cinnamon is a spice with a long history of use in traditional medicine. It’s touted as a natural remedy for a variety of ailments, including digestive problems, diabetes, and arthritis.
Modern research indicates that cinnamon may help with blood sugar regulation, heart health, gut health, and more.
In this article, we will look at the health benefits of cinnamon, its safety, and its history.
Table of Contents
- What is Cinnamon?
- Health Benefits of Cinnamon
- Cinnamon Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon is an evergreen tree in the Lauraceae (i.e. laurel) family of plants. It was originally native to southern China but is now widely cultivated throughout Southeast Asia (India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam).
The scientific name for the popular cinnamon varietal is Cinnamomum cassia (i.e. Chinese cinnamon). However, there are many other types of cinnamon that are widely available, including:
- Cinnamomum verum (Ceylon cinnamon)
- Cinnamomum loureiroi (Saigon cinnamon or Vietnamese cinnamon)
- Cinnamomum burmannii (Indonesian cinnamon)
- and Cinnamomum citriodorum (Malabar cinnamon)
Most of these different types of cinnamon can be used interchangeably. However, it’s said that Ceylon cinnamon has the best flavor profile for baking foods or desserts.
Cinnamon is rich in various phytochemicals, including:
- and more
Traditional usage says that cinnamon is helpful for heart health, gastrointestinal complaints, gynecological disorders, and inflammation.
Modern studies have confirmed that cinnamon benefits human health in a variety of ways, including having antitumor, anti-inflammatory and analgesic, anti-diabetic, antimicrobial, cardiovascular protective, neuroprotective, and immune system boosting effects.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Below are the top research-backed health benefits of cinnamon.
1. May Lower Blood Sugar
Research indicates that cinnamon benefits the body in its ability to help stabilize blood sugar levels. In fact, research shows that cinnamon is an important herb for hyperglycemia.
Elevated blood sugar levels, known as hyperglycemia, occur when there is too much sugar in the blood. This happens when your body has too little insulin, the hormone that transports glucose into the blood, or if your body can’t use insulin efficiently. The condition is most often linked with diabetes.
A triple-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial in 140 individuals with type II diabetes found that cinnamon helps to lower blood glucose levels. The participants were given cinnamon bark powder or placebo in 500mg capsules twice daily for 3 months in the study. The group given cinnamon was found to have a reduction in body weight, blood sugar levels, as well as cholesterol numbers. The researchers noted that these benefits were found to be significantly more prominent in patients with higher baseline BMI (BMI ≥ 27).
Another randomized, placebo-controlled, triple-blind clinical trial looked at the effect of cinnamon on blood sugar levels. This study involved 160 individuals with diabetes who were given either a placebo or 3g of cinnamon daily. After 90 days, participants in the cinnamon group had statistically significant reductions in various blood sugar markers (including a 0.2% decrease in glycated hemoglobin and 0.55 mmol/L of fasting venous glucose). These reductions are modest but very promising.
A meta-analysis of the research on cinnamon and blood sugar found that it helps to improve glycemic levels in individuals with pre-diabetes, diabetes, and pre-treatment HbA1c.
A randomized, controlled trial found that cinnamon helped to reduce fasting plasma glucose and glucose tolerance in individuals with pre-diabetes over 12 weeks. The study participants were given either a placebo or 500mg of cinnamon three times daily.
Another meta-analysis found that studies that used 1.5g of cinnamon (or more) had robust blood sugar-lowering effects.
A placebo-controlled study looking at the effects of Cinnulin®, a unique water-soluble extract of Cinnamomum cassia, in pre-diabetic individuals. The study participants were randomly assigned to supplement their diet with either Cinnulin PF® (500 mg/d) or a placebo for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the Cinnulin PF® group was found to have had significant decreases in fasting blood glucose (-8.4%), systolic blood pressure (-3.8%), and an increase in lean mass (+1.1%).
Summary:Research indicates that cinnamon may help to improve various blood sugar markers.
2. May Support Heart Health
Research shows that cinnamon may benefit heart health by improving cholesterol numbers.
Elevated cholesterol numbers, also known as hyperlipidemia, occur when the blood has too many lipids (i.e. fat) in it. These excess lipids can build up in the bloodstream and lead to blockages. This is why high cholesterol numbers can put you at risk for a stroke or heart attack.
There are various lipid compounds that are found in your blood, these include:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol”)
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol, known as “good cholesterol”)
- and Triglycerides
A meta-analysis of 16 studies involving 1025 participants found that cinnamon helped to decrease triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol.
Across the various studies, it was found that triglycerides dropped by 26mg/dl on average. LDL cholesterol was reduced by 6mg/dl. And total cholesterol was reduced by 13mg/dl. No change was observed in HDL cholesterol levels.
A more recent meta-analysis published in 2021 showed that cinnamon had a significant reducing effect on total cholesterol -11.67mg/dL, triglycerides -16.27mg/dL, LDL cholesterol -6.36 mg/dL, serum glucose levels -11.39 mg/dL, serum insulin -1.27 μIU/mL, and waist circumstance -1.68 cm.
A phase I clinical trial involving Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) looked at the impact of this herb in healthy adults. Thirty healthy adults were recruited for the study, conducted for a period of 3 months, with the dose of cinnamon increased at monthly intervals (85mg, 250mg, and 500mg). Total cholesterol was found to be reduced by 16mg/dl. LDL cholesterol was reduced by 33mg/dl. HDL cholesterol was found to have increased by 8mg/dl.
A placebo-controlled study in individuals with diabetes found that cinnamon supplementation helped to improve various blood markers. After 40 days, the cinnamon group reduced mean fasting serum glucose (18-29%), triglyceride (23-30%), LDL cholesterol (7-27%), and total cholesterol (12-26%) levels; no significant changes were noted in the placebo groups. Changes in HDL cholesterol were not significant.
Summary:Clinical research indicates that cinnamon may help to reduce cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol.
3. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Several studies have indicated the anti-inflammatory benefits of cinnamon.
Inflammation is the immune system’s response to an irritant or injury. Short-term inflammation helps to kickstart the body’s healing process. According to Harvard Health, chronic inflammation is tied to:
- heart disease
- bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
A lab-based study found that cinnamon has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers speculate that cinnamon’s anti-inflammatory benefits are due to two phytochemicals, cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic aldehyde.
Another lab-based study found that cinnamon essential oil helped to decrease the production of nitric oxide, the levels of monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), macrophage inflammatory protein-1α (MIP-1α), TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-6. These are all important aspects of the body’s inflammatory pathways.
A variety of other studies show that cinnamon helps to modulate the body’s inflammation response.
Summary:Lab-based research indicates that cinnamon may be effective in reducing inflammation. Human clinical trials in individuals with inflammation-based diseases are needed to verify these findings.
4. May Support Gastrointestinal Health
Modern research shows that cinnamon benefits gut health.
A recent study published in 2021 showed that cinnamon oil helped to reduce dyspepsia (i.e. indigestion) in the study participants. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, it was found that the cinnamon oil group significantly decreased dyspepsia scores compared to the baseline.
Similarly, an animal study found that cinnamon essential oil helped to reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. It’s thought that cinnamon’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties are the primary way that they can help support gut health.
Cinnamon bark (essential oil, tea infusion, or tincture) was approved by the German Commission E for loss of appetite and dyspeptic complaints such as mild, spastic condition of the gastrointestinal tract, bloating, and flatulence.
Additionally, the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) notes that cinnamon bark is effective for treating diarrhea.
Summary:Initial research shows that cinnamon oil may help to improve gut health. Additional large-scale human clinical trials are needed to verify these effects.
5. Antimicrobial Properties
Research indicates that cinnamon benefits the body via its antifungal and antibacterial properties.
In recent decades, the abuse of antibiotics has led to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. Drug-resistant bacteria are a type of bacteria that is not controlled or killed by antibiotics. Research shows that plant essential oils have a wide range of antibacterial effects and rarely suffer from resistance issues. A lab-based study found that cinnamon oil was effective in stopping the growth of oral bacteria and biofilms. This can show the potential importance of cinnamon for fighting cavities and preventing tooth decay.
A lab study that looked at the combination of cinnamon essential oil and antibiotics found that they were more effective against bacteria when combined. This combo was found to be effective against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Another study looked at the effect of a combination of cinnamon oil and clove oil against various organisms. This combination was found to be effective against the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus as well as fungus-like Aspergillus flavus, Mucor plumbeus. It was also shown to be effective against yeast species such as Candida lipolytica.
Summary:Lab research shows that cinnamon may have antimicrobial properties.
6. May Relieve Pain
Cinnamon has been shown to help with pain management.
Oxaliplatin, a chemotherapeutic drug, can induce neuropathic pain. There is currently a lack of effective treatments for neuropathic pain without side effects. It has been shown that Cinnamomum cassia has an effective analgesic effect on neuropathic pain induced by oxaliplatin.
A 2016 animal study reported that cinnamon has a potent pain-reducing effect via inhibiting the activation of astrocytes and microglia and decreasing the expression of IL-1β and TNF in the spinal cord after injection with oxaliplatin
A later 2019 animal study found that cinnamic acid, a major compound of C. cassia, provided relief against oxaliplatin-induced neuropathic pain by inhibiting spinal pain transmission.
Summary:Small-scale animal trials indicate that cinnamon may help to manage pain, especially for those using oxaliplatin. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
7. Antioxidant Properties
The benefits of cinnamon also include its antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants are substances that may be able to protect your cells against free radicals. Free radicals are created when your body breaks down food or when you’re exposed to environmental toxins, like tobacco smoke or radiation. Free radicals are thought to play a role in heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
A lab-based study found that cinnamon inhibited peroxynitrite-induced nitration and lipid peroxidation in in vitro models. This antioxidant activity is thought to be due to cinnamon’s eugenol content.
Additionally, cinnamon essential oil is said to form a phosphomolybdenum complex which is responsible for its antioxidant activity.
Cinnamon’s antioxidant effect has been recently extended to its application in liver disorders. Cinnamon extract was shown in an animal study to decrease the carbon tetrachloride-induced lipid peroxidation resulting in a fall in markers of oxidative stress such as MDA.
Additionally, a study that compared the antioxidant capacity of 20+ different spices found that cinnamon was the most active.
Cinnamon has such strong antioxidant properties that it has been researched for its ability as a natural food preservative.
Summary:Cinnamon has strong antioxidant activity. This is thought to benefit overall health and wellness.
8. May Promote Brain Health
Cinnamon has been linked to brain health due to its neuroprotective effects.
Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by the deterioration of brain cell structure or function. The most common neurodegenerative disorders include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
It’s been discovered that two compounds found in cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin, appear to inhibit the buildup of a tau protein in the brain, one of the primary indicators of Alzheimer’s disease.
In an animal study involving mice with Parkinson’s disease, cinnamon was shown to protect neurons, normalize neurotransmitter levels, and improve motor function.
Summary:Initial research shows that cinnamon may have a neuroprotective effect. Human trials are needed to verify these findings.
Safety Class: 2B (not for use during pregnancy)
Interaction Class: A (no known relevant interactions)
Cinnamon is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
A phase 1 clinical trial found that cinnamon is well tolerated and safe to take for most individuals.
Low amounts are cinnamon (typically used in cooking) are generally safe for most individuals.
Large amounts of cinnamon, typically taken as a supplement, can cause health concerns due to coumarin content. Coumarin is known to inhibit the synthesis of vitamin K and work as a powerful anticoagulant (i.e. a blood thinner).
It’s been noted that Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassi) cinnamon contains up to 1% coumarin, whereas true cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi) contains only a trace, about 0.004%
Pregnancy & Lactation:
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook, high doses of cinnamon are not recommended for use during pregnancy. Traditional use and a handful of animal studies indicate that high doses of cinnamon could potentially cause birth defects.
There is no data for or against the use of high dosage cinnamon while breastfeeding.
Standard dosing for cinnamon is as follows:
Cinnamon Powder: Cinnamon is generally given at dosages of 1-3g/day (range, 120 mg/day to 6 g/day) in studies involving individuals with diabetes.
In general, cinnamon is considered to be sustainable. When available, look for Fair Trade Certified™ cinnamon.
Cinnamon is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list (sensitive to the impact of human activities). Thus, it’s not at risk for overharvesting.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Cinnamon can be split into three primary varieties, Cinnamomum cassia (Chinese cinnamon), Cinnamomum loureiroi (Saigon cinnamon), and Cinnamomum loureiroi (Saigon cinnamon).
Chinese Cinnamon (Cassia Cinnamon):
Cassia cinnamon is the most common type of cinnamon and typically used in cooking. Cassia has a strong, spicy flavor and is often used in baking, especially associated with cinnamon rolls, as it handles baking conditions well. Chinese cinnamon is generally medium-to-light reddish-brown in color, hard and woody in texture, and fairly thick (2–3 mm), as all of the layers of bark are used. Cassia cinnamon is known to contain coumarin, which can impact blood clotting (see safety section).
Saigon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi):
Saigon cinnamon, also known as Vietnamese cinnamon, is a type of cinnamon that’s grown in Vietnam.
This herb is used in many dishes around the world, it has a strong, sweet, and spicy flavor and aroma.
Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum):
Ceylon cinnamon, also known as ‘true cinnamon’, has a lighter brown color and a finer, less dense, and more crumbly texture. When it’s harvested, only the thin inner bark is used, thus it’s often more expensive. It is subtle and more aromatic than cassia and it loses much of its flavor during cooking.
History & Traditional Use:
Cinnamon has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). There are over 500 formulas containing cinnamon that have been used to treat various diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, chronic gastrointestinal disease, gynecological disorders, and inflammatory disease.
The earliest medicinal history of this plant was recorded in the Shennong Bencao Jing, which is the earliest and most important encyclopedia of traditional Chinese medicine in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 AD). In this classic text, cinnamon was used for treating arthritis.
In Yaoxing Lun, another traditional Chinese medicine classic text, cinnamon was used for treating bellyaches and dysmenorrhea.
In Mingyi Bielu, cinnamon was used as an analgesic.
Additionally, cinnamon was also recorded in other famous traditional Chinese medicine books, including the Tangye Bencao, Bencao Gangmu, Bencao Jingshu, Bencao Huiyan, etc.
In modern times this herb has become a common traditional Chinese medicine for treating nephropathy, dysmenorrhea, menoxenia, and diabetes.
Cinnamon appears to be a safe and well-tolerated herb for most individuals.
Common usage tells us that this herb is helpful for blood sugar, heart health, gut health, and pain management.
It also appears that this herb has strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties.
It’s worth looking into cinnamon if you are needing support in any of these areas. As always, make sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or adding a new supplement.
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