Cinnamon does far more than flavour your favourite dishes. With its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, cinnamon is something of a super spice.
To appreciate the full spectrum of cinnamon’s health-boosting powers, we asked Dr Deborah Lee, of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, and Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director at Healthspan, to talk us through the evidence-based health benefits of cinnamon:
Among more than 80 different compounds that are found in cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde is the most prolific – making up 90 per cent of the spice and giving cinnamon its characteristic warm, spiced flavour. It’s long been considered as the catalyst behind cinnamon health benefits.
In recent years, research in animals and humans “has provided more detail about the biochemical and potential medicinal properties of cinnamon,” Dr Lee says. While cinnamaldehyde is the main component, “there are many other components of cinnamon that contribute to its powerful antioxidant activity.”
There are several different species of Cinnamomum tree, as detailed below:
- Cinnamomum zeylanicum, also known as True cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon, and Mexican cinnamon.
- Cinnamomum burmanni, or Indonesian cinnamon.
- Cinnamomum loureiroi, Vietnamese cinnamon.
- Cinnamomum aromaticum, also known as Cassia cinnamon and Chinese cinnamon.
Ceylon cinnamon is the most expensive, Dr Lee explains, whereas Cassia cinnamon is the most potent and the most common. For centuries, cinnamon has been believed to have beneficial effects for health, and has been shown to posses a range of medicinal effects:
1. CINNAMON IS FULL OF POWERFUL ANTIOXIDANTS
Cinnamon contains large amounts of highly potent antioxidants, which are very important for human health. “These compounds neutralise free radicals – dangerous molecules which are formed every day in the body and are the precursors for many serious medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia,” says Dr Lee.
2. CINNAMON HAS ANTI-INFLAMMATORY PROPERTIES
Inflammation is a vital part of the immune system’s response, but if left unchecked over time – known as chronic inflammation – it can make you unwell. Antioxidants help to prevent inflammatory responses from occurring in the body when they are not required. And since cinnamon contains high levels of flavonoids – ‘plant proteins with powerful antioxidant activity’, says Dr Lee – the spice possesses anti-inflammatory effects.
3. CINNAMON HAS ANTIBACTERIAL PROPERTIES
A number of small observational studies have shown that cinnamon can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria and treat fungi. A review in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies reported medical improvements from cinnamon supplementation across individual cases of salmonella, cryptosporidium infection, and drug-resistant candida. Its antimicrobial properties may also help prevent tooth decay and reduce bad breath.