Cinnamon is popular spice worldwide. It exerts numerous biological effects on the body.
Cinnamon is frequently treated as an anti-diabetic compound, since it reduces the rate at which glucose enters the body. Not only does it help diabetics avoid blood sugar spikes, but it also improves glucose use in the cell itself.
Over time, cinnamon can reduce fasting blood glucose, and potentially cholesterol levels as well.
Cinnamon does not need to be purchased specifically as a supplement, and can be found in grocery stores. It does contain a liver toxin called coumarin, which can be harmful in high doses. Making cinnamon tea can reduce the risk of coumarin poisoning, since the toxin is left behind in the leftover sediment. Ceylon cinnamon, which is derived from a different plant species, has lower levels of coumarin, which makes it a better supplement option.
Effects On The Body & Body Composition
It should be noted that Cassia cinnamon is the most commonly used in scientific studies, and has the most data on its effects in the body. More specifically, and this is where our interest lies, its effects on insulin sensitivity and glucose regulation. It appears that the effects of cinnamon, and the compounds it contains, have both acute and cumulative effects. Although the results of studies on cinnamon supplementation have been varied, they seem to depend upon the length of the study, type of cinnamon used, and the extent of obesity and insulin resistance of the test subjects.
For example, one long-term study, using a double-blind placebo method, found that after 40 days of cinnamon consumption in the range of 1-6g per day, both fasting glucose levels and LDL (aka ‘bad’ cholesterol) decreased in subjects with type 2 diabetes. This study and others have also shown a beneficial effect on body fat percent and lean body mass compared with a control group.
This was replicated in a second study lasting over 120 days using an equivalent of 3g of cinnamon cassia powder per day. The reduction in fasting glucose levels and impact on body composition are certainly cumulative, appearing to take approximately 5-6 weeks to be realized.
These results indicate that cassia effectively works as an insulin mimicker and aids in cellular glucose metabolism. This means that it enhances the cells ability to uptake glucose from the blood in the absence of insulin. Excellent news for those looking to increase glucose sensitivity! We have seen that even for individuals with severe insulin sensitivity issues, such as type 2 diabetics, cinnamon can be highly effective. Cassia extract has been observed to have anti-diabetic effects by lowering blood glucose levels when consumed during a glucose tolerance test compared to a control group.
Cinnamon, like most spices, is not a significant source of nutrition in the amounts typically consumed. It is however, very high in fiber, providing about 2.5g per teaspoon.
Cinnamon also contains a variety of health-benefiting compounds and antioxidants, so it is worth adding to the diet not just for flavor, but for nutrition too.
Cinnamon is widely available and can be found nearly everywhere that food is sold: grocery stores, health food stores, bulk food stores, and spice shops.
Generally, cassia cinnamon is more widely available than “true” cinnamon. Unless the product you are buying clearly specifies “true” cinnamon (also known as Cinnamomom zeylanicum or Cinnamomom verum), you can assume it is a cassia variety.
Consumers looking to purchase “true” cinnamon may have to visit specialty spice shops or health food stores.
Like many other ground spices, cinnamon can lose potency over time, so shop at stores with high turnover, and in the case of bulk food stores, covered bins.
If you have the opportunity to sniff the product, do it. Fresh, good quality cinnamon powder or quills will smell sharply spicy, sweet, and aromatic. A dull, dusty, or musty aroma means cinnamon is past its prime.
Keep cinnamon powder or quills in a sealed container at room temperature, ideally away from heat and light, such as a closed cupboard or drawer.
Compared to whole quills, ground cinnamon will lose potency faster. Assuming proper storage, ground cinnamon has a shelf life of about six months, while the quills will stay sharp and aromatic for about a year. After this time, cinnamon is still perfectly safe to eat, but it will have lost much of its flavor.
Ground cinnamon is ready to use and is a delicious addition to warm beverages, smoothies, porridges, or cut fruit (particularly apples and pears).
Cinnamon quills are too tough to eat, although some people enjoy chewing on them for the flavor and breath-freshening effect.
Generally, quills are processed into a powder with the help of a coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle before using. Alternatively, they are thrown into pots of boiling liquid, in their whole form, to flavor teas, mulled ciders, or stews.
More Is NOT Necessarily Better
You may be thinking, “If this works, maybe I should take more cinnamon right?”. Well, not exactly. Like many things when taken in excess, even cinnamon can be potentially harmful. Although many of the compounds found in cinnamon are highly beneficial, some others could possibly have negative consequences if consumed in high enough amounts. Coumarin for example, a secondary component of cinnamon, is toxic to the liver and kidneys in high doses.
The tolerable daily intake (TDI) established by the European Food Safety Authority, has been set at .1mg/kg of bodyweight. This is the amount that can be consumed daily without fear of any adverse effects. To achieve effective doses of cinnamon cassia, it is relatively easy to exceed this allowance given that the tested concentrations range from .07% to 1.2%. This means that for every 100mg of cinnamon you consume, you’ll get about 1mg of coumarin.
Now, before you get alarmed and start doing the math to check if you’ve been damaging your liver and kidneys, it is important to keep in mind that, contrary to what the name suggests, TDI recommendations are actually by no means the maximal amount the body can tolerate. Those recommendations are typically hundreds of times lower than quantities which themselves have been shown not to cause any noticeable effects.
Basically, TDI recommendations should be viewed as amounts where there is essentially a 0.00% chance of even coming remotely close to any negative side effects whatsoever, even in the most sensitive individuals. There really is little cause for alarm unless you are consuming cinnamon powder by the spoonful multiple times per day.
The amount of coumarin necessary to provide a dose that would be lethal 50% of the time, is approximately 275mg/kg. Even to get just 1/10th of that quantity, a 200lb man would have to ingest 2.5g of pure coumarin, which is just a ludicrous amount.
Given that 1 kilogram of cinnamon powder on average contains less than 5g (.5%) of coumarin, then unless you plan on dining on half a kilogram of cinnamon powder, you don’t realistically have anything to worry about – for further clarity, that’s over 180 teaspoons, or 3 months worth of supplementation at 5.5g/per day. If you still wish to avoid any concerns over coumarin content, just choose the Ceylon variety of cinnamon as it has been shown to contain only trace amounts compared to Cassia.
As per usual I look at the best sources of information out there and the above comes from N1 Education, Examine.com and Precision Nutrition.