Cinnamon for Health

CinnamonCinnamomum verum or cassia spp., (Lauraceae)

Of all the spices in a typical spice rack, Cinnamon is probably the most well-recognized. It’s that sweet scent that lures you towards those fluffy doughy Cinnabons at malls. It’s the characteristic scent for the winter holidays, and the spicy red hearts you give your Valentine. Historically in the West cinnamon was traded by merchants to the wealthy for use as spice. Due to its demand, cinnamon became one of the first commodities traded regularly between the Near East and Europe. In the Middle Ages, Venetians and Genoese merchants trades with Muslims who controlled the Eastern spice routes. In the sixteenth century Portugal dominated Ceylon (now Sri Lanka),but lost control to the Dutch in the seventeenth century, then the British in the late eighteenth century. This was a spice of great value, at times rivaling gold in price. In the nineteenth century people learned to grow Cinnamon elsewhere in the world. This, together with increased access to other exotic foodstuffs like chocolate and coffee, heralded the gradual end to Western powers monopolizing the Trade of Spices. Cinnamon, however, is much more than just a sweet treat for the upper class. The use of cinnamon as a medicinal plant is very old. The ancient Egyptians imported cinnamon from China as early as 2000 years BC. It was used not only as a beverage flavoring and medicine, but also in the embalming of mummies. Drawings of cinnamon can be seen on the walls of the pyramids. Greeks and Romans used cinnamon to improve digestion and as incense in important ceremonies. The use of this spice was even older in the East, being mentioned in one of the earliest books on Chinese botanical medicine, dated around 2,700 B.C. In India cinnamons’ use in traditional Ayurvedic medicine is ancient.

Cinnamon may come from several different species, however true cinnamon (Ceylon cinnamon) is obtained from an evergreen tree of the laurel family whose wild populations originally grew only in tropical forests at 1500 ft altitude in India and Sri Lanka. It can grow up to 15 m. tall, though cultivated forms rarely exceed 10 m. In modern times cuttings are used to propagate true cinnamon trees in many other areas of the world with similar hot climates including the West Indies and the Philippines. Young cinnamon trees are cut to just above ground level every second year in the rainy season. Harvesting true cinnamon is usually done from stump shoots. The inner bark of the cinnamon is revealed as the outer bark is scraped clean and the plant is left to regenerate new bark during the next growing season. The bark is fermented after harvest, then dried and rolled into a tubular form known as a quill or stick. Ceylon (true) cinnamon is used preferentially in Europe.

The kind of cinnamon most commonly used in America is the cheaper and spicier Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia), also called Cassia, which originates from Burma. Both Ceylon and Chinese cinnamon belong to the same family (Lauraceae, the laurel family) and genus (Cinnamomum), therefore they share many characteristics and both feature a fragrant, sweet and warm taste. The flavor of the Ceylon variety is more refined and subtle. Cassia, however, contains significantly higher coumarin content. Coumarins have strong anticoagulant properties and therefore it is advised to avoid long term use of high doses of Chinese cinnamon to avoid excessive bruising or bleeding. Normal amounts used in seasoning are not considered dangerous. It is difficult to differentiate Ceylon from Cassia when powdered, however the sticks show differences. Look downward at a stick so that you can see the end. Cassia cinnamon sticks look like a one-piece, curled thick bark layer that does not show multiple layers of any kind. Ceylon cinnamon sticks (true cinnamon), have thinner bark so within the curl you will see multiple layers of a thinner bark. Ceylon cinnamon is produced in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean, while cassia is mainly produced in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Scientific studies have discovered a variety of active chemical constituents and nutrients in cinnamon bark. Cinnamon’s unique healing abilities have been attributed to three basic types of components in the essential oils found in its bark. These oils contain active components called cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol, plus a wide range of other volatile substances which impart anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and even stimulating properties. Cinnamon is also an excellent source of manganese and a very good source of dietary fiber, calcium and iron.

Cinnamon has been traditionally used as medicine for a wide variety of health concerns, for example:

Anti-clotting: Cinnaldehyde in cinnamon helps prevent unwanted clumping of blood platelets (blood clots) and lessens inflammation (when taken internally) by inhibiting the release of an inflammatory fatty acid called arachidonic acid from platelet membranes and by reducing the formation of an inflammatory messaging molecule called thromboxane A2.

Anti-Microbial: Cinnamon’s essential oils also qualify it as an “anti-microbial” food, and cinnamon has been studied for its ability to help stop the growth of bacteria as well as fungi, including the commonly problematic yeast Candida. In laboratory tests, growth of yeasts that were resistant to the commonly used anti-fungal medication fluconazole was often (though not always) stopped by cinnamon extracts. In one experiment it was found that bread cooked with cinnamon (raisin bread) did not grow toxic mold (alfatoxin) when compared to other breads baked without mold inhibitors. In a another study the addition of just a few drops of cinnamon essential oil to carrot broth inhibited the growth of the foodborne pathogenic Bacillus cereus for at least 60 days (refrigerated). Without the addition of cinnamon oil, the pathogenic B. cereus flourished.

Blood Sugar Control: Researchers in one study found that seasoning a high carb food with cinnamon slowed the rate at which the stomach empties after meals by over 30%, significantly reducing the rise in blood sugar after eating. Other test tube and animal studies suggest cinnamon stimulates insulin receptors, and also inhibits an enzyme that inactivates them, thus significantly increasing cells’ ability to use glucose. This may benefit people with type 2 diabetes. One study of 60 Pakistani volunteers with type 2 diabetes showed ingesting half a teaspoon per day of cinnamon reduced blood sugar levels by 20%. These insulin-enhancing effects are found in relatively non-toxic water soluble cinnamon extracts.

Cinnamon’s Scent Boosts Brain Function: Dr. P. Zoladz in 2004, at the annual meeting of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences, found that chewing cinnamon flavored gum or just smelling cinnamon enhanced study participants’ scores on tasks related to attentional processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor speed while working on a computer-based program. Participants were exposed to four odorant conditions: no odor, peppermint odor, jasmine, and cinnamon, with cinnamon emerging the clear winner in producing positive effects on brain function.

The use of cinnamon as a medicinal plant is very old. Some cinnamon cures have been used for centuries to alleviate pain and suffering.

“Warming” Agent: In the herbal medicine of both India and Europe cinnamon was believed to induce warmth and was therefore used to treat “cold” conditions and chills, often combined with ginger (Zingiber officinale). Cinnamon has antiplatelet, antithrombotic and antiesclerotic properties which encourage blood circulation and increase in body temperature. These properties have been used to treat abnormalities related to poor circulation, especially useful in rewarming cold fingers and toes.

Digestive: Traditional healers made extensive use of the herbal cinnamon based remedies as a treatment for all sorts of digestive problems, specifically in the treatment of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Cinnamon possesses carminative and anti-ulcer properties due to its essential oils which stimulate saliva and gastric juices needed to break down food and its antimicrobial action. Cinnamon is also a good antacid against reflux.

RECIPES FOR HEALTH:

Cinnamon Toast- for acid indigestion or heartburn/acid reflux sprinkle 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (may combine with cardamom) over hot and buttered raisin toast (may substitute rice) and eaten slowly, chewing slowly and thoroughly before it is swallowed for optimal relief. Honey may be used to sweeten, in moderation.

Cinnamon Carminative Tea- for flatulence and associated cramping make a strong infusion (tea) by slow boiling a spoonful of crumpled cinnamon stick per liter of water for five minutes. Drink a glass twice daily.

Appetite Stimulant-the special aroma of cinnamon stimulates digestion and appetite; it is indicated for cases of lack of appetite or anorexia. Simply adding a pinch of cinnamon on the food after cooking may suffice. Alternatively, make a strong infusion (tea) by slow boiling a spoonful of crumpled cinnamon stick per liter of water for five minutes. Drink two glasses a day half hour before meals to stimulate appetite.

Cinnamon Honey Nausea Cure-for nausea or vomiting mix ¼ tsp. of ground cinnamon with one tsp. of honey. May mix with warm/hot water or just lick the spoon slowly as best tolerated.

Cinnamon Anti-diarrheal Apple Sauce- Cinnamon is astringent in nature, which means it helps stop or control the mucous discharge found in diarrhea. To treat diarrhea, eat one-half cup unsweetened applesauce mixed with approximately one-quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon. More is not better; cinnamon can be highly irritating if taken in large doses. Try this remedy twice a day for two days. If the diarrhea continues after two days, seek professional help.

Oral Care: Cinnamon can be used as an antiseptic herbal mouthwash. Cinnamon will kill germs on contact similar to store-bought antiseptic mouthwash.

RECIPE FOR HEALTH:

Cinnamon Mouthwash-Add half a teaspoonful of cinnamon in half a tumbler of warm water. This herbal mouthwash is excellent and very effective at removing bad breath, healing oral ulcers, resolving oral thrush and slowing tooth decay. Gargle as needed.

Antiviral: Cinnamon can be used in the treatment of common colds and flus. It is useful for lowering fevers and relieving congestion. Cinnamon has a warming effect on the body, which can make a patient feel better if he or she is experiencing chills.

RECIPE FOR HEALTH:

Cinnamon Cold/Flu Care-This very effective traditional French folk remedy claims to help break the fever and congestion during the common cold or influenza: Boil two cups of water in a pan, add a stick of cinnamon and a few cloves then boil gradually for about three minutes. Remove from heat, and then add two tsp. of lemon juice and one and a half tbsp. of honey or blackstrap molasses. Stir the liquids well and leave the mixture to seep covered for about twenty minutes. Strain, then drink a half cup per dose every 3-4 hours as needed.

Muscle pains/Joint aches:

RECIPE FOR HEALTH:

Cinnamon Compress – To relieve arthritic and rheumatic pains, make an infusion of cinnamon by boiling cinnamon sticks (or powder if necessary) for five minutes (like a strong tea). Soak a piece of cloth or a pad in the herbal infusion; place this directly on the affected area of the body.

Breathing Problems: Cinnamon’s antibacterial, expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties make it useful in treating respiratory disorders.

RECIPES FOR HEALTH:

Cinnamon-Clove-Ginger Bronchitis Aid- Cinnamon can help expel mucus, and reduce inflammation of the lungs and airways. Mix ¼ teaspoon each of ground ginger, ground cinnamon, and ground cloves with two cups of hot water. Steep for three to five minutes, and, if you wish, add a sweetener such as honey or stevia. Drink while hot. Alternatively, you may wish to try a strong chai tea, which often contains ginger, clove, and cinnamon, along with other ingredients. Prolonged or severe bronchitis should be managed under physician supervision.

Cinnamon Cough Syrup: Cinnamon has antitussive properties. Mix ¼ tsp. of ground cinnamon with one tsp. of honey and a squirt of lemon juice. This may be drunk mixed with a small amount of warm/hot water or just lick the spoon slowly as best tolerated. Repeat four times per day. If more frequent dosing is desired, either thin the cinnamon with additional honey, or use only true Ceylon cinnamon (not Cassia).

Cinnamon Sore throat Gargle: The antimicrobial, antiviral, antitussive, and anti-inflammatory properties of cinnamon make it useful for soothing pharyngitis or laryngitis of viral, bacterial or even mechanical origin. Simply make a strong infusion (tea) by boiling a crushed cinnamon stick or ½ tsp. ground cinnamon per glass of water, cool to warm, and then gargle with the liquid. A tsp. of salt may be added for even stronger antibacterial action.

Anti-Yeast-Cinnamon has been shown effective against Candida albicans, the yeast that causes oral thrush and common vaginal yeast infections.

RECIPE FOR HEALTH:

Cinnamon douche- Make a strong infusion (tea) by slow boiling a spoonful of crushed cinnamon stick per liter of water for five minutes. Cool. Douche vaginally with the cinnamon infusion daily until resolved or no more than one week. Persistent vaginal infections require physician supervision.

Styptic-Cinnamon causes bleeding to cease.

RECIPE FOR HEALTH:

Cinnamon Styptic-for simple nicks shaving, papercuts, or other minor wounds that won’t stop bleeding quick enough, sprinkle ground cinnamon on the wound then apply bandage and pressure. This may also help similarly for nosebleeds.

References-The materials discussed here were gleaned from the following sources:

Botanical-online SL(2011) Cinnamon medicinal properties. The world of plants. Retrieved from www.botanical-online.com The George Mateljan Foundation (2011). Cinnamon, ground. The Worlds Healthiest Foods. Retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=68

The George Mateljan Foundation (2011). What is the difference between cinnamon and cassia? The Worlds Healthiest Foods. Retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=newtip&dbid=31

Herbs2000.com (2011) Cinnamomum zeylanicum. Retrieved from www.herbs2000.com/herbs/herbs_cinnamon.htm

Kingsbury (2011). Cinnamon buns. Retrieved from http://www.bastyr.edu/development/newsletter/summer05.asp?jump=7

Minton, Barbara L (2008). Spices: A Wealth of Health Benefits that Make Food Taste Great. Natural News.com. Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/024584_spice_spices_antioxidant.html#ixzz1FV3xQZjT

Victoria1981(2009). Ginger-Clove-Cinnamon Tea for Bronchitis. Retrieved from http://www.grannymed.com/remedies/conditions/bronchitis/ginger-clove-cinnamon-tea-for-bronchitis

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