Cinnamon & Its Health Benefits
Cinnamon has a long history both as a spice and as a medicine. Cinnamon's unique healing abilities come from 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.
Cinnamaldehyde has been well-researched for its effects on blood platelets. Platelets are constituents of blood that are meant to clump together under emergency circumstances (like physical injury) as a way to stop bleeding, but under normal circumstances, they can make blood flow inadequate if they clump together too much. The cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon helps prevent unwanted clumping of blood platelets. Cinnamon's ability to lower the release of arachidonic acid from cell membranes also puts it in the category of an "anti-inflammatory" food that can be helpful in lessening inflammation.
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. In lab tests, growth of yeasts that were resistant
to the commonly used anti-fungal medication fluconazole
was often (though not always) stopped by cinnamon extracts.
Blood Sugar Control
Cinnamon may significantly help people with type 2 diabetes improve their ability to respond to insulin, thus normalizing their blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that compounds in cinnamon not only stimulate insulin receptors, but also inhibit an enzyme that inactivates them, thus significantly increasing cells' ability to use glucose. Studies to confirm cinnamon's beneficial actions in humans are currently underway with the most recent report coming from researchers from the US Agricultural Research Service, who have shown that less than half a teaspoon per day of cinnamon reduces blood sugar levels in persons with type 2 diabetes.
Cinnamon's Scent Boosts Brain Function
Research led by Dr. P. Zoladz (April, 2004), found that chewing cinnamon flavored gum or just smelling cinnamon enhanced participants' cognitive processing. Specifically, cinnamon improved participants' scores on tasks related to attentional processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor speed while working on a computer-based program. Encouraged by the results, researchers will be evaluating cinnamon's potential for enhancing cognition in the elderly, individuals with test-anxiety, and possibly even patients with diseases that lead to cognitive decline.
Cinnamon is an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese, dietary fiber, iron and calcium. The combination of calcium and fiber in cinnamon is important and can be helpful for the prevention of several different conditions. Both calcium and fiber can bind to bile salts and help remove them from the body. By removing bile, fiber helps to prevent the damage that certain bile salts can cause to colon cells, thereby reducing the risk of colon cancer. In addition, when bile is removed by fiber, the body must break down cholesterol in order to make new bile. This process can help to lower high cholesterol levels, which can be helpful in preventing atherosclerosis and heart disease. For sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome, the fiber in cinnamon may also provide relief from constipation or diarrhea.
A Traditional Warming Remedy
In addition to the active components in its essential oils and its nutrient composition, cinnamon has also been valued in energy-based medical systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, for its warming qualities. In these traditions, cinnamon has been used to provide relief when faced with the onset of a cold or flu, especially when mixed in a tea with some fresh ginger.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Enjoy one of the favorite kids' classics - cinnamon toast - with a healthy twist. Drizzle flax seed oil onto whole wheat toast and then sprinkle with cinnamon and honey.
Simmer cinnamon sticks with soymilk and honey for a deliciously warming beverage.
Adding ground cinnamon to black beans to be used in burritos or nachos will give them a uniquely delicious taste.
Healthy sauté lamb with eggplant, raisins and cinnamon sticks to create a Middle Eastern inspired meal. Add ground cinnamon when preparing curries.