The warm, rich, flavorful sticks of cinnamon (Cinnamonum verum) offer versatile health benefits. They check inflammation in the body before it escalates into a health threat. They also balance other parameters like blood pressure and blood glucose levels, the latter by slowing down glucose digestion and increasing glucose uptake in the cells. Cinnamon could also reduce fat gain by dampening the activity of enzymes that convert glucose into fat and increasing fat breakdown by activating proteins called PPARs.
This fragrant bark of the cinnamon tree was once a precious spice fit for gifts for kings. It is now used in cuisines all over the world, in both sweet and savory dishes.
Broadly, there are two types of cinnamon: Ceylon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum/verum) and Cassia (Cinnamomum armoaticum). Ceylon cinnamon, also called true cinnamon, is soft, brittle, and lighter in color. It is also low in coumarin, a potentially liver-damaging chemical. Cassia cinnamon is darker, sturdier, and richer in coumarin. The cinnamon you find in your supermarket is usually Cassia.
It contains helpful chemicals like cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid, cinnamyl acetate, alpha-thujene, alpha terpineol, alpha cubebene, eugenol, beta caryophyllene, terpinolene, E-nerolidol, L-borneol, borneol, caryophyllene oxide, and coumarin.
Had in the right amount, cinnamon has a number of benefits to offer. Here’s the lowdown.
Why It’s So Great
1. Helps Manage Inflammation
Inflammation can be both good and bad. The acute inflammation you notice after an injury or infection is the good type. It’s your immune system’s way of dealing with threats to your body. But when inflammation lingers in your body for months on end, it becomes the bad, chronic type. Your body has to constantly stay on the alert to prevent this from happening. Cinnamon could be an able aide. Its chemicals can step in at several stages of the chain of events involved in an inflammation and stop it in its tracks.
- When your body is already facing inflammation, a chemical called nitric oxide can make it linger. Slowing down or inhibiting the production of nitric oxide is therefore one of the ways to curb inflammation. That’s what a cinnamaldehyde called 2`-hydroxycinnamaldehyde (HCA) does. It inhibits the production of nitric oxide by inhibiting a protein complex called NF-κB.
- Several other polyphenols like procyanidins, catechin, epicatechin, and ellagic acid can also inhibit another protein called TNF-α, which gives the green signal for inflammation.
- Eugenol in cinnamon inhibits an enzyme called 5-lipoxygenase, which helps produce another inflammatory chemical called leukotriene. Other pro-inflammatory enzymes inhibited by cinnamon include iNOS and COX-2.
2. Stabilizes Blood Glucose Levels
Your body is a stickler for precision. Every nutrient, every enzyme, and every chemical must be present in a specific amount for the body to function at its best. Same with the amount of glucose in blood, which is used for energy. In fact, since most foods break down into glucose inside the body, your body needs the strictest system for blood glucose control. Cinnamon could prove helpful in keeping your blood free from excess glucose.
- Delays break down into glucose: Cinnamtannin B1 slows down the rise in your blood glucose levels after a meal by inhibiting two enzymes that break down glucose, namely pancreatic α-amylase and αglucosidase.
- Increases glucose uptake: Glucose from the blood needs to enter cells. There it will be burnt to release energy or will be stored as fat. But the cell doors are locked. Insulin is the key. Cinnamtannin B1 increases the release of insulin so that many cell doors are opened at once. As soon as the cell doors are opened, a taxi service called GLUT-4 (transporter proteins) comes near the surface of the cell to carry the glucose inside. Cinnamtannin B1 also stimulates GLUT-4 so that more glucose can enter the cell at once.
3. Helps the Heart
In a single day, your blood pressure could fluctuate several times in response to things you do and eat. That’s nothing to worry about. Your body also has a system to ensure the blood pressure is always within the normal limit. Cinnamon can integrate itself into this system.
- It can relax blood vessels and decrease blood pressure.
- Animal studies also indicate that cinnamon can improve both blood flow to the heart and the ability of the heart to contract.
- It can also reduce damage to the heart caused by free radicals. This type of damage is called oxidative damage. Cinnamon has been seen to reduce the amount of malondealdehyde, a marker of oxidative damage. What helps even more? Doing regular aerobic exercises alongside having cinnamon.
4. Can Reduce Fat Gain
Excess fat and sugar are a threat for all body functions. They cause inflammation. But cinnamon polyphenols can help reduce the bad effects of a high-fat as well as a high-sugar diet.
- Cinnamon polyphenols could help your body make less fat. They reduce the activity of enzymes like SREBP-1c, ACLY, and FAS which are required at several stages in the conversion of glucose to fat.
- They can also increase fat breakdown by activating proteins called PPARs – PPARs are also activated when you are on a keto diet.
- They reduce the expression of the NF-κB protein complex, which is involved in triggering inflammation.
- They increase the number of a protein called Nrf-2. Then they help the Nrf-2 protein travel to the heart of the cell (nucleus), where it helps make natural antioxidants like HO-1, CAT, and NQO1, which fight cell-damaging free radicals.
That’s certainly not to say you should have a high-fat or high-sugar diet. But on days you do, make sure you have cinnamon.
It’s very easy to integrate cinnamon into your diet. Sprinkle ground cinnamon on sweet and savory dishes. Or make a cinnamon tea. If you have Cassia cinnamon, use no more than a teaspoon of the powder a day. It has a high coumarin content. Coumarin is known to harm the liver. If you have the Ceylon variety, however, you needn’t worry. That said, if you take a cinnamon supplement, don’t continue it for long.