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7 Health Benefits of Cinnamon

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:

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Cinnamon

Cinnamon gum, cinnamon rolls, cinnamon in coffee, cinnamon applesauce… Cinnamon is ubiquitous in our everyday taste experience. If used in the right context, it also has several potential benefits to our well-being — from lowering the risk of diabetes to helping with menstrual disorders and overweight.

There are two main varieties of cinnamon available on the market today:

  • Ceylon cinnamon: Cinnamomum verum is also known as “true” cinnamon. This variety is more expensive and less toxic to the liver because it’s much lower in coumarin, a natural constituent that promotes blood thinning.
  • Cassia cinnamon: Cinnamomum cassia. This type is much more commonly available and is generally what you’ll be given if you request cinnamon at a store or restaurant [1].

The major compound in cinnamon is called cinnamaldehyde, which is oxidized into cinnamic acid. In the liver, this cinnamic acid is oxidized into sodium benzoate (NaB) [2].

After it is consumed, NaB rapidly passes through the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Similarly, after the whole spice cinnamon has been consumed, NaB can be detected in the hippocampus of the brain [2].

Snapshot

Proponents

  • Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial activity.
  • May help with menstrual disorders
  • May preserve oral health
  • May help balance blood sugar and
  • May help lose weight and improve blood fat profile
  • Protects against cardiovascular disease.

Skeptics

  • Insufficient and contradictory evidence for most benefits
  • Can be allergenic for some people.
  • Large amounts of the Cassia variety of cinnamon can cause blood to thin too much.
  • Ceylon cinnamon is a bit expensive.

Health Benefits of Cinnamon

The following benefits are attributed to the spice cinnamon and/or its metabolite, sodium benzoate:

Possibly Effective for:

Menstrual Disorders

In a clinical trial on 80 women, cinnamon taken during the first 72 hours of a menstrual cycle reduced menstrual cramps [3].

Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) have irregular menstrual cycles, hormone imbalances (excess of androgens), and metabolic risk factors (such as insulin resistance and high blood fat levels). In a clinical trial on 45 women with this condition, taking cinnamon supplements helped improve menstrual regularity. In 3 other trials on 165 women, cinnamon improved insulin sensitivity and blood fat profile (it reduced triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol) [4, 5, 6, 7].

Although limited, the evidence suggests that cinnamon may help with menstrual disorders (especially with PCOS). You may discuss with your doctor if taking cinnamon as an add-on to your treatment regime is recommended. Never take cinnamon in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

Insufficient Evidence for:

1) Diabetes

Preliminary evidence suggests that cinnamon reduces insulin resistance and may function like insulin (insulin mimic), thus helping lower blood sugar levels [8, 9, 10, 11].

In 5 clinical trials on over 300 people with type 2 diabetes, cinnamon lowered fasting blood sugar levels by up to 10-29%. However, it was ineffective in 3 trials on 177 people with this condition [12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19].

Cinnamon also reduced blood sugar and insulin resistance in 2 clinical trials on 52 obese people and one trial on 116 people with metabolic syndrome, but not in another trial on 10 prediabetic people [20, 21, 22, 23].

A dietary supplement with cinnamon, chromium, and carnosine decreased fasting blood sugar and promoted weight loss in a clinical trial on 62 obese, pre-diabetic people. However, honey supplemented with these compounds was ineffective in another trial on 12 people with type 2 diabetes [24, 25].

In 3 clinical trials on 52 healthy people, cinnamon lowered blood sugar levels after meals. Its compound cinnamyl isobutyrate was similarly effective in another trial on 26 people. Continued cinnamon intake for 14 days improved blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity in 8 healthy men, but the effects quickly disappeared when they stopped taking it [26, 27, 28, 29, 30].

Cassia cinnamon (C. burmannii) helped lower blood sugar levels after meals in 30 healthy people and 10 obese women. However, it had no effect on insulin sensitivity in these obese women and in 21 prediabetic people. It was equally ineffective at lowering fasting sugar in 60 people with type 2 diabetes [31, 32, 33, 34].

Although most clinical trials suggest that Ceylan (but not Cassia) cinnamon improves blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity, there are many studies that failed to show any effects. For this reason, it’s difficult to draw conclusions. Further clinical research is needed to shed some light on this potential benefit of cinnamon.

PATHWAYS:

Cinnamon’s active compounds may help with diabetes by:

2) Cardiovascular Health

Cinnamon lowered total cholesterol in a clinical trial on 28 healthy volunteers, but had no effect on blood fat levels or blood vessel function in another trial on 9 people [52, 53].

In 3 clinical trials on over 200 people with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome, cinnamon supplementation lowered blood pressure and improved blood lipid profile (by reducing triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, while increasing HDL cholesterol). However, it failed to lower blood fat levels in 2 trials on over 150 people with this condition and had no effect on heart rate in another trial on over 100 prediabetics [15, 12, 54, 55, 56, 57].

Cinnamon improved the blood fat profile (by reducing triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, while increasing HDL cholesterol) in 2 trials on 150 women with polycystic ovarian syndrome [7, 6].

Taken together, some studies suggest that cinnamon may help prevent heart disease by lowering blood pressure and improving blood fat profile (especially in people with metabolic and polycystic ovarian syndromes), but the results are mixed. More clinical research is needed to clarify this potential benefit.

PATHWAYS:

  • Inhibits TNF alpha, which is associated with heart disease, heart failure, clogged arteries, and stroke [37, 38, 58, 59, 59, 60].
  • Increases PPAR-alpha, which is protective against heart disease by inhibiting macrophage inflammation and increasing cholesterol flow (via LXR and ABCA1) [49, 61].
  • Activates PPAR-gamma, which decreases heart inflammation, lowers cholesterol, and reduces blood pressure [49, 62].
  • Inhibits NF-kB, which is associated with heart disease, clogged arteries, stroke, and chest pain [45, 47].
  • Inhibits IL-8, which contributes to artery clogging [63, 64, 65].
  • Increases Tregs, protecting against heart disease and artery clogging [50, 66].
  • Inhibits IL-6, an inflammatory cytokine associated with heart disease [41, 58].

3) Oral Health

In a clinical trial on 105 healthy people, a mouthwash with cinnamon was almost as effective as a conventional antimicrobial (chlorhexidine gluconate) at reducing plaque and preserving gum health [67].

In another trial on 15 healthy people, chewing gum with cinnamon reduced the salivary counts of the bacteria that cause bad breath [68].

Cinnamon also inhibited the bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease in test tubes [69].

Although the results are promising, there are too few clinical trials to claim that cinnamon helps preserve oral health. More clinical research is required.

4) Weight Loss

In a clinical trial on 62 overweight people with type 2 diabetes, a dietary supplement with cinnamon, chromium, and carnosine reduced fat mass. In another trial on 105 people with this condition, cinnamon had no effect on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity but reduced body weight. Similarly, honey supplemented with cinnamon, chromium, and magnesium only made 12 people with type 2 diabetes lose weight [24, 17, 25].

Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome lost weight after taking cinnamon capsules for 8 weeks in a trial on 84 women [7].

However, cinnamon extract had no effect on body weight in a clinical trial on 28 healthy people [52].

Cinnamon blocked the absorption of carbs in animal studies [35, 36].

Cinnamaldehyde significantly lowered ghrelin secretion in obese mice. It also significantly reduced their food intake and cumulative weight gain and improved glucose tolerance without changing insulin secretion [70].

Although the studies suggest that cinnamon may help lose weight in people with type 2 diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome, the evidence is insufficient. More clinical trials on larger populations are needed to draw this conclusion for certain.

PATHWAYS:

  • Increases IL-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine that leads to weight loss [71].
  • Increases PPAR Alpha. Mice without PPAR alpha have 20X less UCP-3 which is important for fat loss [49, 72].
  • Activates AMPK, which increases fat burning and can result in weight loss [73, 74].
  • Inhibits NF-kB, which is associated with obesity [45, 47].
  • Inhibits IL-8, which is released by fat cells. It is elevated in obese people and associated with higher fat mass [63, 64].

5) Antioxidant

Cinnamon reduced oxidative stress in a clinical trial on 22 overweight prediabetic people, possibly helping prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. However, it failed to improve the antioxidant status in another trial on 44 people already suffering from this condition [20, 19].

Ceylon cinnamon increased levels of the master antioxidant, glutathione in rats [75].

In a study that compared the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon ranked highest [76].

Cinnamaldehyde/cinnamon activated Nrf2, the most important pathway for increasing our natural and innate antioxidant defense, in colon cells [77].

Two small clinical trials (with mixed results) and some animal and cell-based research are insufficient to attest to the effectiveness of cinnamon as an antioxidant. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed.

6) Gut Health

In a clinical trial on 60 people with intestinal Candida infections, capsules with cinnamon and pogostemon oil resolved the infection in 72% and improved it in 28% [78].

However, cinnamon extract was ineffective against stomach ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori in a small trial on 15 infected people [79].

Cinnamon extract alleviated symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in mice [80, 81].

It also showed potential at preventing colon cancer in animal studies [82].

Again, the evidence is insufficient to support the use of cinnamon in people with gut issues. More clinical trials on larger populations are required to shed some light on this potential benefit.

PATHWAYS:

  • Inhibits TNF alpha, which can induce a ‘leaky gut’ and is associated with IBS and Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis [37, 38, 83, 84, 85, 86].
  • Activates PPAR gamma, which decreases inflammation and can help IBD [87, 49].
  • Inhibits IL-6, which is elevated in IBS and Crohn’s disease [41, 84, 88].
  • Increases intestinal TGF-beta , stimulating serotonin transporters and serotonin uptake in the gut (which is low in IBS and IBD). It also kills T cells that attack gut tissues in autoimmune gut disorders [89, 90, 91].
  • Inhibits IL-1beta, which is a powerful inhibitor of stomach acid. High IL-1beta can lead to uncontrolled H pylori infection and worsen digestion of food [43, 92].
  • Inhibits NF-kB, which is associated with gut diseases such as IBS, Crohn’s, and ulcerative colitis [45, 47, 93, R, R].
  • Inhibits IL-8, which is associated with IBS, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s [63, 94, 95, 96].
  • Increases Tregs, protecting against IBS and IBD [50, 97, 98, 99, 100].
  • Inhibits Th-17 immunity, which is associated with IBS and IBD in some cases but not in others [71, 101, 102, 103, 104].
  • Increases IL-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine that may protect against IBS and IBD [71, 85, 105, 106, 107].

Possibly Ineffective for:

Promoting Satiety

The combination of cinnamon and vinegar increased satiety immediately after meals, indicating an additive effect of the 2 substances, in a clinical trial on 27 people [28].

However, cinnamon alone (1-3 grams) increased GLP-1 (a gut hormone that triggers the production of the satiety-promoting neurotransmitter orexin) levels but had no effect on satiety, stomach emptying in 2 small trials on 24 people [53, 108, 109].

Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of cinnamon for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

Anti-Inflammatory and Immune Balance

Both the twigs and leaves of cinnamon were highly anti-inflammatory in studies in white blood cells (macrophages) [110, 111, 112].

A species of cinnamon from Sri Lanka (C. zeylanicum) showed some of the most potent anti-inflammatory activity out of 115 anti-inflammatory foods tested [113].

Cinnamic aldehyde, a constituent of cassia cinnamon, had strong anti-inflammatory activity in mice and cells [114].

PATHWAYS:

Autoimmune Disorders

Sodium benzoate, a cinnamon metabolite, was effective against multiple sclerosis in animal models [118, 121, 122].

PATHWAYS:

  • Increases Tregs, which can stop immune cells from attacking the body’s own tissue [50, 123].
  • Inhibits TNF-alpha, which is associated with autoimmune diseases [37, 38, 124].
  • Increases PPAR Alpha, which decreases autoimmune conditions [49, 125].
  • Decreases IL-12, an inflammatory Th1 cytokine that worsens autoimmunity [89].
  • Inhibits NF-kB, which is associated with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases including multiple sclerosis and lupus [45, 126, 127, 128].
  • Inhibits IL-6, an inflammatory cytokine associated with a number of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Behcets, SLE, system sclerosis, IBS, and IBD [41, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 88, 84, 88].
  • Inhibits Th-17 immunity, which is associated with several autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s and Grave’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, SLE, uveitis, and type 1 diabetes [71, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138].
  • Inhibits IL-8, which is associated with a number of autoimmune diseases, including ulcerative colitis, Crohns, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Lyme’s disease, ALS, Behcet’s, fibromyalgia, psoriasis and eczema [63, 95, 96, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 132, 144, 145].
  • Increases IL-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine that may protect against autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, sclerosis, Behcets, asthma, allergies, Crohns, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and eczema [71, 146, 147, 148, 149, 106, 107, 150, 146].

Protecting the Brain

Cinnamon reduces risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. It does this by blocking the accumulation of tau protein in the brain, which is the main characteristic of Alzheimer’s [151, 152, 153].

It reduces the risk of Parkinson’s Disease. In a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, cinnamon helped to protect neurons, normalize neurotransmitter levels, and improve motor function [154].

PATHWAYS:

  • Inhibits IL-1beta, a cytokine with a strong pro-inflammatory effect [43] that can harm cognitive performance. IL-1b is detrimental to neuronal synapses during activation-induced inflammation and causes neuro-degeneration [155]. It can also negatively impact Long Term Potentiation [156], which is critical for learning and memory [157].
  • Inhibits NF-kB [45], which is associated with Alzheimer’s [158], Parkinson’s [159], ALS [160], Schizophrenia [126], Bipolar, and possibly Anorexia [161].
  • Inhibits IL-8 [63], which predicted smaller gray matter volumes in the hippocampus [162], and is associated with Alzheimer’s [163], Depression [164], Bipolar (could be from lithium) [165], Schizophrenia [166] – Also, children had higher risk for schizophrenia when pregnant mothers had elevated IL-8 [167]. High IL-8 reduced the likelihood of positive responses to antipsychotic medication [168].
  • Inhibits TNF alpha [37, 38] which is associated with Alzheimer’s [169], Parkinson’s [170], ALS [171], OCD – only sometimes [172], Schizophrenia [173], Bipolar [174, 175], Anorexia [176].
  • Inhibits IL-6, an inflammatory cytokine [41] which is a decent predictor of cognitive decline in late midlife. A 10-year decline in reasoning was greater among people with high IL-6 than those with low IL-6. In addition, people with high IL-6 had 1.81 times greater odds of decline in a test that measures normal cognitive function [177].
  • Increases PPAR Alpha [49], which may protect against Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • A metabolite of cinnamon (NaB) dose-dependently increased the neurotrophic factors BDNF and NT-3 in human neurons and astrocytes [178].

Anxiety & Depression

Cinnamon reduced anxiety in rats [179].

PATHWAYS:

  • Inhibits TNF alpha, which is associated with major depression [37, 38, 173, 180]
  • Inhibits IL-6, an inflammatory cytokine that may cause feelings of “hopelessness” [41, 181].
  • Inhibits NF-kB, which is associated with both anxiety and depression [45, 182, 183].
  • Inhibits IL-1beta, which is associated with anxiety, HPA activation, and depression [43, 184, 185, 173].
  • Increases IL-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine that may protect against depression and anxiety [71, 186, 187, 188, 189].

Bone Loss

Ceylon cinnamon reduced the breakdown of bones in cell-based studies, suggesting it may help prevent bone loss [190].

PATHWAYS:

  • Inhibits TNF alpha, which is associated with osteoporosis [37, 38, 59].
  • Inhibits IL-6, an inflammatory cytokine that stimulates the bone-degrading cells osteoclasts and is associated with menopausal osteoporosis [41, 191, 192].
  • Inhibits NF-kB, which is associated with osteoporosis [45, 193].
  • Inhibits Th-17 immunity, which is associated with menopausal osteoporosis [71, 194, 195].
  • Inhibits IL-8, which is associated with menopausal osteoporosis [63, 196].

Skin Health

Cinnamon promotes collagen production in test tube studies, suggesting further research on its potential anti-aging effects should be conducted [197, 198].

PATHWAYS:

  • Inhibits TNF alpha, which is associated with psoriasis and eczema [37, 38, 199, 170].
  • Inhibits IL-1beta, a cytokine associated with UV-induced skin damage, contact allergic dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema [43, 200, 200, 201, 202].
  • Inhibits Th-17 immunity, which is associated with acne lesions, psoriasis, and eczema [71, 203, 204].
  • Inhibits IL-6, which can also cause skin problems. When natural skin fungi get out of control, the body attacks them with IL-6 and other cytokines. IL-6 is elevated in people with tinea versicolor and increases Th22 cells, which disrupts skin microbial balance [41, 205, 206].
  • Inhibits IL-8, which is associated with psoriasis, eczema, and vitiligo [63, 145, 207].
  • Increases IL-10, which may protect against psoriasis and eczema [71, 150, 146].
  • Inhibits NF-kB, which is associated with aging, eczema, and psoriasis [45, 47, 208, 209].
  • Increases Tregs, which help protect against eczema and psoriasis [50, 210, 211].

Infections

In test tubes, cinnamon inhibited bacteria causing [212, 212, 213]:

  • Food poisoning and diarrhea (E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Vibrio)
  • Antibiotic-resistant infections (MRSA)
  • Hosptial-acquired infections (Proteus vuglaris, Pseudomonas aeruginosa)

Cinnamon also showed antifungal activity against the fungi causing [214, 215, 212]:

  • Thrush (Candida albicans)
  • Respiratory infections (Aspergillus niger, A. fumigatus, A. nidulans, A. flavus, C. tropicalis, C. pseudotropicalis, and Histoplasma capsulatum)
  • Skin infections (Microsporum gypseum, Trichophyton rubrum, and T. mentagraphytes)

Out of 69 medicinal plants tested in a study in test tubes, cinnamon was the one most effectively inhibiting HIV-1 [216].

In rats with giardiasis, both cinnamon and ginger extracts reduced intestinal damage and the counts of the parasite (Giardia lamblia) in the feces [217].

Cinnamon also inhibited the parasite that causes malaria (Plasmodium falciparum) in test tubes [218]

Cinnamon essential oil and its compounds cinnamaldehyde, and eugenol inhibited the formation of biofilms, while cinnamaldehyde and hydroxycinnamic acids acted as quorum-sensing inhibitors [219, 220, 221, 222].

Cinnamon’s metabolite sodium benzoate increased Tregs in mice, which can be important for clearing some infections. They are crucial for the establishment of a functional Th17 response after the infection in the gut (with the help of IL-2) [50, 223].

Note, however, that most of the studies were done in test tubes. Further clinical research is needed to determine if cinnamon may be of any use to fight the infections caused by these microorganisms.

Cancer

Below, we will discuss some preliminary research on cinnamon’s potential anticancer effects and mechanisms. It’s still in the animal and cell stage and further clinical studies have yet to determine if its extract may be useful in cancer therapies.

Do not under any circumstances attempt to replace conventional cancer therapies with cinnamon or any other supplements. If you want to use it as a supportive measure, talk to your doctor to avoid any unexpected interactions.

In animal and cell-based studies, cinnamon extract killed cancer cells and reduced their growth [224, 225, 226, 227, 228].

PATHWAYS:

  • Inhibits TNF alpha, which is otherwise associated with cancer [37, 38, 229, 124].
  • Inhibits NF-kB, which is strongly associated with cancer [45, 126, 47].
  • Inhibits IL-8, which is a potent promoter of blood vessel growth, increases the proliferation and survival of cancer cells, and may make them resistance to chemotherapy [63, 230, 231]
  • Inhibits IL-6, an inflammatory cytokine associated with several cancer types [41, 42, 42, 232].
  • Inhibits Th-17 immunity, which is associated with some cancer types [71, 233, 234].

Safety of Cinnamon

This list does not cover all possible side effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you notice any other side effects.

Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. In the US, you may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 or at www.fda.gov/medwatch. In Canada, you may report side effects to Health Canada at 1-866-234-2345.

Cinnamon appears to be safe for most people when taken by mouth in amounts up to 6 grams daily for 6 weeks. However, some people may have allergic reactions.

Cassia cinnamon contains coumarin, the parent compound of the blood thinner warfarin. Due to concerns about the possible effects of coumarin, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment warned against consuming large amounts of cassia cinnamon in 2006.

Therefore, if you want to take cinnamon as a supplement, it’s safer to use Ceylon cinnamon.

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About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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