Ah! Cinnamon

The Cornucopia of Health Benefits

Part I

Cinnamon is a spice we all use in our daily cooking, derived from the bark of the cinnamon tree. Its other popular use is in the hospitality/bakery industry all over the world, for its delicate sweet aroma imparted to savoury dishes like pickles and soups apart from breads, cakes, cookies and pies of various kinds.

Thankfully, this is not all there is to cinnamon. Cinnamon has since long been a highly prized spice for its wide uses in the traditional healing systems like ayurveda, unani and even the medication system of the Oriental. The first and foremost, cinnamon is claimed to possess glucose-lowering antioxidant properties that are known to inhibit risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease.

The modern science as it is famously known to be, however, solely relies on empirical evidence before proclaiming a theory as being irrefutably established. So, medical researchers the world-over have undertaken any number of studies and tests involving overweight and obese people, those most prone to cardiovascular risk factors including Type-2 diabetes, and monitored and analysed the deduced findings. They have been able to unequivocally establish a strong link between controlled consumption of cinnamon and a vastly improved health profile of the subjects after a sustained course ranging from 6 to twelve weeks. Not only has the cinnamon found to promote better glucose management, most studies have revealed, it has helped patients with reduced levels of unhealthy cholesterol and triglycerides.

In addition, cinnamon is shown to reduce muscle soreness and other bodily pains, as after a strenuous workout or physical activity. It may also be effective in combating the growth of certain tumours, as a recent study carried out on rats and mice shows. Such studies on human subjects are underway at the world’s largest sophisticated labs, and initial findings are said to be promising.

Now, one may well ask, “What is cinnamon?”

Cinnamon is the bark of a tree called Cinnamomun verum, found mainly in Sri Lanka, and, to a lesser extent, in India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean. There are other numerous species of cinnamon trees belonging to genus Cinnamomun, bearing different botanical names. This other type of cinnamon is, in fact, cassia and due to its many properties and the aroma closely resembling with those of the real thing, it has come to be flatteringly called cassia cinnamon or even, just ‘cinnamon’. Not bothering much with the scientific jargon here, though, there are only a few types of cassia grown commercially and are known by the regions they are cultivated, namely, Chinese cinnamon, Indonesian cinnamon, Padang cassia, Saigon cinnamon (or Vietnamese cassia) and so on.

But, is all cinnamon equal, and to be treated at par with each other? The answer to that has to be a BIG No! While C. cassia may share same and similar medicinal properties of the real Cinnamon, to its discredit, cassia contains large quantities of a toxic chemical known as coumarin. While the ‘true’ cinnamon contains only negligible amounts of coumarin, levels of the toxin’s concentration in cassia may vary from 20 times to over 600 times (deadly!) depending on the type. The dreadfully lethal toxin has a serious potential to cause irreparable damage to human organs, more notably, kidneys and the liver if consumed regularly in excess over longer periods.

(In the next part, we shall learn what exactly is this ‘excess’, and which and how to choose your cinnamon wisely without falling for the mediocre. And more, hopefully!)


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