The Health Benefits of Cinnamon

May reduce risk of heart disease, lower blood sugar, and fight infections

Cinnamon annotated

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

A staple in French toast, coffee, and breakfast pastries, cinnamon is a delicious and nutritious spice. The scientific name for cinnamon is Cinnamomum zeylanicum and it comes from the inner barks of trees native to Sri Lanka.

It has been used as far back as Ancient Egypt and while it was once rare and valuable, cinnamon is now readily available. Cinnamon was used by ancient doctors to treat coughs, hoarseness, and sore throats.

Cinnamon is made by taking the stems of cinnamon trees and letting them dry into what we know as cinnamon sticks. These sticks also can be ground into cinnamon powder. The oily part of cinnamon, which gives it a distinct sweet and spicy smell and flavor, is from cinnamaldehyde. It is believed that this compound is responsible for cinnamon's benefits.

Health Benefits

Sprinkling cinnamon on your food not only adds sweet and spicy flavor, but it can have a positive impact on your health as well. As the second most popular spice in the United States and Europe, cinnamon is packed with health-promoting functions.

In traditional Chinese medicine, cinnamon is used to treat abdominal pain, dysmenorrhea, reduced appetite, and diarrhea. Here are some other potential health benefits.

May Help Reduce Cancer Risk

Cinnamon is rich in powerful antioxidants that protect your body from the oxidative damage that can lead to cancer. For instance, studies have shown that cinnamon acts as a potent antioxidant in human colon cells, reducing the risk of colon cancer.

Fights Diabetes and Heart Disease

Cinnamon also has many properties that can reduce the risk of heart disease, especially in people with diabetes. One older study looked at the effects of cinnamon on certain markers in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Those who took 6 grams of cinnamon daily had decreased triglycerides, LDL cholesterol (the "bad" kind), and total cholesterol. Meanwhile, HDL cholesterol, or the "good" kind, remained stable.

Additionally, cinnamon has anti-diabetic effects and significant benefits for blood sugar control.

Insulin is a hormone involved in transporting sugar from the bloodstream into the cells to be used as energy. People with pre-diabetes or diabetes are insulin resistant, meaning that the insulin cannot do its job as effectively.

Studies show strong evidence for cinnamon's ability to improve insulin sensitivity, helping the hormone to work effectively and therefore help reduce blood sugar.

Prevents Blood Sugar Spikes

Cinnamon has also been shown to reduce spikes in blood sugar after a meal. The pancreas releases many digestive enzymes that start to break down sugar immediately after eating. Studies show that cinnamon interferes with these enzymes, slowing the release of carbohydrates into the digestive tract.

Fights Infections

Cinnamon's infection-fighting power comes from its main active component, cinnamaldehyde. Used as cinnamon oil, an older study showed that cinnamon can stunt the growth of bacteria such as Listeria and Salmonella. Additionally, another study showed that using cinnamon oil may help prevent tooth decay and bad breath.

Therapeutic Benefits

Alternative practitioners also attribute numerous therapeutic properties to cinnamon, especially from Ceylon cinnamon. Among the conditions cinnamon is believed to treat are:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Yeast infections
  • Oral infections
  • Common cold
  • Allergic rhinitis

However, it is important to note that the amount of cinnamon needed as a protective agent is unknown and that everyone responds differently. Simply adding cinnamon to your diet also won't automatically cure your medical condition. You still need to follow the treatment plan provided by your healthcare provider.

Most studies on cinnamon used large amounts of cinnamon for supplementation. This practice might not be safe for everyone and consuming large doses can be problematic.

But simply adding cinnamon to foods like toast, yogurt, and tea is a great way to add flavor, micronutrients, and antioxidants to your diet. If you are would like advice about how to add more cinnamon to your eating plan, talk to a registered dietitian.

Nutrition Facts

One tablespoon of cinnamon contains 20 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and 4 grams of fiber. It does not contain a significant amount of protein or fat, but it is rich in numerous micronutrients including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Because a little cinnamon goes a long way in recipes, you may not receive a significant nutritional boost from it. Include a variety of other foods in your diet that are rich in micronutrients rather than relying on cinnamon for these benefits.

Selection, Preparation, & Storage

There are two main types of cinnamon, Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is also known as "true" cinnamon, where cassia cinnamon is most commonly seen in stores and is what most people recognize as ground cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon has a milder flavor than Cassia cinnamon.

As one of the most popular spices in baking, cinnamon is used in classic cinnamon rolls and pastries as well as breakfast foods like French toast and oatmeal. It is also used in many savory dishes such as Middle Eastern-inspired chicken and lamb dishes. Cinnamon is frequently paired with fruits such as apples, pears, and oranges in baking and is used for its spicy and sweet flavor in wellness drinks such as cinnamon tea and turmeric golden milk.

Most cinnamon you buy in stores is Cassia cinnamon, which has a sweet, warm, pungent aroma and flavor. You can use Cassia cinnamon for all of your cinnamon needs or branch out to try different varieties depending on your recipe. Ceylon cinnamon is good for cookies and cakes. You can also buy cinnamon sticks to flavor oatmeal while it's cooking on the stovetop or to add to herbal tea.

Cinnamon should be stored in a dark, cool, dry place, preferably away from sun and heat. When well sealed, cinnamon can last for a few years, but may lose some flavor over time.

Possible Side Effects

Allergies to cinnamon are rare, but symptoms of a cinnamon allergy include redness and skin irritation. Excessive intake of cinnamon may cause mouth and lip irritation.

Consuming large amounts of Cassia cinnamon may be toxic if you have liver or kidney problems, but the typical amount eaten is so small that it is not a problem.

While everyday use of ground cinnamon in recipes is not contraindicated, if you are taking medication and want to take cinnamon supplements for treatment, be sure to speak with a healthcare provider. Cinnamon supplements may alter the effectiveness of antibiotics, diabetes drugs, blood thinners, and heart medications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can I buy Ceylon cinnamon?

    You can buy Ceylon cinnamon at many grocery stores and from local spice purveyors. Be sure you buy it from a trusted source who knows the origin of the cinnamon.

  • How do I make cinnamon tea?

    You can make cinnamon tea by steeping cinnamon sticks in boiling water. Place one cinnamon stick in a mug with boiling water. Steep, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and enjoy warm or hot.

  • How many calories are in cinnamon?

    One tablespoon of ground cinnamon contains 20 calories.

  • How long do cinnamon sticks last?

    When cinnamon sticks are properly stored in a cool, dry place with a tight-fitting lid, they will last 3 to 4 years.

  • How do I grind cinnamon sticks?

    You can use a coffee or spice grinder to grind whole cinnamon sticks into a fine powder. You can also grind them by hand using a mortar and pestle.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rebecca Jaspan, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES
Rebecca Jaspan is a registered dietitian specializing in anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, as well as disordered eating and orthorexia.