cinnamon – healthy superfoods – by Dr. Alberto Parra
Cinnamon is one of the most commonly used spices in the world. It comes from the evergreen trees in Asia, and it has been used since ancient times to give a special flavoring, but also as an embalming agent and for food preservation. It is nowadays used in baked goods, fruit preparations, many different dishes, and in the manufacture of different types of fragrance. In the process, cinnamon displays a plethora of health applications, turning this brownish powder in more than just a spice.
In this article, we are going to focus our attention on X different health applications, all of them with scientific studies and different types of evidence. Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties, antibiotic/antiviral properties; it is a powerful antioxidant, an agent to reduce blood pressure, control blood lipids and sugar levels. Some studies also suggest that cinnamon provides additional protection against Helicobacter pylori, and immunomodulatory properties, as you will see next:
Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties: Cinnamon has two main components, called eugenol and cinnamaldehyde. Both of them inhibit an enzyme in the body called cyclooxygenase, which promotes inflammation by creating a series of pro-inflammatory molecules. As such, cinnamon can be used to reduce inflammation and swelling, improving the painful sensation associated with it.
Some studies show that cinnamon modifies the expression of both inflammatory and immune genes, and mediates marked immunomodulation that may be helpful to control allergic reactions. However, there’s no clinical trial to confirm this finding in humans just yet.
It’s a spice with antimicrobial and antiviral properties: Cinnamon was known for many years as a disinfectant, and recent studies have found out it is active against different species of Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and some famous bacteria like Escherichia coli and Salmonella species. It is also active against Candida, Aspergillus, and many other fungi. Cinnamaldehyde is the active ingredient, and it is thought to damage the bacterial cell membrane and make changes to the pH inside the cell, thus killing bacteria. Some studies also suggest that cinnamon has antiviral properties against influenza and other virus affecting the respiratory tract.
Protection against H. pylori: As we have previously mentioned, cinnamon may act as an antimicrobial agent. However, in the case of Helicobacter pylori, cinnamon extracts inhibit the normal growth of this bacteria. According to some clinical trials, combining cinnamon extracts with the antimicrobials commonly used in H. pylori improves the condition and brings additional protection to the gastrointestinal system.
The antioxidant potential in cinnamon: According to studies, the antioxidant potential of cinnamon extracts is more significant than alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). Eugenol is the primary antioxidant found in cinnamon; it inhibits the peroxidation of lipids, which is one of the primary steps for the creation of atherosclerotic plaques in the blood vessels. Cinnamon also acts as a free radical scavenger and stops these molecules from causing damage to healthy tissues in the body. Reactive oxygen species are responsible for many different diseases, including cancer, and many authors suggest that most of the medical properties of cinnamon are mediated by this antioxidant potential.
Cinnamon can be used to control blood pressure: By reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, cinnamon improves your cardiovascular system. However, studies show that adding cinnamon to the diet reduces the systolic blood pressure, and may be doing so by increasing the secretion of a hormone called natriuretic factor, which increases the formation of urine and reduces the volume of the blood and the blood pressure. As we will see next, cinnamon also improves blood levels of lipids and sugar, which is also a potential reason why it improves our blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health.
Improves blood lipids and blood sugar levels: According to some studies, cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon improves the circulating levels of cholesterol. The hypolipidemic effect of cinnamon is coupled with an increase in good cholesterol levels (HDL), which further improves our cardiovascular risk.
Cinnamon extracts also improve the sensitivity to insulin in the body, which is essential to control blood sugar levels. When our body tissues are more sensitive to insulin, this hormone opens up the gates for sugar to enter the cells instead of accumulating in the blood. Cinnamon potentiates the action of insulin in the body and improves the sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes, which is why this spice has received a lot of attention in the field of anti-diabetic agents.
These effects over insulin sensitivity might be explained by an increase in the mRNA levels of the insulin receptors. By having more mRNA, this protein is synthesized more frequently by the cell, and by having more insulin receptors in the cell wall, muscles and adipocytes will be ready to eagerly respond to insulin when it is present in the blood. The effects of cinnamon over glucose tolerance and diabetes have been long studied in both humans and animals, and most of them conclude that including cinnamon in the diet is a potential aid for diabetic patients to lower their postprandial glucose and achieve a better control to their condition.