Smart Spice: Cinnamon

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by Mark Sisson Mark's Daily Apple

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We mostly see them as flavorants, as the little jars of powder that line our cabinets and the bags of dried roots, barks, and leaves tucked away in drawers, designed to subtly or drastically alter the flavor profile of our “smart fuel” creations in the kitchen, but for most of human history, spices were also prized for their medicinal qualities. Turmeric for GI disorders and inflammation. Chili peppers for pain management. Ginger for diarrhea. These aren't just exaggerated cases of u201Cfolk medicineu201D or u201Cold wives' tales,u201D either. Current research has confirmed that many common spices do indeed have medicinal properties. One of the most beneficial is also the most common: cinnamon.

It's important to realize that there are multiple varieties of cinnamon.

  • There's Ceylon cinnamon, or u201Ctrue cinnamon,u201D or cinnamomum zeylanicum. Ceylon cinnamon comes from the crumbly inner bark of the cinnamomum zeylanicum tree, and its flavor is sweet and delicate. It is light brown. You should be able to snap a stick of real cinnamon in half quite easily. If you've ever had cinnamon candies, that's real Ceylon you're tasting.
  • There's Cassia, or cinnamomum aromaticum. It's usually sold as cinnamon in the United States. Recipes calling for cinnamon can use cassia instead without issue, but cassia has a harsher, more overpowering flavor with less sweetness and more brute force. It is a darker, redder brown. Cassia sticks are rather hardy.
  • There's also Saigon cinnamon, or cinnamomum loureiroi. Saigon cinnamon is the most prized member of the Cassia family. It has a full, complex flavor with even less sweetness. Saigon cinnamon is generally pretty expensive.

As for the purported health benefits of cinnamon consumption, you'd think that u201Ctrue cinnamonu201D is best. I mean, it's the real stuff, right? A quick look across the web seems to confirm that suspicion, with most references you'll find on message boards and herbal medicine sites imploring you to u201Cget real Ceylon cinnamon, not that Cassia crap.u201D But what's the reality? Does u201Ctrueu201D necessarily indicate u201Cbetteru201D?

Well, let's look at the possible benefits of cinnamon consumption, as well as the chemical component that appears to be responsible. Most researchers have focused on cinnamaldehyde, the organic compound that gives cinnamon its signature flavor. Hold on to your seat. We’re about to get a little technical.

Cinnamaldehyde's benefits include:

Rather than merely mask a person's bad breath, cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon-flavored chewing gum actually exerts an antimicrobial effect on the tongue bacteria that cause bad breath.

In human melanomas grafted onto mice, orally-administered cinnamaldehyde impaired cancer cell proliferation, invasiveness, and tumor growth.

Cinnamaldehyde, by (derived from Cassia bark, in fact) activating a protective antioxidant effect in human epithelial colon cells, evinced potential chemoprevention against colon cancer.

Cinnamon oil, most of which is cinnamaldehyde, is an effective insect repellant with the ability to specifically target and kill mosquito larvae.

Cinnamaldehyde was shown to decrease HbA1c, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels while increasing plasma insulin, hepatic glycogen, and HDL levels. The oral dosage used — 20mg/kg body weight — wasn't an unrealistic amount.

Cassia may help relieve the muscular insulin resistance that occurs following a bad night's sleep.

Although it's u201Ccinnamon oilu201D that kills bugs and something with u201Ccinnamonu201D practically right there in the name itself may fight cancer, u201Cfakeu201D cinnamon actually contains more cinnamaldehyde than u201Ctrueu201D cinnamon. That's right — Cassia oil has the most cinnamaldehyde.

In another study, researchers using both Cassia extract and Ceylon extract found that the Cassia was more effective in diabetic rats observed in a glucose tolerance test.

Remember c. elegans, those plucky roundworms whose lifespan increased with both intermittent fasting and glucose restriction (the glucose study's author, Cynthia Kenyon, has even adopted a low-carb diet in light of the results), and which have been deemed suitable models for the study of glucose restriction in higher mammals? Cassia bark had a similar effect on them, too.

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