Cinnamon packs a big nutritional punch

Published 12:49 pm Friday, April 22, 2011

In today’s column, I’d like to share with you some of the benefits of one of my favorite spices – cinnamon.

First, spices have been used be many civilizations for centuries, to promote health and well being, and cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known.

It’s mentioned in the Bible, and was used in ancient Egypt. Cinnamon was so highly treasured at one time, that it was more valuable than gold.

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It was also used in Chinese botanical medicine dating back to around 2,700 B.C.

Cinnamon is actually the dried bark of the cinnamon tree, and is available in dried tubular form known as “quills” or as ground powder.

What gives cinnamon its nutritional punch is the essential oils found in its bark. These oils contain active components called “cinnamyl acetate,” “cinnamaldehyde” and “cinnamyl alcohol.” Here are a few healthful benefits from cinnamon:

1) Lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. In one study, when 30 women and men added a sprinkle of cinnamon to their meals, total cholesterol and triglyceride (which are heart damaging blood fats) levels fell 12 to 30 percent.

2) Anti-clotting action. The mechanism of blood clotting is very complicated, and part of this process involves platelets. Platelets are one of many components of blood. They are elements found in blood that are produced in the bone marrow and constantly flow throughout the blood stream. Under emergency circumstances, like injury, these platelets, through a series of chemical reactions become activated or sticky and rush to the wound and clump together in an attempt to stop excess blood flow.

The problem is, under normal circumstances platelets can clump together too much. This could lead to heart disease or stroke.

The substance cinnamaldehyde, found in cinnamon, helps prevent unwanted blood clots by inhibiting the release of a fatty acid called “arachidonic acid” from platelet membranes. Simply put, this keeps the platelets from working too well when you don’t need them to.

3) Blood sugar control. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. After food is digested it’s broken down into glucose. Glucose is the body’s main source of energy. It’s often referred to as blood sugar.

Once insulin attaches to cells, other receptors are activated, which then allows the cells to use glucose. Some people become diabetic, because their pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, but others are insulin resistant. This is because even though they produce insulin, their muscle and liver cells don’t respond properly to it.

As a result, their bodies need more insulin, which in turn over works their pancreas. This can be the start of type 2 diabetes.

Cinnamon helps normalize blood sugar levels by making muscle and liver cells more sensitive to signals from insulin.

This improves the cells’ ability to absorb glucose from the blood. By the way…this action was found to be effective in animals as well.

4) Protection from heart disease and improve colon health. The essential oils in cinnamon are beneficial for health, but the calcium, and dietary fiber found in cinnamon can be helpful in the prevention of different health conditions.

Bile salts are chemicals produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. They help digest fats, but some research shows a link between too much bile salt production and colon cancer.

The calcium and fiber found in cinnamon can bind to these bile salts, and remove them from the body.

Also, when bile is removed, the body has to break down cholesterol to make more. This helps prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Diet or exercise question? Email me at

David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist for 24 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., head strength coach S.C. state champion girls gymnastic team, USC-Spartanburg baseball team, Converse college equestrian team, lead trainer L.H. Fields modeling agency. David was a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.