Two New Cinnamon Studies Show Surprising Health Benefits Not Previously Appreciated

In addition to being a gorgeously flavourful spice, cinnamon has umpteen health-boosting capabilities, supported by modern science. Two new studies further expand the list of beneficial effects of this ancient spice. 

Study 1
Cinnamon boosts learning ability


A study published this July in The Journal Of Neuroimmune Pharmacology demonstrated that cinnamon can convert poor learning mice into good learners. 

What exactly differentiates good learners from weaker ones (at a cellular and molecular level) is unclear. What is known is that poor learners tend to have altered levels of certain molecules in the hippocampus, a region in the brain involved in memory and learning.

Specifically, in weak learners, levels of CREB, a protein involved in memory and learning, are lower. These same poor learners have elevated levels of another molecule called GABRA5, which blocks communication between brain cells. It's as if their brain biochemistry is stacked against them, inhibiting learning in multiple ways (so unfair!).

When animals are fed cinnamon, it is metabolised into sodium benzoate as part of the normal breakdown of the spice.

In poor learners that were given cinnamon orally for a month, the sodium benzoate produced appeared to reverse the chemical 'defects' in the brains of poor learners, making their brain chemistry look like their strong learning brethren. The cinnamon-fed weak learners also showed improved abilities in typical learnings tests like the maze challenge commonly used in mice studies.

Interestingly, already good learners saw no additional improvement in response to cinnamon consumption (darn it). 

This was a well conducted study and begs the question of whether dietary cinnamon could improve learning and memory in people who have a lower ability. 

Importantly, the researchers commented on the superiority of Ceylon cinnamon versus the Cassia variety because of its low coumarin (a liver toxin) content, a point I tend to go on and on about until the cows come home. 

Study 2
Cinnamon cools your stomach down


This one sure took me by surprise! 

Ancient medical systems like Ayurveda in India and traditional Chinese medicine think of cinnamon as a 'warming' spice, best consumed in winter months. A recent study published in Scientific Reports shows quite the opposite effect in animals. 

The researchers used novel 'gas sensory capsules' to more accurately measure the goings on in the guts of pigs during digestion and in response to stresses like heat. They found that during normal digestion and in response to heat stress, cinnamon lowered the amount of carbon dioxide gas produced in the gut, literally cooling down the animals' stomachs by 2 degrees celsius! 

Cinnamon appeared to preserve the integrity of the stomach lining and also reduced the secretion of gastric acid and pepsin in the gut, likely leading to this cooling effect. 

This could have therapeutic implications for people with excess stomach acid and poor digestion, although trials in human have not yet been conducted. 

Meanwhile, we can continue to enjoy this beloved, warming (or shall we say cooling) spice in our food for a flavour and health boost. 

Try your hand at one of these simple, delicious, nutritious cinnamon-laced recipes from babies to adults and everyone in between: 

Cinnamon Sweet Potato Leek Kale Baby Puree

Cinnamon Sweet Potato Leek Kale Baby Puree

Cinnamon Maple Overnight Oats

Cinnamon Maple Overnight Oats

Moroccan Lentil Soup 

Moroccan Lentil Soup 

Healthy Cinnamon Pancakes

Healthy Cinnamon Pancakes

Nana's shepherd's pie 

Nana's shepherd's pie 

Spiced Coconut chia pudding

Spiced Coconut chia pudding

Everything you need to know about Cinnamon, Coumarin and Kids

If spices were superheroes, cinnamon would occupy the upper echelons of power. Superman. Maybe Batman. No, actually maybe Captain America. Or more likely, a combination of all of those and more. Packed with anti-diabetes, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, cognition boosting, anti-cancer and female hormone cycle regulating powers, cinnamon is a spice truly worth incorporating into your baby's, toddler's, kid's and family's diets. The only caveat with cinnamon, as previously discussed, is that the widely available Cassia variety has high levels of Coumarin, which is a liver toxin. A 2012 study conducted in Norway by the Scientific Committee for Food Safety found that Norwegian kids, because of their regular intake of cinnamon-flavored oatmeal, were ingesting Coumarin in much higher doses than what is considered tolerable and safe. The simple way around this problem is to ensure that the cinnamon you use, especially if sprinkling it into your foods regularly (which you should!) is of the Ceylon / Sri Lankan variety, which has undetectable amounts of Coumarin. You can get Ceylon cinnamon from specialty spice shops, Whole Foods and on Amazon. The extra effort in this regard is definitely worth it. 

Once the Coumarin issue is resolved then, here's a nutritious and delicious baby puree packed with flavor and health that you can start your baby on.

RECIPE
 

Cinnamon, Sweet Potato, Leek, Kale Puree
6 months+

Nutrition
Sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritious vegetables around, bursting with vitamins A, B and C, manganese and fiber. And most babies love them! To maximize the absorption of fat soluble nutrients, it’s good to cook sweet potatoes with olive or coconut oil used here. Leeks are one of nature's top PREBIOTIC foods that feed and nurture the good bacteria in our guts. A baby's gut is developing rapidly making both probiotics and prebiotics really important and influential in their diets. And finally, kale. There are probably no words necessary to describe the power of this super plant. Packed with vitamins A, C and K and minerals like manganese, copper and calcium not to mention anti-oxidants, phytonutrients and fiber, kale is a nutritional powerhouse. 

Yield
8oz or 1-2 baby servings

Ingredients
½ large sweet potato, chopped
1 large kale leaf, stem and thick fibrous central vein removed, chopped
1 leek, white and light green parts, chopped
1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)
Pinch, about 1/16th teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon or up to 1/8th teaspoon for more adventurous babies

Method
In a pot for which you have a lid or a pressure cooker, heat the oil over medium high until shimmering. 
Add the leeks and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. 
Add the potato, kale and cinnamon, ¼ to ½ cup of water for steaming (depending on how big your pot is and how liquid you want the puree) and cook on low heat with the lid on until the veggies are tender, about 15 minutes for a regular pot and 10 for the pressure cooker. 
Once the veggies are cooked through, blend in a food processor or with a hand-held blender. Serve fresh or freeze for later. 
You can skip the oil and steam the veggies with the cinnamon in a pot with a lid or your baby puree maker of choice.
If your toddler likes mashed veggies as sides to chicken or fish, this is a nice, nutritious option.