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Is Cinnamon dangerous for your health?

I have been working on an article about the antidiabetic and blood sugar balancing benefits of cinnamon and keep coming across articles on other blogs and from experts about how this delicious spice that I enjoy almost every day is potentially toxic. My curiousity peaked, I had to look into this. And what I found was a bit disturbing. Not disturbing about my fave spice mind you, but rather about how irresponsible people can be when putting health information out there. No wonder so many consumers end up confused.

To sum up the "concerns" about cinnamon, this is what relatively recent articles have been reporting...
1. Cassia cinnamon - the more commonly used variety and the one that is inexpensive and readily available in most Western parts of the world - contains a compound called Coumarin, which is potentially toxic in very small doses for kids and "some people" (note that none of these articles specify or explain who "some people" are)
2. The compound Coumarin isn't available in significant amounts in Ceylon ("true") cinnamon, which makes this variety safe. However, Coumarin is the active antidiabetic compound in cinnamon and thus Ceylon cinnamon is a tasty but ineffective option.

This isn't all necessarily untrue, I just feel that a lot of key facts and research were left out and that the resulting effect was causing a lot more fear and concern than is possibly warranted.

After doing a ton of research and reading way more studies on cinnamon than anyone ever should...this is where I am at in my thinking (note that new research is always done and ideas and theories are always changing in the exciting world of science. Also, this is just my theory based on my research so definitely if you are interested do your own research and come to your own conclusions that you are comfy with)...
  1. Coumarin is a compound in cinnamon, which is available at much much higher levels in Cassia cinnamon and almost negligible in Ceylon cinnamon. Coumarin is an anti-coagulant and is actually isolated and used as such in the pharmaceutical world. It is in drug trials with the isolated compound that concerns were noted and arose. What does that mean? A lot of individual compounds of plants when isolated either don't work as well or can cause problems because most are meant to work synergistically with other components of that plant.
  2. Most of the studies pointing to concerns with Coumarin were done with rats or dogs. It was later found in human studies that there were differences in how humans metabolized Coumarin compared to these animals. 
  3. Coumarin can cause problems for a small subset of the population that does not have the 7-hydroxycoumarin metabolic pathway. Most humans have this pathway, but for those that do not, Coumarin can irritate the liver and in extreme cases cause jaundice. For these "sensitive people" (now we know what "sensitive" means - yay! that one was actually annoying me like when there is an asterix in an ad but no associated footnote...drives me crazy!) when they stop consuming Coumarin, their liver will heal itself. But what does this mean if you are taking cinnamon on a regular basis to help balance your blood sugar? If you are concerned that you might be one of these "sensitive" people, you may want to get your liver enzymes checked before you start supplementing/adding cinnamon into your diet and then again after a week or two of supplementing. Or if you have the funds available, you could opt for buying Ceylon cinnamon
  4. Is Ceylon cinnamon as effective as Cassia when it comes to blood sugar balance? Most studies in the field have been done with Cassia cinnamon as it's cheaper and more readily available. There have been a couple studies using Ceylon...And what studies do agree upon is that it is not Coumarin that is affecting blood glucose. It is actually most likely the water-soluble polyphenols, which are also readily available in the Ceylon variety. 
  5. Because the active compounds are likely the water-soluble polyphenols, if you are very concerned about Coumarin, you could get a water extract supplement or make a tea from cinnamon, which should keep the oil-soluble Coumarin out of the picture.

Now you ALSO know way more about cinnamon than anyone ever should :) Hopefully this made the subject more clear rather than more confusing. But if you have any questions, or come across any studies that prove otherwise, please let me know. And if you feel like doing some fun bedtime reading on the matter, I suggest the following studies (please excuse my poorly done citations. I have always been very research heavy in my school and career choices and have always hated doing properly formatted references)...

Toxicology and risk assessment of Coumarin: Focus on Human Data (2010)
Assessment of Coumarin Levels in Ground Cinnamon Available in Czech Market (2012)
European Food Safety Authority 2008 study on Coumarin and cinnamon (this is the main source for everyone in terms of coumarin being potentially toxic and is worth a read to see how they came to that conclusion and what their suggestion of safe amounts are for such individuals)
Isolation and characterization of polyphenol type A polymers (2004)

Email me for more!

xo
Selene

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