cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon

For a spice that has a history going back over 4,000 years, you would think that there wouldn’t be much controversy or confusion. Au contraire. The benefits and risks of cinnamon are making headlines these days like never before.

Just in the last week NPR ran two seemingly contradictory cinnamon stories:

“When Is Cinnamon Spice Not So Nice? The Great Danish Debate”


“Cinnamon Can Help Lower Blood Sugar, But One Variety May Be Best”

The Straight & Skinny on Cinnamon

Part of the confusion surrounding cinnamon involves what is and is not “true” cinnamon. Cinnamomum zeylanicum, also known as Cinnamomum verum, is native to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). China and Southeast Asia are the home of Cinnamomum cassia, a related species that has an equally long history. Ancient Egyptians included both forms of cinnamon in their embalming formula for mummifying pharaohs because of the spices’ lovely aroma and preserving powers. The Bible refers to both cinnamon and cassia, which were used for aroma and flavor. Both types are derived from the bark of trees.

In modern times these two species are used interchangeably to flavor both sweet and savory dishes. What you find on the spice shelf in the supermarket is usually cassia cinnamon, because it is more readily available and cheaper than Ceylon cinnamon. The flavors are subtly different.

The more critical issue is whether they have the same medicinal properties and safety profile. Most of the research showing that cinnamon can lower blood sugar has utilized cassia cinnamon. The extracts that are sold in health food stores are also primarily derived from cassia cinnamon. But here’s the rub. Cassia cinnamon from China, Vietnam or Indonesia contains coumarin. This compound is a natural component of the cassia spice. It is found in varying amounts in different brands. When consumed at high levels, coumarin can cause liver damage in susceptible people. That is why Danish regulators are cracking down on a beloved treat we know as cinnamon swirls (kanelsnegle in Danish).

Five years ago the European Union passed strict limitations on the amount of coumarin allowed in food. German bakers were the first to feel the pinch. Authorities warned about coumarin levels in traditional cinnamon Christmas cookies (Zimtsterne). Regulators found some brands of cookies had coumarin levels 20 times higher than permitted by law. The German trade organization complained that the levels were too strict, since people only consumed their star-shaped cookies during the holidays. More recently, the Danish Baker’s Association has also complained:

“We must recognize that to get a cinnamon roll … to taste like cinnamon, we have to use more than the very small amounts allowed, or it’s the end of the cinnamon roll as we know it.”

While European bakers and regulators argue over coumarin levels in cinnamon-containing baked goods, the FDA seemingly shrugs its shoulders. European regulators are far more concerned about coumarin than their American counterparts. As far as we can tell, there are no U.S. limits on the amount of coumarin permitted in cinnamon-flavored baked goods in the United States. Analysis of such foods has found coumarin in detectable levels.

We are not terribly worried about an occasional cinnamon roll or cookie. What does concern us, however, is the growing trend for people who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes to regularly consume cassia cinnamon on their oatmeal or toast in order to lower blood sugar levels. A teaspoon of cassia cinnamon daily could pose serious risks.

You might assume that is not a likely problem for most people. Not so fast. A meta-analysis of clinical trials in the Journal of Medicinal Food (Sept., 2011) revealed that “cinnamon extract and/or cinnamon improves FBG [fasting blood glucose] in people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.”

People love that sort of good news. It was reinforced more recently in the Annals of Family Medicine (Sept.-Oct., 2013). The authors concluded that, “Based on currently available literature, cinnamon may have a beneficial effect on fasting plasma glucose, LDL-C, HDL-C, and triglyceride levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.” 

The Bad News About Cinnamon

Such studies create appealing headlines. People are told that cinnamon will not only lower blood sugar levels but also reduce bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise good HDL cholesterol. That might encourage some people to start consuming high doses of inexpensive cinnamon from their grocery shelves. One diabetes educator who was interviewed on NPR was quoted as saying cinnamon “is inexpensive,” “and it tastes good.”

That really worries us because regular consumption of inexpensive cassia cinnamon could lead to liver damage. Coumarin may also interact with other drugs including aspirin, NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc) and other anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin), to name a few potential complications.

Over the years we have heard from many people that cinnamon helps control their blood glucose. Here are some stories from visitors to this website.

“I have been using Saigon cinnamon for about 2 months as a supplement to my diet and medication. I put it in coffee, cereal, or oatmeal (at least once daily in the morning).

“I have found that a sprinkle of cinnamon daily keeps my blood sugar from spiking. I still must maintain a diet of low carbs and no sugar, but my glucose remains at fairly constant levels (between 70 and 140) whereas without cinnamon it would spike sometimes as high as 230 for no apparent reason. Also, my A1C has dropped to 6.1 from the low 8s during this time.” Jim

“I sprinkle a little cinnamon on my oatmeal in the AM for my psoriatic arthritis. Sometimes I even add it to my plain low fat yogurt as well.” Kathleen

“Ooh Boy! I’m starting to worry. I’ve been taking an overdose of cinnamon for the better part of a month 2 heaping tablespoons per day. Now I have pains in the kidney area, just slightly. Have I damaged my liver? If so does it recover with cessation of the cinnamon?” A.P.

We advised A.P. to stop consuming cassia cinnamon. Hopefully her liver will recover, if in fact it was harmed.

The Good News About Cinnamon

True cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon appears to have substantially lower levels of coumarin. Although it costs more, it does have a nice flavor and should be safer than cassia cinnamon. Here is a question we received about the effectiveness of Ceylon cinnamon:

“I understand that Saigon cassia cinnamon contains coumarin which can be toxic and has been linked to liver damage in some people. Aren’t diet and exercise are safer options for controlling blood sugar? And the Ceylon cinnamon is safer, but I can’t locate scientific evidence showing that it reduces blood sugar readings.”


For a long time, there weren’t any studies showing that Ceylon cinnamon was helpful. But that has been changing: (This is a rat study) (This one in mice, but the cinnamaldehyde compound used is present in Ceylon cinnamon) (rats and tissue culture)

“My question is similar to the one above; is cassia cinnamon the only type known to aid blood sugar control?” John

PEOPLES’S PHARMACY RESPONSE to John: At one time we would have said yes without hesitation. However, as more research accumulates, this answer has become less clear. Some studies indicate that Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Ceylon cinnamon) is also effective:

The Cinnamon Solution

“In 2007, I read on the People’s Pharmacy website that we could pour boiling water on the cassia cinnamon using a paper coffee filter as a way of extracting the coumarin. Per that article, ‘The active compound in cinnamon is water soluble but coumarin is not, so you get the benefit without the worry.'” Grace

Grace got it right. The active ingredient in cinnamon that helps lower blood sugar is water soluble. Using the technique she describes above can be helpful. Some people have complained, though, that it is too much trouble, or that putting cinnamon in the coffee filter creates a terrible mess or that they just plain do not like the taste of cinnamon in their coffee. There is another solution.

Health food stores now sell cinnamon extracts that have been purified so that there is no coumarin. One such brand of water-soluble cinnamon extract is Cinnulin PF. A visitor to this site offered the following:

“I became ‘pre-diabetic’ after being prescribed masses of prednisone for many months.  I had allergic reactions to generic metformin [went into convulsions with first dose] and started researching cinnamon and other supplements. I found an interesting fact about the cinnamon: If taken in the high volumes necessary to help with the glucose insensitivity, a secondary ‘chemical’ in the cinnamon can cause harm to the liver and kidneys.

“This property, however is NOT water soluble while the beneficial components ARE; so I then found Cinnulin PF and found that this preparation extracted by a water process contains none of the problem component and all of the benefits. I began using Cinnulin PF [along with other foods] and no longer am ‘pre-diabetic’.” L.D.

If you would like to learn more about the pros and cons of cinnamon as well as other foods for good health, we recommend our book, Recipes and Remedies from The People’s Pharmacy. You will get the straight and skinny on almonds, beets, blueberries, cherries, ginger, grape juice, green tea, hot peppers, mustard and pomegranates to name just a few of our favorite foods. Always remember, though, that too much of a good thing, even an otherwise healthy food, can sometimes pose problems. That is the lesson of cinnamon.

Here is a link to Recipes and Remedies and all our other publications.

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  1. Zach

    You can avoid the mess that cinnamon creates in your coffeemaker by placing another filter over top of the grounds before brewing your pot of coffee, I do it as a rule now, that way there’s no surprise grounds in my coffee.

    • Michael
      LA, CA

      And filtered coffee has much less of the ingredient in coffee that raises LDL cholesterol (so-called “bad” cholesterol).

      But LDL itself isn’t bad and doesn’t necessarily cause calcium plaque too build up in our arteries.

      Then our media and medical system have some people and their doctors thinking that we shouldn’t take calcium because it causes calcium plaque to build up in our arteries.

      Ah…but if one is taking 180 mcg. or more of vitamin K2 (MK-7), then calcium’s two protein guides, osteocalcin and matrix Gla protein (MGP) are likely carboxylated enough to tell calcium not to go into arteries and other soft tissues, like kidneys, but to go into bones (and teeth).

      It’s vitamin K2 that 95+% of Americans are deficient in.

      That’s one reason we Americans have much more arterial plaque than France, Japan and other countries that haven’t been set up to die by American agribusiness.

  2. Eric

    I am a diabetic patient, what kind of fruits can I eat and food?

  3. Eric

    Am two month diabetic patent,what fruit can I eat and food

  4. Allan

    If we have a symptom of liver problem after taking the cinnamon, what shall we do to avoid it?
    I’m taking it for a week then I notice now I have a pain in my right chest, what shall I do now, please advise.
    Two years ago I have a liver promlem, I go on ultra sound and have a aspiration of my liver. Thank you

  5. khumbu
    south africa

    Interesting read and food for thought.

  6. AGU lilian

    I think cinnamon is good, though I am using it for the first time.

  7. Maria
    United States

    If one is going to take cinnamon in supplement form, MG-wise – how many milligrams per day is safe, and how should it be taken? (ie, all in the morning, spread throughout the day, etc.)

    • KC

      Responding to Maria, USA ~
      I wondered the same and the article did not say at all (and I’d hoped it would). Saw this article ~

      When it comes to dietary testing, sometimes it is just not known conclusively (as the article linked herein states). And, to say conclusively is quite a branding that some in this world of sue-happy people simply don’t want to risk stating.
      I am not an expert, so decide for yourself. But, from what I’ve read, the max amount healthy to ingest per day is 1-4 grams (1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon = 6 grams approximately).
      That range is quite varied (1-4 grams), so I’m not sure if it is an answer. lol

  8. Dwight

    Does organic cassia cinnamon have less or no coumarin?

    Is Ceylon cinnamon just as effective in lowering blood sugar?

    • KC

      I wondered the same and the article did not say at all (and I’d hoped it would). Saw this article ~

      When it comes to dietary testing, sometimes it is just not known conclusively (as the article linked herein states). And, to say conclusively is quite a branding that some in this world of sue-happy people simply don’t want to risk stating.
      I am not an expert, so decide for yourself. But, from what I’ve read, the max amount healthy to ingest per day is 1-4 grams (1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon = 6 grams approximately).
      That range is quite varied (1-4 grams), so I’m not sure if it is an answer. lol

  9. Cindy

    I am wondering if there is a connection between cinnamon and brain function. I ate a package of cinnamon graham crackers two days in a row. Day one, I had a repetitive dream that I could not awake from. Day two, I had a bad stomach ache with gas, and the weirdest, scariest dreams that I’ve ever had. Needless to say, I’m not going to eat the last package of crackers in the box, nor am I ever eating cinnamon, again. Now I feel bad, as my husband is a diabetic, and I’ve encouraged him to take cinnamon capsules and thought I was doing a good thing.

  10. Shirley C.
    United States

    I have been taking one capsule of cinnamon daily for about a month; also been on a sort of diet, controlling calories in a reasonable way, without medication, am 80 years old. I lost thirty pounds easily before taking the cinnamon; cannot take off more weight, but it fluctuates from week to week within a couple of pounds up and down.

    Could the cinnamon be the case of no weight loss?

  11. Dennis

    I’m a bit confused by the claim that coumarin is not water soluble.

    Coumarin’s solubility is 170 mg / 100 ml. So a small cup of coffee (about 200 ml) could contain 340 mg of dissolved coumarin. The European limits cited above for daily consumption are well under 50 mg for a full sized adult.

    This makes no sense. Maybe the cellulose in a coffee filter could adsorb coumarin, but the water solubility explanation sounds like bunk?

  12. Nikki

    Could you simply put the cinnamon in a filter, put the filter in a funnel and pour your hot coffee directly over it , if you are using this as a sugar substitute in your coffee? If I can make my coffee while filtering the cinnamon at the same time it would just save an extra step. However, I can see this is an extra step worth taking, so I don’t mind if I need to, just checking.

    • The People's Pharmacy

      There’s no reason why you can’t put the cinnamon in your coffee filter along with the coffee. Be advised that the fine powder of the cinnamon may clog your filter a bit more than the coffee would all by itself, so it may take a little longer to make your coffee. We see no reason why you couldn’t also pour hot coffee over ground cinnamon in a coffee filter.

  13. Khushboo

    Can cinnamon cure pcos & helps in retain fertility…….?

  14. Nellie

    bought a bottle of cinnamon and took two pills a day, only took it for a week, then noticed I was being a little sick feeling in my stomach. so quit taking it. Then I was sick no more. Do you think it was because it was bringing my sugar down too much? got really scared of this.

  15. karen

    I just bought Saigon Cinnamon-100% organic. I know Ceylon is real cinnamon and am confused about “Saigon” Cinnamon. Is this real and safe?

    • Pat

      Ceylon Cinnamon is considered to be safe as it contains a negligible content of coumarin. Saigon Cinnamon has about 1250 times more coumarin than Ceylon Cinnamon. The below site will help visually distinguish between to two varieties

      It is safest to buy the Ceylon Cinnamon stick and grind them in a spice or coffee grinder

  16. cheryl
    United States

    Does the mixture of Cinnamon and honey have to be steeped in water or can you just eat a couple of spoonfuls?

  17. linda

    is cinnamon good to lower uric acid and the gout?

  18. Mr.MakingUsmile

    I have never read anything about how too much could cause liver problems. How much is too much? Very nice article.

  19. Health Around

    its great post………!

  20. Bob
    United States

    What I didn’t see answered here is:

    What is considered a safe level of the cassia cinnamon’s for one not taking any drugs?

    If one is taking too much, what are the symptoms? If one has symptoms, what should be done to stop them? How long afterwards should symptoms disappear?

    With symptoms, how does one know if permanent damage has been done?

    Thank you.


    • The People's Pharmacy

      Bob, a half-teaspoon daily probably is no problem, but when people get much beyond that, they should be looking for ways to avoid the potential hazard. We don’t want anyone to get symptoms, since the liver doesn’t give you any symptoms until it is in big trouble. A water extract of cassia cinnamon, whether you make it at home or buy it in a pill, should be quite safe.

      • Tausif

        Would this mean that preparing cassia cinnamon tea (by boiling the cinnamon for 15-20 minutes) would be a better option to reduce coumarin content?

      • Jane

        I am using cinnamon powder everyday in my coffee for almost 3 months now, recently I have a terrible pain in my chest close to the left side and in my upper back, I had consulted a doctor and had tested my ECG and general check up and the result was all normal aside from my blood pressure is high, I was wondering if the use of cinnamon powder in my coffee had caused the pain in my chest?


  21. Mel

    I started taking 1000mg of sundown cinnamon 2 weeks ago with diet change. I have taken my sugar from 280-356 to reading of 136 today. Now I am concerned. Should I stop the cinnamon?

  22. Lonny E
    United States

    You err when you write that Saigon cinnamon is Cassia, although that is a common error.

    Technically Cassia is Chinese cinnamon, Cinnamomum Cassia (

    Some cassia is grown in Vietnam, which is why people get them confused. But actual Saigon cinnamon is Cinnamomum Loureiroi, a different species.

  23. Staci
    Meta, MO

    In this article you talk about extracting the Coumadin . I’m confused. Do you then consume the liquid or what is in the filter? I make a detox drink with vinegar, lemon juice, honey, cinnamon and water. I like to make it in bigger but the cinnamon balls up and gets nasty looking. Can I steep it and just use the liquid?

    • ebm

      Stacy—- It is NOT CoumaDin but CoumaRin that is in cinnamon. When put in the coffee filter, just pour hot water over it and let it drain into cup. Use the LIQUID only and discard the stuff in the filter, which is the coumarin. Just pour it over slowly and it does not take a whole lot of water. Then mix it with your vinegar concoction you drink.

  24. Carrie

    I can tell you ceylon cinnamon does work really well at helping lower my blood sugar levels. If I use 1/2 tsp in my non fat greek vanilla yogurt and fruit breakfast, my numbers are in low 90s. If I go a day without ceylon added my numbers are above120 to 150. I had read about the 2 kinds and started buying the ceylon on line.

  25. Aldemar Diaz
    New York, NY

    Sadly, if we got rid of patents – which is against the law to begin with as it would essentially constitute the illegal seizure of intellectual property by the government – we would remove the pharmaceutical companies’ interest in developing medications in the first place. These companies exist for the profit motive alone, and since only they can marshal the considerable resources that must be invested in pharmaceutical research, banning patents would prevent the discovery of cures or treatments which could save millions of lives. I’m no fan of big pharma, but I don’t think the answer lies in annihilating the entire industry.

  26. Richard

    A very interesting and thought provoking discussion. It’s especially interesting to see a doctor or two chiming it with things like: ‘we’ll probably never know what the body really needs.’

    Sadly, many American doctors are turning out to be some of the most confused and ill-informed of all about nutrition. They’re taught to be drug pushers. Expensive drug pushers. And the drugs they push are some of the most dangerous and poisonous around. Drugs that target one problem and come with a long list of nasty side-effects. Whereas the supplements that doctors are taught to frown on and ignore target one thing and come with a long, ever-expanding, list of benefits.

    But supplements aren’t patentable. So they’ll never be on the doctor’s primary list. Doctors are taught to peddle the poison first.

    Our system has many strengths. We just need to get profit out of health care. It’s simply not compatible. Perhaps we should start by getting rid of patents on drugs. That would be a wonderful change.


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