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. Ric

    How to diy cinnamon water extraction?

  2. Sandra
    Lorton, Va

    Thanks everyone for all the great info on cinnamon – I bought capsules of Ceylon but after the info on the capsules, I will be breaking it open from now on. One teaspoon in the morning in coffee or tea. With my exercising & diet control I feel pretty good for 67yrs young?

  3. Monette

    what about pt with kidney transplant, how safe is it?

  4. Bobbie Jo
    Costa Rica

    I was consuming the wrong cinnamon to loose weight, cassia .. one tbsp in the morning with one tbsp raw honey in a cup of warm water. I feel like kidneys are pretty sore because my back is hurting. I have been doing this for three days. I am a pretty active person but have gained some weight since I quit smoking and also started perimenopause. I am a scuba diving instructor and I dive 2 times per day on average 20 days per month. Is there something I can do to get rid of the toxins….

    • Chase

      Burdock Root Tea, Ginger Tea and Dandelion Root Tea will help.

  5. Gerry

    I make a small pot of drip coffee (2 cups) every morning. In the center basket where I put the grounds I add a dash of cinnamon (perhaps 1/4 teaspoon). Adds a bit of flavor and hopefully helps the blood sugar, too. Then pour boiling water in top basket which activates the cinnamon.

  6. Jeannette

    My bilirubin numbers went from 0.5 last August to 1.1 January 2016, to 1.6 three weeks ago.  All my other liver numbers are normal so my Dr. thinks it’s one of the herbs I take and has asked me to stop turmeric for 2 weeks until my next lab work.

    I had been adding Vietnamese cinnamon and 2-3 slices of fresh turmeric in my smoothies every morning and using powdered in my evening meals…probably about the same time as my numbers began increasing. If my numbers are still high I am going to eliminate cinnamon for my next bloodwork.

  7. Edward
    Essex, England

    I have read that a ‘pinch’ of Cinnamon in a glass of water before breakfast is beneficial to one’s health. I have a heart condition and take many tablets each day, including the blood thinning drug, Apixaban. Any advice would be welcome.

  8. sue

    I am taking cinnulin pf 500 mgs a day. I take 2 in morning and 2 at supper. I have diabetes 2 and was on metformin er two at supper
    I was having side effects so went off it and began taking cinnulin pf. Can I also take olive leaf extract 500 mgs. Too? Thank you.

  9. Sue Harris

    does cinnulin PF cause you to urinate more frequently? I am already on a water pill with my B/P meds. I started taking cinnulin PF a few days ago. I iknow it says it takes 6 weeks to see a big change in the sugar readings. I was taking metformin er and quit taking it because it caused my stomach to bloat and had gas and made me urinate alot. So at this point I am on supplements. I talked to my doctor and he knows what I am doing and waiting to see it this works. My sugar readings have not been bad. But would like to know about the urinating question. I do take my B/P meds in the morning . Thank you!

  10. Princess Di
    BC Canada

    I was taking Ceylon Cinnamon and honey for a year……..but then I kept getting urinary tract infections. It went away when I quit the cinnamon. Ceylon is supposed to help with urinary tract not cause infections. But in my case… didn’t work. They say probiotics are good for you, but I cannot stomach that either…go figure. The Ceylon helped with digestion….but wasn’t good for my kidneys.

  11. TD

    Finally, I found the Cinnamon [concentrated} with CinSulin tablets
    500MG water extract with Chromium & glucoLite blend.

  12. maria rose

    I am glad to see this discussion on cinnamon. I use it daily like some people noted as an addition to my coffee grinds if brewing coffee or add to coffee if brought at a coffee house. It helps me curb my sugar craving as I no longer need sugar coffee (very hard habit to break). What is especially true about cinnamon is what kind you use and quality of it. I get organic cinnamon from a certified source. It helps to spent a little more for something I use a lot of.

  13. Linda

    I put cinnamon in a small shaker and add a shake to my coffee grounds before brewing. (Everyone loves my coffee!) But don’t add more than a shake or it will clog the filter, overflow and make a mess.

  14. LORENA

    Can I drink water mix with ground cinamon and lemon ?

  15. lakechand
    lodi ca

    I am using it as an antioxidant and not for blood sugar. l boil stick a little then put in oatmeal. l am not on any medication. What you think?

  16. O

    I’m sure cinnamon probably has more health benefits than we know. I’m not really worried, especially since I’m going through a stomach issue right now, and ground cinnamon is the very tool that seems to be helping when combined with water before bed. You really don’t want to do too much of a good thing.

  17. gurby

    It’s important to realize that the so called “True” cinnamon is simply the translation from Latin not any organization’s opinion (i.e., genuine airbag vs. counterfeit). It’s use is just as an adjective from a botanist way back I’m sure. True has the bearing of Ruby Red, Majestic, Brilliant. It’s nondescript, it almost never is with names of beauty, they save that for poisons by using things like deadly.

    The word “True” is misunderstood and its been a sort of marketing ploy to command higher prices in Cinnamon trade. Greedy if you ask me as the limited natural availability of “True” already commands a higher price. Sea salt a plenty, only one Dead Sea so one Dead Sea salt.

    Most studies for benefits are on the Chinese cinnamon as thats widely available and it is what the big world outside of Sri Lanka uses.

    So it has more cumarin, all things are different it may have more anti viral and other beneficial chems too. Look at it this way. I eat all of the grape except the skin due to birds and insects making it look unpleasant. I know the seeds contain cyanide to protect them from micronasties so they can be fertile. Cyanide is rough stuff. Now some report comes out and says Muscadines, those giant false freaks of grapes contain up to x10 more cyanide in their seeds. I’m still going to enjoy them and not start paying x3 the price for true concords.

    Moderation,variation in all things. If you want to micromanage something no one truly understands, you need more natural foods in you regardless because your poor nutrition has driven you insane!

    • Damaris


  18. Reza
    Houston, Texas

    Buy cheap cinnamon sticks from grocery stores (I buy them from Fiesta in Houston, TX ) , and make tea with then (boil them slowly until water turns reddish color ). Courmin is fat soluble , but the good stuff is water soluble, so the bad stays in the stickd, and the stuff enters the water. I drink it twice a day.

  19. babygirlftca

    I think there are risks to every thing we do. Even our air out side is bad for us. We just need to keep living natural lives and I think if God gave it to us then why be afraid of it. We consume so many chemicals in the food we buy from the market. That are mad in factorys and we don’t blink… if you have been living on cinnamon for many years and you are healthy then don’t be afraid of these websites. You are doing something right?

    • Cati

      You are right about the many chemicals in the food we buy from the market, veg and fruits etc . To be honest between my husband’s daily sugar intake from processed food and sweets, and adding cinnamon in my food daily and also raw cacao powder, which also has some bad sides, I really prefer the last two.

    • Cam

      Perfectly said. That’s what my thoughts are as well.

  20. Dianna

    I have been eating 4 to 6 tablespoons of Saigon cinnamon for the last several years. I did not know that it could cause liver damage. Do u recommend I go have liver enzymes blood work done

    • babygirlftca

      If you are a healthy person.. then you must be doing it right?
      But if you want to have proof then I wouldcheck your liver and see?
      Then post here letting us know what you found out?

    • Denise

      I would stop taking it do a liver cleanse and reduce cinnamon to 1 teaspoon a day of the Ceylon. It is helping reduce my prediabetes. I eat and drink hot water with 1/2 teaspoon of ceylon. Fasting this a.m was 88 an hour later after eating it was 83 two hours later it was 89. three hours later it was 91 .My a1c is 5.8 . Get new test tomorrow. Keeping fingers crossed it has come down.

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