heart shaped cake topped with cinnamon streusel

Q. My husband is a pancreatic cancer survivor so he has regular blood work done for his oncologist. A recent blood panel result showed that his liver enzymes were very elevated.

We had to figure out what he might have taken that raised his liver enzymes. The answer turned out to be cinnamon-topped coffee cake.

Who would have thought that cinnamon could be dangerous and do damage to your liver? I suppose not everyone is affected by eating cinnamon but certainly many think they can sprinkle it on cereal every day.

It should be more widely known that cinnamon in regular quantities is not always as healthful as you might think.

A. Cinnamon from the spice rack is usually cassia or Chinese cinnamon. It often contains coumarin, a natural compound that can be harmful to the liver.

Several years ago, Germans were alarmed to learn that some of their favorite Christmas cookies, the zimtsterne or cinnamon stars, contained dangerously high quantities of coumarin. They were warned to limit cookie consumption to protect their livers.

Your husband might be especially susceptible to this effect; it would be wise to reserve cinnamon-topped coffee cake just as a rare treat. Another option would be to seek out Ceylon cinnamon to use in your baking. It generally has much lower levels of coumarin.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has provided these FAQs about cinnamon and its safety.

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  1. Connie
    United States

    I have been taking about 8 shakes of trader joes cinnamon for a long time…maybe two or three years, in my cereal. My friend told me it’s really good for us. So, now it looks like I should stop it altogether? That’s a bummer because it’s sweet and I really trusted my friend. I don’t have diabetes so that’s not an issue. I believe it is just regular cinnamon, nothing special…what do you think?

  2. Yvonne
    Rockland MA

    I have been taking cinnamon with my coffee every day. Lately my primary Dr. called after a liver test to let me know that due to the high enzyme level I now need a ultrasound of the liver. Do I need to stop using that Saigon Cinnamon and the turmeric?

  3. S.H.

    My husband and I have been using cinnamon capsules for a while, now. His yearly exam and blood work showed some slight liver enzyme elevation. I previously used the water extract standardized cinnamon, but it was pricey ; I switched to another brand, and the name brand cinnamon was cassia. It does, indeed, prevent those blood sugar spikes that someone might get. (I did see in another peoples pharmacy posting that tylenols and aleves types of pain killers can cause liver problems; he takes one aleve a day.)
    We are going to stop cinnamon for a month, which is his next blood work/ follow up appointment. I will report back to peoplespharmacy about the results,(if I can find this article/posting, as here.).


    which cinnamon is safe, generic brand? name brand?

  5. Fred

    I have noticed that many of the currently-fashionable pumpkin products contain cinnamon – from snacks to desserts, even pumpkin-flavored coffee and lattes. Should these products also be considered risky, liver-wise, in this context?

  6. Dorothy
    New Orleans

    I was very interested in this topic as I use at least 6-8 shakes of the bottle of Roasted Saigon Cinnamon on a daily basis with Greek yogurt as recommended (the yogurt, not the cinnamon) by my MD. Is Saigon cinnamon the same as the cinnamon in this article and does it also elevate liver enzymes?

  7. Rochelle A

    My friends take Doctor’s Best Cinnamon capsules–one daily. Please let me know if this Brand is okay. Thank you for you response.

  8. wendy

    Ceylon cinnamon has much lower levels of coumarin, and may be a safe choice.

  9. Tony D

    I have been taking two cinnamon capsules after my main meals for years. Recently I had elevated liver enzymes too. Turned out I had a billary obstruction. Now I have a stent. Should I throw my cinnamon caps away?? I took them as a diabetes preventor.

  10. Gary
    Waynesburg, PA

    Is ‘coumarin’ removed from the cinnamon when brewing hot coffee through a paper filter?
    I remember from earlier shows on the People’s Pharmacy that using a paper filter when added to your morning coffee brew protected you against the harmful ingredient normally found in kitchen-spice grade cinnamon.
    Thank you,

  11. MPH
    Gainesville, fl

    So, to I’ve been adding cinnamon to my coffee every morning before brewing for the health benefits , now I’m told it could damage my liver….really?!

  12. cpmt

    There are people who are more sensitive to these compounds. Turmeric too may be a problem for some people. What I will like to know is which cinnamon is ok to take to get blood sugar lowered?

  13. Liz

    I found this article alarming as I have been taking a cinnamon capsule daily with my breakfast to reduce the “sugar spike” jitters I get from eating carbohydrates (cereal, toast). It helps immensely with that problem. What are the risks that I’m doing damage to my liver? I had a complete physical with blood and urine tests recently and everything was in good order.

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