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Too Much Cinnamon May Be Harmful

Cinnamon can contain a compound called coumarin which may damage the liver, but there is a way to get the health benefits of cinnamon without the coumarin.

It’s a mistake to assume that all natural remedies are safe just because they are natural. Sometimes it takes a while to discover the potential harms of an apparently innocuous compound like cinnamon.

Q. I recently read that nutmeg can be poisonous in large doses when it is used as a folk remedy. Is the same true of cinnamon?

I use a large amount of cinnamon on my oatmeal every morning, probably about a teaspoonful. Is this harmful?

Too Much Cinnamon

A. Cinnamon sometimes contains a compound called coumarin. This is not an additive; it occurs naturally. Nonetheless, at high doses over a long period of time, coumarin may cause liver inflammation. We have written about such a case here.

That’s why it makes sense to avoid taking too much cinnamon, and an entire teaspoon could be considered excessive.

In addition, cinnamon should not be taken with statin-type cholesterol-lowering medicines. As we have explained, the combination can be very hard on the liver (American Journal of Case Reports, Apr. 29, 2015).

Another side effect of cinnamon that some people have reported is that it may contribute to sore or peeling lips as a result of sensitivity (Dermatitis, May-June, 2015).

Why Take Cinnamon?

Cinnamon (both the ordinary cassia cinnamon and the more refined Ceylon cinnamon) appears to have anti-inflammatory compounds that might prove beneficial in many different conditions (Food & Function, Mar. 11, 2015). Including cinnamon in a meal (especially in combination with other spices such as black pepper, cloves or ginger) lowered the amount of fat circulating in the bloodstream after digestion (Journal of Translational Medicine, Jan. 16, 2015).

Blood Sugar

The main reason most people are using cinnamon is that it appears to reduce blood sugar and insulin spikes after a meal (Annals of Family Medicine, Sep-Oct. 2013). One meta-analysis suggested it might also help control blood pressure in people with type 2 diabetes (Nutrition, Oct. 2013).

There is also some evidence that taking cinnamon with meals may lower triglycerides and cholesterol (Nutrition Research, Feb. 2014).

How to Take It

Cinnulin PF is a water-soluble extract of cinnamon that does not contain coumarin. These capsules appear to be safe and may help control blood sugar levels.

Taking cinnamon with coffee, by adding 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon to the coffee grounds before the coffee is filtered, provides another safe way to get the effective compounds from cinnamon without the coumarin. If you try this, use disposable paper filters. Cinnamon can make a gummy mess in a reusable filter. Another advantage of taking cinnamon with coffee is that the compounds in coffee act synergistically with those in cinnamon, so you get more benefit without having to take too much cinnamon (Food Chemistry, Nov. 1, 2014).

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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