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Monday, June 09, 2008

Is Cinnamon good for the heart?

Cassia Cinnamon (the least expensive species of cinnamon sold in the US) like chocolate, is full of flavanols, which can lower blood pressure. In fact, Cassia has a lot of active compounds in it. Some are beneficial, while some are not. Some researchers have reported such dramatic results that you would certainly want to talk to your doctor before adding large quantities of cinnamon to your diet.

  • Water-soluble compounds: flavanols, proanthocyanidins and oxidized proanthocyanidins
    • flavanols and proanthocyanidins found in cinnamon might lower blood pressure and improve circulation. (Or it might not)
    • Proanthocyanidins, when mixed with water in a basic solution, will oxidize. Some of these oxidized proanthocyanidins might improve insulin sensitivity
    • methylhydroxychalcone polymer (MHCP) one polyphenol compound, found in several cinnamon species, has stimulate insulin-like responses in living cell experiments.
    • Some other water-soluble compounds could slow down the progression of alzheimer's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Alcohol-soluble compounds: estrogen-like compounds that might help prevent osteoporosis.
  • Oil-soluble compounds: coumarin and other essential oil componants

The big problem with cheap and tasty cassia cinnamon is... coumarin, a potent blood thinner, from which the prescription blood thinner Warfarin (known as Coumadin and by other brand names) was derived. In addition to thinning the blood, it can put a strain on the liver, even causing liver damage which is, fortunately, reversible. Coumarin has been used since the 1880's to give perfumes that "green" scent of new-mown hay, and it is found in other plants common around the world. Cassia Cinnamon contains 4% essential oil, of which 7% is coumarin. So it is .28% coumarin. If you eat 1 gram of cinnamon (1/4 teaspoon) of cassia a day, you would get 2.8mg of coumarin The German government recommends a tolerable daily input of no more than .1 mg Coumarin per kg bodyweight, so a person weighing 110 pounds (50 kg) could afford to eat 5mg Coumarin (1.78g of cassia) per day. It is probably a good idea to stay within this safe daily limit for powdered cinnamon.

Since coumarin is not soluble in water, scientist in the lab of leading cinnamon researcher Richard Anderson have made hot water extracts (tisanes) to leave the toxic coumarin behind. They used basic solutions to help dissolve the compounds that help diabetics the most MHCP. Then they found out a polyphenol is important for improving blood sugar. For lowering blood pressure, the flavanols and proanthocyanidins are most important. And these break down in a basic solution. So, for lowering blood pressure, plain hot water might be better. If you were to add 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon to 1 cup of hot water, and let it steep for a while before filtering through a coffee filter, you would get most of the polyphenols (these researchers, using grape powder, used a centrifuge to recover over 90% of polyphenols from their powdered sample; you'd probably get less through a coffee filter).

So -- is cinnamon good for your heart? The answer seems to be: yes and no. Up to 1/4 teaspoon daily of cassia cinnamon might be risk-free for most adults. It might or might not help bring down blood pressure and/or help improve cholesterol or diabetes. Larger amounts might be bad for you because of the coumarin. You might get the benefit of the flavanols by making tea from your cassia. Or you can use a water-extracted cinnamon extract, like those researchers did.


Cinnamon said...

The Cinnamon that is sold in the USA is actually Cassia.

Please click the link under my name to read more on how to identify real cinnamon from cassia.

Family Nutritionist said...

Yes, cinnamon in the US is "Cinnamomum cassia". Cassia has the bitter polyphenols that may improve blood pressure. Unfortunately, it also contains coumarin, which can thin the blood.

The cinnamon you are talking about "Cinnamomum zeylanicum", also called "Cinnamomum verum" tastes sweeter because it doesn't have the polyphenols. Or the coumarin.

NanaSuwa said...

Cinnamomum Zeylanicum is from Srilanka (Zeylanicum - ceylon) and of course it is different from cassia. Sri Lankan Cinnamon has a huge demand due to its less polyphenols, less of poisonic substances called coumarin the potentioal blood thinner agent.
Rukman Wagachchi

Family Nutritionist said...

Of course, it is the polyphenols that have the health benefits -- potentially improving blood pressure, inflammation, and insulin.

Anonymous said...

You wrote that Coumarin is not soluble in water so a cold or warm water extract of cassia cinnamon is not going to contain any Coumarin at all. This obviously contradicts the concerns about the Coumarin content, doesn't it? You pointed out that it is oil-soluble. So long as one does not cook Cassia cinnamon with oil, the Coumarin is not going to be bioavailable. This is an important point for those who want to avail themselves to the therapeutic properties. Cjuan

Family Nutritionist said...

I cook with powdered cassia, not water extracts. So I could absorb some oil-soluble fractions. But if you are not coumarin-sensitive, you are not at risk from consuming even a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Jim said...

I am a diabetic. When I was diagnosed with "significant" diabetes, I searched for something that would keep me away from having to take needles. Noting that cinnamon solids are bad for you, I made cinnamon tea by bringing a cup of water to a boil, adding 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, letting it boil for 30 more seconds, and then allow the tea to cool. I still need to be responsible with my sugar intake, but I feel great and my glucose levels (daily and A1C)have been quite good.

Family Nutritionist said...

That's great news.

I've learned that I am not sensitive to the coumarin in cinnamon (cassia, also known as Canela in the US). So I don't worry about the solids.

I can add powdered cinnamon to all kinds of things.

Even coumarin-sensitive people will be OK with up to 5 mg (about 1/4 teaspoon) of cassia cinnamon a day.