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.