My last report about ginger led me to discover the proven anti-oxidant effects of another spice, cinnamon. I love this tasty spice. Now let’s consider the science supporting cinnamon’s antioxidant power for multiple health conditions.

Spices with high antioxidant capacity

Let me start by giving you a comparison of the antioxidant strength of common herbs. This was actually studied[1]and direct measurements of phenolic contents and antioxidant capacity of 26 spice extracts were compared. Many of these spices were found to contain high antioxidant capacity.

The spices with the highest antioxidant capacity of those studied were:

  • clove in the Myrtaceae (myrtle) family which also includes guava, allspice, and eucalyptus

  • oregano in the Labiatae family which includes mint, dead nettle, and the herbs basil, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, hyssop, thyme, and lavender; and

  • cinnamon in the Lauraceae (laurel) family

These natural antioxidants are potential sources for commercial exploitation. Let’s look closer at cinnamon.

Cinnamon for blood sugar control

We know that cinnamon is loaded with powerful antioxidants such as polyphenols.[2] [3] How does this translate into health and healing? Let me give you a few examples.

In one study,[4] researchers tested cinnamon supplementation in diabetic rats. They measured their body weight, glucose, insulin, liver glycogen, glycosylated hemoglobin (HgbA1C), total cholesterol, triglycerides, and antioxidants (such as glutathione) and compared them against a diabetic control group.

After 28 days, the diabetic rats given the cinnamon extract (Cinnamomum tamala) showed significantly decrease blood glucose, HgbA1C, and total cholesterol compared to controls. In fact, cinnamon supplementation had antidiabetic effects comparable to glyburide, a prescription medication commonly prescribed for diabetes in humans. You should be aware that glyburide may also come with up to 47 adverse side-effects.[5]

What’s more, they found the diabetic rat subjects had significant measurable antioxidant activity (decreased malondialdehyde and increased electrically reduced glutathione). In summary, cinnamon extract proved to have significant antidiabetic, hypolipidemic, and antioxidant activity.

In humans we see similar beneficial effects of cinnamon. For example, in a small (30 men, 30 women) placebo-controlled study[6] in type 2 diabetes, subjects consumed 1, 3 or 6 grams of cinnamon daily for 40 days. All three levels of cinnamon reduced fasting blood glucose (18-29%), triglycerides (23-30%), LDL-cholesterol (7-27%), and total cholesterol (12-26%), and there were no significant changes among those in the placebo.

Cinnamon curtails Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by progressive loss of the structure or function of brain cells. Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are the two most common types of neurodegenerative diseases today.

We have known for years that cinnamon can protect us from developing neuroinflammation, and more recently cinnamon extract was shown to significantly reduce already diseased nerve cells in vitro (the lab).[7] Cinnamaldehyde was the most potent of the active cinnamon compounds.

Furthermore, two compounds found in cinnamon appear to inhibit the buildup of the tau protein in the brain, which is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.[8] [9] [10]

In a study in mice with Parkinson's disease cinnamon was found to protect neurons, normalize neurotransmitter levels and improve motor function.[11]

Extensive research from 2000 to 2011 indicates that supplementation with spices such as turmeric, red pepper, black pepper, licorice, clove, ginger, garlic, coriander, and cinnamon are proven to target inflammatory pathways, and shown to prevent neurodegenerative diseases.[12] But when it comes to studies on cinnamon in people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, I am a bit baffled as to why scientific publications continue to tell us we need well-designed studies on cinnamon and other spices in neurodegenerative diseases to be done in humans.

For example, a 2013 review[13] of 734 articles in the scientific literature on cinnamon extract reported “minimal toxic and adverse effects” along with the following benefits:

  • anti-microbial and anti-parasitic activity

  • lowering of blood glucose, blood pressure and serum cholesterol

  • anti-oxidant and free-radical scavenging properties

  • inhibition of tau aggregation (hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease)

  • inhibitory effects on osteoclastogenesis (osteoporosis)

  • anti-secretagogue and anti-gastric ulcer effects

  • anti-nociceptive (pain) and anti-inflammatory activity

  • wound healing properties, and

  • liver protective effects

They (annoyingly) conclude, “However since data on humans are sparse, randomized controlled trials in humans will be necessary to determine whether these effects have public health implications.”

Meanwhile, my Harvard colleagues poo-poo cinnamon. They have posted[14] an editorial with a picture of cinnamon rolls (inflammatory food, very poor example of cinnamon supplementation) entitled, “Can cinnamon be used to treat Parkinson’s disease? Probably not.” They state, “…scientists and doctors have already been trying it [studying cinnamon supplementation in humans with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s] for decades – unfortunately, largely to no avail.” Is that really true? I cannot find any evidence of that claim.

Authors even as recent as 2017 conclude, “Spices…may provide more than just flavors, but as agents that may prevent or even halt neurodegenerative processes associated with aging.”[15]

Cinnamon fights cancer

Many studies are proving the anti-cancer effects of cinnamon[16] [17] [18] including in leukemia [19] and colon cancer[20]--just not yet in humans.

With all the proven health effects of medicinal spices (one of the foremost being cinnamon), we don’t need to wait around for human studies. You never know who is behind the study and what their motives are.

To healing from medicinal spices and feeling good,

Michael Cutler, M.D.

[1] Shan B, Cai YZ, Sun M, Corke H. Antioxidant capacity of 26 spice extracts and characterization of their phenolic constituents. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Oct 5;53(20):7749-59. PubMed PMID: 16190627.

[2] Rao PV, Gan SH. Cinnamon: a multifaceted medicinal plant. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:642942.

[3] Dhuley JN. Anti-oxidant effects of cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) bark and greater cardamom (Amomum subulatum) seeds in rats fed high fat diet. Indian J Exp Biol. 1999 Mar;37(3):238-42. PubMed PMID: 10641152.

[4] Kumar S, Vasudeva N, Sharma S. GC-MS analysis and screening of antidiabetic, antioxidant and hypolipidemic potential of Cinnamomum tamala oil in streptozotocin induced diabetes mellitus in rats. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2012 Aug 10;11:95. PubMed PMID: 22882757.


[6] Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2003 Dec;26(12):3215-8. PubMed PMID: 14633804.

[7] Ho SC, Chang KS, Chang PW. Inhibition of neuroinflammation by cinnamon and its main components. Food Chem. 2013 Jun 15;138(4):2275-82. Epub 2012 Dec 28. PubMed PMID: 23497886.

[8] Peterson DW, George RC, Scaramozzino F, LaPointe NE, Anderson RA, Graves DJ, Lew J. Cinnamon extract inhibits tau aggregation associated with Alzheimer's disease in vitro. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009;17(3):585-97. PubMed PMID: 19433898.

[9] George RC, Lew J, Graves DJ. Interaction of cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin with tau: implications of beneficial effects in modulating Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis. J Alzheimers Dis. 2013;36(1):21-40. PubMed PMID: 23531502.

[10] Anderson RA, Qin B, Canini F, Poulet L, Roussel AM. Cinnamon counteracts the negative effects of a high fat/high fructose diet on behavior, brain insulin signaling and Alzheimer-associated changes. PLoS One. 2013 Dec 13;8(12):e83243. PubMed PMID: 24349472.

[11] Khasnavis S, Pahan K. Cinnamon treatment upregulates neuroprotective proteins Parkin and DJ-1 and protects dopaminergic neurons in a mouse model of Parkinson's disease. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2014 Sep;9(4):569-81. PubMed PMID: 24946862.

[12] Kannappan R, Gupta SC, Kim JH, Reuter S, Aggarwal BB. Neuroprotection by spice-derived nutraceuticals: you are what you eat! Mol Neurobiol. 2011 Oct;44(2):142-59. PubMed PMID: 21360003.

[13] Ranasinghe P, Pigera S, Premakumara GA, Galappaththy P, Constantine GR, Katulanda P. Medicinal properties of 'true' cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum): a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013 Oct 22;13:275. PubMed PMID: 24148965.


[15] Mirmosayyeb O, Tanhaei A, Sohrabi HR, Martins RN, Tanhaei M, Najafi MA, Safaei A, Meamar R. Possible Role of Common Spices as a Preventive and Therapeutic Agent for Alzheimer's Disease. Int J Prev Med. 2017 Feb 7;8:5. PubMed PMID: 28250905.

[16] Lu J, Zhang K, Nam S, Anderson RA, Jove R, Wen W. Novel angiogenesis inhibitory activity in cinnamon extract blocks VEGFR2 kinase and downstream signaling. Carcinogenesis. 2009;31(3):481-8.

[17] Schoene NW, Kelly MA, Polansky MM, Anderson RA. Water-soluble polymeric polyphenols from cinnamon inhibit proliferation and alter cell cycle distribution patterns of hematologic tumor cell lines. Cancer Lett. 2005 Dec 8;230(1):134-40. PubMed PMID: 16253769.

[18] Lee CW, Hong DH, Han SB, Park SH, Kim HK, Kwon BM, Kim HM. Inhibition of human tumor growth by 2'-hydroxy- and 2'-benzoyloxycinnamaldehydes. Planta Med. 1999 Apr;65(3):263-6. PubMed PMID: 10232076.

[19] Ka H, Park HJ, Jung HJ, Choi JW, Cho KS, Ha J, Lee KT. Cinnamaldehyde induces apoptosis by ROS-mediated mitochondrial permeability transition in human promyelocytic leukemia HL-60 cells. Cancer Lett.2003 Jul 10;196(2):143-52. PubMed PMID: 12860272.

[20] Bhattacharjee S, Rana T, Sengupta A. Inhibition of lipid peroxidation and enhancement of GST activity by cardamom and cinnamon during chemically induced colon carcinogenesis in Swiss albino mice. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2007 Oct-Dec;8(4):578-82. PubMed PMID: 18260732.

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