(NaturalNews) A shaker of cinnamon often sits on the spice rack in most of our kitchens. Given its frequent use in sugary baked goods, many health mavens overlook cinnamon's centuries-old history as a healing substance, focusing on more exotic herbs rather than a brown powder found in Grandma's kitchen. Yet cinnamon, derived from the bark of a tree commonly found in South Asia and the Middle East region, not only adds flavor to pies, it also delivers a host of health benefits.
Ancient India's Healing Tradition
Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India, often uses cinnamon to stimulate circulation as well as to increase the bio-availability of other herbs. Ayurvedic healers, prescribe remedies based on an individual's dosha or type. Ayurveda sees cinnamon as an appropriate remedy for people who belong to the kapha type (characterized as sturdy, heavy, calm, slow and moist) and the vata type (thin, cold, prone to nervousness) since cinnamon tends to have a heating and energizing effect. People who belong to the pitta type (fiery, oily, sharp) can partake of cinnamon in moderation.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Herbalists and acupuncturists in the Chinese tradition value cinnamon for its warming qualities. Doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) may prescribe cinnamon, often in combination with another warming substance such as ginger, to ward off colds. TCM healers may prescribe cinnamon for disorders associated with the kidney meridian.
During the 1918 influenza outbreak, workers at cinnamon factories seemed immune to the Spanish flu which decimated the population. A potent new form of cinnamon extract may even protect against HIV. An Israeli researcher, taking a cue from a Biblical reference to high priests using a holy oil containing cinnamon, in 2007 developed a powerful cinnamon extract which may protect against modern viruses like the Avian flu.
Blood Sugar Control
There may be a touch of ancient wisdom at work in all the recipes which combine cinnamon with high-carb and high-fat ingredients. Cinnamon can mitigate the impact these foods have on blood sugar levels, slowing the rate at which the stomach empties after meals and thereby reducing the potential spike in blood sugar. Cinnamon can offer aid to people who have type 2 diabetes by preventing insulin resistance and has even been recommended by the American Diabetes Association. Research has shown cinnamon outperforms diabetes drugs. In a study published in The Journal of Diabetic Medicine, research subjects given cinnamon supplements experienced greater improvement in blood sugar levels than those who received standard diabetes drugs.
Muscle to Fat Ratio
Studies indicate that cinnamon supplements go beyond just improving blood glucose levels; they can also reduce body fat percentage and help increase lean muscle mass.
If people at the holiday dinner table seem especially alert when the cinnamon-spiced pumpkin pie is being served, it might be because of its scent, not just an appetite for sweets. A 2004 study found that the smell of cinnamon helped boost brain function. Study participants performance on tasks involving virtual recognition memory, attentional processes, working memory, and visual-motor speed while using a computer were measured comparing the relative effects of jasmine, peppermint, cinnamon and no odor. Cinnamon had the strongest positive effect on study subjects' cognitive processing skills. Cinnamon's aroma comes from cinnamonaldehyde, an essential oil in the bark of cinnamon trees.
Cinnamon has the ability to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, molds and yeasts, including Candida yeast. In a 2003 study, two batches of vegetable broth were refrigerated, one with, and one without cinnamon oil. The broth with the cinnamon oil was resistant to food-borne pathogenic Bacillus cereus for at least 60 days. Researchers in this study observed that the cinnamon not only served as an effective preservative but also improved the flavor of the broth. In another study, researchers at Kansas State University discovered that cinnamon eliminates E. coli in unpasteurized apple cider.