- There are two main types of cinnamon: Ceylon and Cassia.
- Cassia cinnamon contains a higher level of coumarin, a compound that may lead to liver damage when consumed in excessive amount.
- For most people, moderate consumption of cinnamon would not lead to any health problems.
Almost 10 years ago, the Cinnamon Challenge took over the Internet. YouTubers filmed themselves attempting to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon powder in a minute without drinking any liquids, and some ended up having to call Poison Control with lung injuries.
Recently, TikToker Briddy Garb shared her own experience with excessive cinnamon consumption in a video that has since accumulated over 1 million views.
Garb said she was “obsessed with cinnamon” and put it on everything from oatmeal to pasta. After a while, she had “unexplained health problems” like dizziness, lightheadedness, and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). But once she stopped having cinnamon, her symptoms gradually went away.
The influencer attributed her health scares to coumarin, a compound found in Cassia cinnamon.
While cinnamon is easily accessible and it’s added to many desserts and beverages, experts have warned that this cozy spice could irritate the skin or the respiratory tract.
Kelly Krisna Johnson-Arbor, MD, medical director at National Capital Poison Center, says a “very, very large amount” of cinnamon consumption could potentially lead to symptoms like Garb’s.
Is Cinnamon Really Toxic?
There are many types of cinnamon, such as Ceylon cinnamon, mainly found in Sri Lanka. Cassia cinnamon, primarily grown in Southeastern Asia, is the most common one sold in the United States.
Johnson-Arbor says both types of cinnamon contain coumarin, “a group of compounds that are found in different types of foods and plants and vegetables that we eat every day.” These foods usually contain such a low amount of coumarin that it isn’t toxic to most people, she says.
“Coumarins are present in higher quantities in Cassia cinnamon than the true cinnamon. In the U.S., because of the price difference between the two types of cinnamon, Cassia cinnamon is the more commonly purchased cinnamon product,” Johnson-Arbor tells Get Meds Info.
Synthetic coumarins were banned as an additive in the U.S. in the 1950s because of reports about coumarins causing liver damage in rodents and lab animals, she adds.
A study suggested that high doses of coumarin may cause liver damage in some sensitive people. But Japanese researchers also found that high levels of cinnamon bark consumption used in herbal medicine had no impact on liver functions at all.
“There’s a certain subset of the population that most likely has some genetic predisposition to developing those bad effects,” Johnson-Arbor says, adding that most people will be fine consuming a moderate amount of cinnamon and other naturally occurring sources of coumarin.
But there are still risks associated with excessive cinnamon consumption. For example, cinnamon oil could irritate the skin, cause blisters and stomach pain. Breathing in cinnamon powder can also irritate the lungs, leading to choking, coughing or long-term respiratory issues.
Levels of coumarin in ground cinnamon can range between 2.65-7 g per kilogram.Most people won’t have any negative reaction to low levels of coumarin in natural products, Johnson-Arbor suggests.
“I would not want people to restrict their dietary intake of coumarin-containing products, including cinnamon, just because they are concerned about the long-term health risks of coumarin,” she says.
What This Means For You
If you believe you have a cinnamon allergy, schedule an appointment with your allergist to get tested and to learn your treatment options. If you experience any irritation after using cinnamon oil or have trouble breathing after inhaling cinnamon powder, contact Poison Control. The phone lines, website, and app are free to use and available 24 hours a day.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon Consumed in Moderation
While excessive cinnamon use may lead to side effects, small doses can offer health benefits.
“The research around spices is so good and there is really good evidence around how it can help the body prevent disease and heal from disease,” Dionne Detraz, RDN, integrative cancer nutritionist and author of The Cancer Diet Cookbook, tells Get Meds Info.
Cinnamon has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years to treat wounds, gastrointestinal issues, arthritis, and more. Newer studies are looking at the mechanisms behind the health benefits of cinnamon, which may help control symptoms of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other conditions.
“It is a very potent antioxidant. That’s part of the reason it can help reduce the risk of cancer. It also does help lower blood sugar,” Detraz says.
To reap the health benefits of cinnamon, individuals only need to add 0.5-1 teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon powder a day into their diet, she adds. Blending cinnamon in smoothies, adding it in coffee, sprinkling it on oatmeal, or using it to season savory dishes are good ways to enjoy cinnamon in moderation.
“The danger with anything is when you take it to the extreme,” Detraz says.