Cinnamon the Food-Drug

Delicious, Anti-Diabetic Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a pretty unique compound. It is one of the few food compounds marketed as a supplement that actually has notable and consistent physiological effects in the dose found in foods, meaning eating the food straight can yield benefits that one would typically need pills for.

Some organizations have also been on the fence as to whether to call the two main extracts of cinnamon a ‘drug’ or a ‘food compound’, due to it’s potency in vivo. Indeed rare for a nutritional compound to garner attention from drug manufacturers and pharmacologists in this manner.

This article is simply looking at those two compounds in cinnamon (Preemptively labeled ‘The good’ and ‘The bad’), and the doses they are needed for effects, concerns regarding them, and suggestions on usage.

‘Water Soluble Cinnamon Extract’

I put the title in ambiguous quotes as, contrary to popular belief, it seems the active ingredient for Cinnamon’s benefits is not B-hydroxymethylchalcone as was once thought, but an as-of-yet unnamed polyphenol(s) dubbed ‘A type doubly linked procyanidin oligomers of catechins/epicatecins’ [x]

‘Cinnamon Extract’ is easier to remember though; let’s go with that.

Cinnamon Extract is a fairly interesting compound to look at. It had many anecdotes of efficacy and the literature also finds much benefit with it in treating glucose tolerance and insulin secretion in type II diabetics; although consensus is not yet reached on the topic. (A preliminary way of looking at it right now, is that Cinnamon Extract is known to have benefits, but is not yet approved as replacing more proven treatments) [x] [x] [x]

Interesting to note, whether it is relevant or not, is that Cinnamon Extract does not seem to lower HbA1c levels, yet significantly improves fasting blood glucose levels and symptoms of diabetes mellitus. This is interesting to note as HbA1c is usually the stand-by marker of diabetic health. [x]

The method by with Cinnamon Extract acts seems to be two-fold. There is some evidence that it helps secrete insulin production from the pancreas, but mostly it helps dispose glucose into cells via augmenting the actions of insulin; either through aiding signaling proteins or by helping GLUT4’s actions (both actions that insulin also shares), although the signaling method seems more likely [x] [x]

Anecdotally, Cinnamon has a fairly good track record of helping diabetics with glycemic control. Not many anecdotes exist with Cinnamon Extract in healthy individuals, but this is most likely due to lack of an ability to monitor salient symptoms.

Theoretically, cinnamon extract should help with muscle building in periods of carbohydrate excess (such as near a workout with a very high amount of workout nutrition, or a Cheat Mode binge), but aside from cinnamon not distinguishing between adipose or muscle tissue the use of glucose disposal agents during workouts is not the most studied field.

As for dosage, the upper limit of this particular ‘Cinnamon Extract’ is sky-high, and toxicity does not seem to be feasibly possible for humans not consuming a bottle of pills. The benefits also seem to be in a dose-dependent manner, although this has not been thoroughly studied. It’s almost a diabetic dream supplement where you can take as much as you want without apprehension and benefit from it.

Of course, shit is never as simple as that.


Coumarin is ‘The bad’ that I alluded to earlier. A fat-soluble compound in cinnamon that serves little to no benefit, and may cause liver and kidney damage in excess. It is highly active in liver tissue (as are all furanocoumarins; compounds related to the ‘Grapefruit Juice effect’), and may alter liver function.

Distinction should be made between two types of cinnamon. Cheap shit (Cassia Cinnamon) and Expensive/Fancy shit (Ceylon Cinnamon). The cheap shit (Cassia) tends to have higher levels of coumarin in it, and the nicer stuff tends to have lower levels of coumarin. These two can be identified in stick form since Ceylon has many layers of cinnamon rolled together and looks like a cigarette at the cross-section, while Cassia has minimal layers at the cross-section and much thicker rolls. They cannot be distinguished in powdered form. If buying powdered cinnamon, assume it is Cassia for a harm preventative approach (if the toxin is of concern to you) [x]

Ceylon left; Cassia right

As for toxicity of Coumarin, it is one of the rare compounds in which rat studies cannot fully show what would happen in humans. Rats seem to metabolize coumarin to a much more deadly metabolite than humans, so many rat studies may overestimate how little coumarin is needed for harm to occur. [x]

Although coumarin content differs between plant sources (as is the nature of plants), a rough estimate of how much coumarin is in cinnamon (Cassia) is approximately 5.8-12.1mg of coumarin per level teaspoon (5g). For disclosure, these numbers were taken from Wikipedia and confirmed via the primary sources and my trusty T1-83. [x] [x]

As for whether we should give two shits about this toxin or not:

  • If you are eating a food with cinnamon in it, there is no need to give a shit. The dose is too low.
  • If you are taking 3 rounded tablespoons of cinnamon a day for the Water-Soluble component to get your diabetes or metabolic syndrome under control. Give a shit.

Despite the LD50 of coumarin being around 275mg/kg bodyweight (meaning 3tbsps of cinnamon is still not coming close), there are some reasons I am approaching this compound with caution in some people.

  • Coumarin is fat-soluble, and the LD50 is a measure of acute death; clearly no one is as risk for acute death with these doses, but it does not clear the possibility of chronic and non-lethal effects. A possible build-up effect of coumarin in the liver could occur, and I have not seen any studies addressing the hepatic clearance time of coumarin. It is possible that it could stay in the liver for a long time; until we know more, play it safe.
  • The damage that occurs from coumarin is in the liver and kidneys, exactly where someone who is superloading it to control their metabolic syndrome should *not* be damaging as they may already be damaged.
  • There have been reports of genetically susceptible individuals who get harm from much lower doses.

There are a few ways to avoid coumarin from cinnamon though, if you aim for the benefits of the water-soluble component.

  • Buy Cinnamon Extract in pill form. It is available, but attention should be paid that it says ‘Water soluble Cinnamon Extract’ rather than ‘Cinnamon Extract’ (in which one would not know if the coumarin is extracted out) or ‘Hydroxymethylchalcone’, which was the old ingredient to though to have benefit.
  • Steep your cinnamon and make cinnamon tea. The beneficial compound is water soluble and will stay with the water mostly. Coumarin will stay with the wet mound of cinnamon residue. If you drink the water or use it to make a protein shake you will get the benefits and not the harm.
  • Do not consume cinnamon straight; Google ‘Cinnamon Dragon’ and watch what happens when you do this.

Cinnamon Dragon: Hilarious Prank, horribly unfunny to do yourself

In sum: Recommendations and Suggestions

I would wholly suggest anybody who considers themselves pre-diabetic or insulin resistant to use cinnamon to help alleviate these concerns. For those already diagnosed, consult your doctor and hope they are progressive enough to recommend cinnamon as a possible co-treatment, but it wouldn’t hurt to low-dose cinnamon and see how it helps glucose tolerance and go from there. (I’m just not recommending you do that, for liability reasons on my behalf)

For healthy individuals, using cinnamon can be great to prevent or alleviate the degradation into insulin resistance and a pre-diabetic state. It may help with muscle building during a workout or periods of caloric (carbohydrate) excess due to it’s ability to augment insulin’s glucose disposal abilities, but I can not put much validity into this method of usage. (It has worked great for me, but sample size of one)

For easy ways to get the good and not the bad, consider making tea. Either for immediate warm consumption, or to leave in a jug in the fridge for use to mix protein shakes with rather than using the tap for water. Pills are available with water-soluble cinnamon extract in it for the rich and lazy.

You can also put a stick of cinnamon, either one, in your tea and let it sit there. The water soluble components can leech off into the tea while the fat soluble coumarin stays in the stick. Just don’t bite into the stick.

(Due to the inability for me to look up the half-life of the active ingredients since I don’t even know their names, I cannot be sure how stable the compounds will be in water solution. Many anecdotes suggest that making a batch of cinnamon tea in the morning and having it throughout the day works, so I would preemptively assume that cinnamon extract won’t degrade in 24 hours)

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  1. Sol says:

    What about saigon? I am guessing it is equivalent to cassia?

    • Silverhydra says:

      Looking around, it seems Saigon is more in line with Cassia than with Ceylon. Although my sources are talking more about taste and scent rather than health properties.

      I would assume it closer to Cassia for now.

  2. Phanatic says:

    From memory something in Cassia increased rats testicular weight, though I don’t know where I’d find the study now. Great site hydra.

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