Cinnamon has long been used as a natural remedy—and now modern-day science supports the idea that the spice might be more than just delicious. Pancakes rejoice!

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm
Updated July 16, 2015
Bundle of cinnamon sticks
Credit: Creativeye99/Getty Images
Bundle of cinnamon sticks
Credit: Creativeye99/Getty Images

It might prevent colon cancer.

The compound that give cinnamon its color and scent (cinnamaldehyde) might just inhibit the production of colorectal cancer—at least in mice, according to a May 2015 study published by University of Arizona College of Pharmacy researchers in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. The mice that had cinnamaldehyde were able to protect themselves from a carcinogen. The next steps, according to the authors in a statement, is to see if the benefits apply to cinnamon more generally—and then if it works in humans.

And maybe kill off viruses.

A daily dose of cinnamon might just keep viruses away. Researchers from Touro College in New York City presented their preliminary findings in June 2015 at the American Society for Microbiology Annual Meeting. They compared two South Asian spice varieties, from Saigon and Ceylon, against other plant extracts (onion, garlic, cloves, peppermint, cocoa, and Spanish saffron). Using an extract containing 10% cinnamon effectively killed a virus similar to ones that harm both animals and humans, after just 10 minutes. And the results lasted longer than a day. The study authors recommend sprinkling it over hot chocolate, on pancakes, or in smoothies.

Cinnamon might boost memory.

While the human studies aren’t there yet, cinnamon has shown promise in boosting the brain in animal research. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology evaluated the effect of the spice on mice with dementia. The scientists gave the rodents 50, 100, and 200 mg doses of Cinnamomum zeylanicum bark (which cinnamon is derived from), and then had them perform a water maze and object recognition tests. The mice that took the 100 and 200 mg doses outperformed the other group in the water maze test and better recognized the difference between familiar and new objects.

It could also control diabetes.

A 2013 research review published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine suggested that cinnamon could have real benefits when it comes to Type 2 diabetes, even though some of the human research results have been mixed. “Despite the mixed results coming from studies of cinnamon in type 2 diabetic patients, there is promise in its potential effects. Large, randomized, placebo-controlled studies of cinnamon need to be completed in order to fully evaluate its efficacy,” the researchers wrote in their conclusions. “However, due to the significant amount of favorable studies in patients with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, cinnamon is a reasonable treatment option in this population. Cinnamon’s low cost, over-the-counter availability, and safety profile make it a relatively low-risk alternative to traditional glucose-lowering medications.” But before you start dumping the stuff on everything you eat, take note: They say maximum medical benefits likely come from taking capsules of cassia (Chinese) cinnamon.

And relieve period cramps.

Good news for those who suffer from bad menstrual cramps: In an April 2015 study of almost 80 female students from the Ilam University of Medical Sciences in Iran, women who took cinnamon in pill-form showed a significant difference in severe symptoms compared to those who took a placebo. At the start of their cycles, subjects took 420 mg of cinnamon or starch three times daily. From day one, the spice takers experienced less pain in 24 hours and almost none by day 3. They even had less menstrual bleeding and nausea compared to the placebo group.