Winter is cinnamon season when it comes to warming foods and beverages — perhaps it’s no coincidence that it’s an immune system-supporting superfood. If you want to give your immune system a boost, cinnamon will do the trick. While cinnamon has been cherished as one of the most popular spices in history, its immune system-boosting abilities still remain a hidden gem. In the East, this beautiful golden-red essence of tree bark has enjoyed a prominent position among healing herbs, especially in Indian medicine and cuisine, where the two are inseparable. The philosophy that food is your best medicine is a cornerstone of ancient Ayurvedic healing.
Cinnamon’s Role in Immune System Health
There’s a lot of talk about the immune system across all media, but it always helps to refresh the memory when it comes to what the immune system is. Essentially, this defense network comprises organs, cells, and systems within the body that protect us from disease, bacteria, viruses, toxins, inflammation, and infection. It sends white blood cells circulating throughout the body — as well as bolstering the skin, which is the body’s first line of defense, a physical barrier against foreign invaders.
Although the human body tends to be resilient and adequately defensive, in our modern era, we thwart our natural inclination toward immunity by eating bad foods, depriving ourselves of nutrients, breathing polluted air, drinking bad water, experiencing stress, and ingesting toxins. Cinnamon is one of several leading plant foods that has been proven over the ages to not only bolster the immune system, but to also fight an array of health problems, including those caused by viruses and bacteria.
Inside Cinnamon Bark
Cinnamon is derived from the bark of the species Cinnamomum verum, or true cinnamon tree. This sturdy and small (45 feet tall when fully grown) evergreen tree is native to Ceylon, Sri Lanka, an island country in South Asia, located in the Indian Ocean southwest of the Bay of Bengal. It also grows naturally on the Malabar Coast of India and in Myanmar (Burma), and is now cultivated in South America and the West Indies. Elongated pieces of the dried inner bark (called “quills”) are commonly referred to as “cinnamon sticks,” and are ground into a powder to create the spice found in kitchens across the globe.
Cinnamon was once more valuable than gold. More than 4,000 years ago, in ancient Egypt, cinnamon bark was highly prized as a part of embalming and religious practices. In medieval Europe, it was a necessary ingredient for religious rites and to flavor foods. Eventually, it became the most profitable spice in world trade. While various related species of cinnamon are cultivated, “true cinnamon” from Ceylon is considered the best, as it’s notably a bit sweeter, more polished, and harder to locate in the marketplace.
Enjoying Cinnamon’s Health Benefits
Cinnamon offers several impressive factors that promote health, healing, and illness- prevention, including powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. These micronutrients protect the body from oxygen-robbing molecules that adversely affect the cells and are from environmentally toxic substances, unhealthy foods, diseases, and lifestyle issues. In one study comparing the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon emerged as the frontrunner, even outranking “superfoods” like garlic and oregano.
One of cinnamon’s most heralded healing ingredients is cinnamaldehyde, which researchers report is so powerful that it kills fungi and is often applied to various crops to protect them from microorganisms. To a lesser extent, cinnamaldehyde is also an effective insecticide and can be used against household and farmland pests. The antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects of cinnamon are also considered helpful in the prevention of tooth decay and reduction of bad breath, which is why cinnamon is featured as an ingredient in many toothpastes, mouthwashes, and oral cleansers.
Medically speaking, cinnamaldehyde is able to address inflammation, which is pertinent to health issues arising from stress. Chronic stress increases inflammation throughout the body — and who isn’t living with stress these days? While stress is well-known as an emotional and mental drain, its physical effects are increasingly becoming evident to modern doctors. What once was blamed for causing headaches and ulcers is now also recognized as causing inflammation that leads to more serious health issues.
Traditional Healing Strives to Regain Balance
While Western medicine employs synthetic substances that target symptoms and disease, Ayurveda uses a natural, holistic approach. The philosophy of Ayurvedic healing is centered on bringing the body back into balance. Vasant Lad, one of the world’s most prominent Ayurvedic doctors, explains, “Ayurveda maintains that all life must be supported by energy in balance. When there is minimal stress and the flow of energy within a person is balanced, the body’s natural defense systems will be strong and can more easily defend against disease.” As a spice that has proven itself over countless generations, cinnamon is one of the best plant foods for supporting the mind-body-spirit axis, beginning with the immune system.