Amazing Antimicrobial Properties of Cinnamon

Food, as we say it is a requirement of our daily life, without which we can hardly survive. But we can’t go on eating raw vegetables just to fulfill the requirement. We need taste. So, we add salt and spice just to make the food tasty. These spices not only provide taste to your food but also help in its storage and preservation. No one was concerned about the term “food preservation” until they came to know about food poisoning. Now, you must be wondering that how can food be a poison? The food we eat is not to be blamed here; the one responsible for making it poisonous is the “microbe-group” which grows on our food.

Microbes are nothing but microorganisms which are so small that millions of them can fit into an eye of a needle. (Like viruses, bacteria, fungi, filamentous molds etc.) They are the oldest forms of life. They may be helpful as well as harmful. Microbes growing on our food and secreting poisonous substances are inevitably harmful and they need to be killed no matter what. Not just the food poisoning but they are also responsible for common cold, flu and various infections. Prevention and killing of such microbes doesn’t always require a doctor’s prescription or a pharmacist’s permission. All you need to do is add some “cinnamon” in your diet.

Antimicrobial properties of cinnamon

Cinnamon is the bark of the evergreen tropical cinnamon tree. It may be in the form of quill or ground powder. It is known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antimicrobial, anti-diabetic and anti-tumor properties. It not only adds aroma and taste to your food but also has profound health benefits. From lowering your high blood sugar to curing your melanoma, cinnamon has not failed in proving its worth in natural medicine.  It is of various types including the Chinese (cassia) cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon and the verum species. Out of which the Ceylon cinnamon is considered to be the true cinnamon. It is used in a wide range by Sri Lankan people as a part of their daily food. 

Verum species is popular elsewhere and Cassia is used in Chinese medicine. Cassia cinnamon is the cinnamon which you may get in every grocery store nearby. 

An analysis was carried out to test the anti-microbial nature of cinnamon by some researchers which included the hydro distilled Chinese cinnamon oil and the pure cinnamaldehyde, underwent with gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The essential oil consists of 85% of cinnamaldehyde.

Results showed that both the oil as well as the pure cinnamaldehyde inhibited the growth of various microbes including bacteria, molds, antimicrobial benefits of cinnamonfungi, dermatophytes etc. (Bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus, E.coli, Entrobacter aerogenes, Proteus vulgaris, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Vibrio cholera, Vibrio parahemolyticus and Salmonella typhimurium. Fungi: Candida species. Molds: Aspergillus species). Agar dilution methods were used to determine the minimum inhibition concentration.  

Thus, it was concluded that the cinnamaldehyde present in the cinnamon is responsible for its broad spectrum antibiotic like action

Though, cinnamon has a wide range of anti-microbial action against almost all types of microbes but the contents of cinnamon are most effective against certain species like: E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella and Candida species.

Cinnamon and E. coli

Escherichia coli are those bacteria which are usually present in lower part of intestine of all animals. They are usually harmless but they may cause severe infections also.  They predominantly cause urinary tract infections, kidney failure, bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and even severe anemia. They spread through food and water contaminated with feces or stool of humans or animals.  They may be present in infected raw meat also. In Britain in the year of 1996, about 18 people died after consuming contaminated food from a butcher’s shop in Lanark shire. It was known to be the world’s worst food poisoning outbreak.

American scientists suggest that cooking the raw meat up to 71 degree Celsius and adding cinnamon to it defeat the bacteria completely.

Kansas state university conducted several studies using 23 spices in 3 scenarios to test their anti-microbial properties out of which one study was dedicated to cinnamon. After an outbreak of the disease (caused by E. coli) which led to the death of a girl and illness of 66 people, who consumed unpasteurized apple juice, the researchers focused on killing the bacteria present in the unpasteurized apple juice without harming its nutritional properties.

The study demonstrated the effects of cinnamon on E. coli bacteria. A teaspoon of cinnamon extract was added to 64 ounce bottle of apple juice. It was added alone or along with other food preservatives. The apple juice was tainted with approximately 1 million E. coli bacteria. The preparation was left undisturbed for 3 days. After 3 days, the researchers found that about 99.5 % bacteria were knocked down by the cinnamon extract. Along with sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (food preservatives) the E. coli levels were almost undetectable. The results were presented at an Annual meeting (1999) in Chicago on July 27 at Institute of Food Technologists.   Similar results were obtained in another study conducted in Taiwan.

Cinnamon and MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

MRSA are nothing but strains of staphylococcus bacteria which have developed resistance against antibiotics. Antibiotics are known as lifesaving drugs which help in fighting infections caused by almost all bacteria. But, their use should be as per the requirement and should be advised by a doctor. Antibiotic misuse proves to be the major reason for the survival and development of antibiotic resistant bacteria like MRSA. 

A recent study by a group of surgeons suggests that cinnamon oil can kill infections (found in hospitals) with streptococcus and MRSA just like various antiseptics do.

French researchers confirmed the same in 2008 with another study where the results stated that about 10% or less concentrations of cinnamon may act against E. coli, and antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.

Thus, cinnamon may be called as an antiseptic which prevent bacteria from developing antibiotic resistance. 

According to Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen, pediatrician in New Jersey who writes health advice in his blog, cinnamon may be used in hand sanitizers because of its antiseptic nature. One recipe suggested by him is called as the “thieves’ oil” which is a mixture of Eucalyptus, lemon and cinnamon extract. In middle ages, this recipe was used by the thieves who used to steal jewelry from dead bodies and never got sick. 

Cinnamon and Salmonella

Salmonella is another bacterium which causes food borne illness like E. coli and cinnamon is known to hinder its growth. According to U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, about 400 people are dying cause of salmonellosis and there are about 40,000 cases reported of the disease annually. Most of the patients recover even without any treatment whereas many require hospitalization and antibiotic therapy.

A research at University of Connecticut (by Hartford Courant led by Kumar Venkitanarayanan) was conducted to investigate the anti-microbial actions of cinnamon against salmonella. What they found was really hard to believe. 150 chickens were chosen for the study. Salmonella is found most likely in chickens where they contaminate the eggs through bird’s ovaries or through feces.

Few of them were fed with trans-cinnamaldehyde (a component of cinnamon known for its anti-microbial action) and few were not. All were exposed to Salmonella. The chickens fed with the cinnamon extract produced eggs which were rarely tainted with Salmonella and were noted to withstand the exposure to Salmonella. According to Courant, the genes of salmonella were interfered by the cinnamon extract which hindered their spread through the bird’s intestinal tract. 

Cinnamon and Candida

Candida is a fungus causing yeast infections in humans such as thrush/ urinary tract infections (infection in genital areas), eczema (athlete’s foot), fungal nail infections, etc.  There are various species of candida present which manifest diseases in different forms. Usually candida is harmless but when it overgrows, it is responsible for a severe infection called the candidiasis. Candidiasis is more common in diabetic patients as these organisms depend on sugars for their growth. 

According to the reports of a Chinese study conducted at Department of Fungus, the Second Hospital of Hebei Medical University, 2012, cinnamon has the most active anti-candida action. The study was performed both in the laboratory as well as on patients suffering from intestinal candida infections.

The laboratory test findings revealed that when cinnamon extract was added to the candida cells, the cells began to show irregular hollow structures on its surface and then the organelles of the cells began to vanish eventually resulting in the bursting of the cells at the end of the treatment.

Another study by the same scientists included 60 patients affected with intestinal candida infection. The patients were diagnosed of candidiasis after a stool test which confirmed the presence of the species. The patients received capsules made up of cinnamon oil and an Asian herb called the pogostemon oil for 14 days. After 14 days, it was found that about 72% of the patients had no candida at all in their stool samples and about 28% showed marked reduction in candida count in their stool sample.

One more study in 2011 conducted to investigate the use of cinnamon oil in hospitals has proved that out of 16 different essential oils, cinnamon is the most effective one against candida species.Apart from the anti-candida action of cinnamon, several studies have shown that cinnamon has a lot to do in lowering a person’s blood sugar level which may also be a reason of decreased growth of candida when cinnamon is administered ( low blood sugar levels – decreased growth of candida as candida strive upon sugar for its survival). 

Other organisms with which cinnamon can fight

  • Enterobacter aerogenes (cause hospital acquired, opportunistic infections including lower respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, bacteremia etc.)
  • Proteus vulgaris (cause urinary tract and wound infections)
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa (cause pneumonia, chronic respiratory problems in patients with decreased immunity)
  • Various oral germs and bacteria which cause halitosis or bad breath.
  • Vibrio cholera (cause cholera)
  • Vibrio parahemolyticus (cause gastrointestinal illness)
  • Herpes virus, Influenza virus and H1N1 virus.
  • Filamentous molds such as Aspergillus species, Fusarium specie (cause corneal infections, fungal keratitis)
  • Dermatophytes such as Microsporum gypseum, Trichophyton rubrum, etc. (cause dermatitis)
  • Mycoplasma hominis (cause urogenital infections)
  • Penicillium digitatum (cause fatal pneumonia)
  • Penicillium commune and Eurotium amstelodami (fungi commonly found in breads)

Dosage

½ to 1 tsp of cinnamon that is 2-4 grams is the recommended dosage according to studies. Some researchers even suggest up to 6 grams. It is better to stick up 4 grams as higher doses may be toxic. 
Cinnamon oil may also be used topically as an antiseptic lotion (thieves’ oil) or hand sanitizer but it must be avoided in cases of allergy. 

Precautions and warnings

Cassia cinnamon is usually not preferred as it has blood thinning property and it contains a substance called coumarin which is harmful for liver. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are recommended not to consume cinnamon.

Allergic conditions must be kept in mind. The spice highly alters the blood sugar levels so it is better to consult a physician before administering cinnamon to diabetics.