Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

And he was right — it’s truly amazing the health benefits you can reap from a nutrient-rich diet of diverse, whole foods. Spices count too, and they can be extremely healthy. Cinnamon is one such spice. You’ll find it everywhere, but you may not be aware of its powerhouse nutritional properties.

Cinnamon spice is derived from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree. It’s been used medicinally and as a flavoring for millennia. Nowadays, you’ll find two kinds of cinnamon: Ceylon, also known as “true” cinnamon, and cassia. Ceylon has a sweeter flavor and tends to be the purest, while cassia is more commonly available.

Whichever type you try, you’ll be adding a burst of warm, nutty flavor to your food or drink, as well as potential health benefits. These benefits may include everything from blood sugar regulation to cancer prevention.

Here’s a look at some of the top research-backed benefits of this mighty little spice.

Blood sugar benefits

In a 2010 study, researchers suggested that cinnamon has a remarkably positive impact on blood sugar levels and insulin. However, subsequent studies did not support these findings, and more research is needed to support this claim.

A 2016 study on mice suggested that cinnamon extracts have protective effects on pancreas beta cells, which make insulin. The researchers concluded that the spice is therefore antidiabetic. A more in-depth review published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology suggested that substances in cinnamon may aid in diabetes and help alleviate the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart problems.

Antimicrobial

Cinnamon also has been shown to be effective against a wide variety of microbes that can cause infection and illness in the body, including bacteria, fungi, and yeast. Cinnamon is a natural antimicrobial agent that can protect you from getting sick.

Studies indicate that the essential oil of cinnamon has significant antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant effects. One study showed that cinnamon essential oil was the most potent out of a group of other effective plant extracts. It may even prevent cavities.

Cardiovascular health

Your heart and circulatory system will thank you for consuming cinnamon. It may reduce total and LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels and triglycerides, and increase HDL or “good” cholesterol. However, not all studies show benefit and more studies are needed to confirm these claims.

Cinnamon also seems to lower blood pressure due to the widening effect it has on blood vessels, especially those in the arms and legs. This is called peripheral vasodilation.

Improved brain function and power

Cinnamon has impressive effects on the brain and neurological function. Research has focused primarily on Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

One important study showed that cinnamon inhibited tau aggression and filament formation, two of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. Blood sugar problems increase the chances of developing Alzheimer’s, so it makes sense that cinnamon can potentially ease both health concerns.

Another study published in 2014 showed that cinnamon treatment increased the production of brain proteins that are protective against Parkinson’s disease.

Cinnamon also shows promise when it comes to improving brain markers of learning. Mice that were fed cinnamon improved their memory and switched from being poor learners to good learners. This is an exciting area that needs further research.

Reduced cancer risk

Cinnamon may also help protect you from cancer. Its extract appears to be a natural inhibitor of tumor blood vessel growth factors. Anticancer medications can do the same, but they have severe side effects.

A 2013 study revealed that cinnamaldehyde reduced the growth and activity of melanoma cells, while at the same time exerting powerful antioxidant effects. This amazing compound also activated protective antioxidant activity in human colon cancer cells, as published in a 2010 study in Molecules.

The takeaway

Adding cinnamon to your diet is a win-win. Most people find the flavor to be delicious, and you receive a host of potential health benefits. Experiment by sprinkling some on your coffee or in a stir-fry. Here are a few recipe ideas to get you started.

As with all food and drink, consume cinnamon in moderation and discuss your diet and any concerns with your doctor.