Cinnamon: Chai's Secret Weapon in The Functional Beverage Wars

In the past 10 years, a drink’s functionality has become almost as important as its taste. Green juices, smoothies and lattes are increasingly judged on a sliding scale. If you’re like a growing section of the population, you may be at a coffee shop acknowledging that a drink tastes good, but wondering what it’s doing for you? Or perhaps you’re choking back a green juice hoping it adds 10 years onto your life and clears up your acne.

And poor chai sometimes gets left behind. Matcha has been used in ceremonies for hundreds of years and is filled with benefits. Golden milk’s rich turmeric properties make it a highly sought after, delicious anti-inflammatory. 

Chai has become the underdog - chosen for flavor, forgotten for function.

But that narrative is wrong. Chai is nobody’s underdog.

Perhaps you’re not thinking about it because you grew up eating it on sugary cereals and in prepackaged applesauce cups … but chai’s cinnamon brings plenty of function to the table.

Cinnamon has been used for thousands of years for its flavor and medicinal properties, before it was reduced to cereal headliner, holiday cookie sprinkle and applesauce add on. In recent years, it has received increasing attention from the scientific community, and numerous studies have been conducted to explore its potential health benefits.

Cinnamon’s Most Studied Benefits

We’ll start with cinnamon’s impact on blood sugar. Cinnamon has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, making it a promising option for those with type 2 diabetes.

The amount of cinnamon required to help regulate blood sugar levels varies depending on several factors, including an individual's age, sex, weight, and overall health. However, research suggests that consuming between 1 and 6 grams of cinnamon per day may help to improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.

It's important to note that while cinnamon has been shown to be beneficial for blood sugar control, it should not be used as a sole treatment for diabetes, as there are other important factors to consider, such as diet, physical activity, and medication use. Additionally, some studies have used cinnamon supplements, while others have used cinnamon as a spice in food. The bioavailability (how quickly it’s absorbed into the bloodstream) and effectiveness of cinnamon supplements may differ from that of cinnamon in its whole form.

What impacts the bioavailability of ground cinnamon

Fat content: Consuming cinnamon with a source of fat, such as a fatty meal or dairy product, can enhance the absorption of cinnamon compounds. Fat helps to solubilize the cinnamon compounds, making them more available for absorption.

Insulin: Insulin is a hormone that regulates glucose metabolism, and it has been shown to enhance the absorption of cinnamon compounds. Cinnamon has been shown to stimulate insulin release, which in turn can increase the bioavailability of cinnamon compounds.

Timing of consumption: Consuming cinnamon with a meal or close to a meal can enhance its bioavailability, as it is more likely to be absorbed in the presence of food.

Particle size: The particle size of the ground cinnamon can impact its bioavailability. Finely ground cinnamon has a larger surface area, making it more available for absorption compared to larger particles.

The heat from the chai latte can help to release the cinnamon compounds and increase their solubility, potentially enhancing their bioavailability. However, high heat and prolonged cooking times can also break down the compounds in cinnamon, reducing its bioavailability.

Additional Beneficial Properties in Cinnamon

The anti-inflammatory properties may not be as publicized as those in turmeric, but there are definitely benefits. Perhaps cinnamon needs better PR.

Cinnamon is believed to have anti-inflammatory effects due to its active compounds, such as cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid, and eucalyptol.

Inflammation is a complex biological process that is involved in many diseases and health conditions. It occurs when the immune system responds to cellular damage or stress, resulting in the production of cytokines and other signaling molecules. Excessive and chronic inflammation can lead to the development of diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

Cinnamon is believed to reduce inflammation by suppressing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, scavenging free radicals, and modulating the immune response. Additionally, cinnamon has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in various in vitro and animal studies, and some human studies suggest that cinnamon supplementation may have beneficial effects on various markers of inflammation.

Cinnamon’s Impact on the Brain, Heart and as a Virus Fighter

Some studies have found that cinnamon may help to improve cognitive function and memory, possibly by improving blood flow to the brain.

The exact amount of cinnamon required for improving cognitive function and memory is not well established and may depend on several factors, including an individual's age, health status, and the specific cinnamon preparation used. However, some research suggests that daily consumption of cinnamon in the range of 120-500 milligrams can have beneficial effects on cognitive function and memory.

While the blood sugar aspects are most impactful, cinnamon has also been shown to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Finally, cinnamon studies have linked the spice to certain antimicrobial properties, which may help to fight against bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

While a chai latte each morning won’t eliminate all your risks, at the very least, you can be assured you’re doing yourself a favor as you indulge.