One of the best things about the holiday season is the abundance of cinnamon-spiced goods that become available everywhere from your local cafe to your grandmother's house.
It starts in the fall with pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, then continues on through December with gingerbread cookies at Christmas and rugelach and babka during Hannukah.
Previously on HuffPost:
But the benefits of cinnamon might not just be related to its great flavour — there's a growing body of research suggesting that the popular spice has health benefits too.
Cinnamon is a spice made from the inner bark of cinnamomum trees, which grow in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam, and Egypt. Those sticks can be ground into cinnamon powder, or purchased pre-ground. The spice's great smell and taste comes from cinnamaldehyde, a compound in its oils.
There are two main types of cinnamon: ceylon cinnamon, which you may see referred to as true cinnamon, and cassia cinnamon, which is the variety you'll commonly find today. Research has been done on both types, including ground cinnamon and the oil derived from the spice — some benefits are specific to a particular type of the spice.
Here are eight potential health benefits of cinnamon — all the more reason to warm up with the spice as the days get shorter and the temperatures get lower.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, cinnamon is a digestive aid, says TCM practitioner Dr. Vincent Caruso. Caruso recommends making a cinnamon tea with one teaspoon of ground cinnamon and eight ounces of boiling water, with honey added for taste if necessary. And an Australian study found that cinnamon seemed to cool the bodies of pigs, reducing gas and helping digestion.
Lowers blood pressure
Some research has linked cinnamon to heart health in a few important ways, one of them being lowered blood pressure.
One study conducted on patients with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes found that consuming cinnamon did have the effect of reducing blood pressure, at least temporarily. Further study is needed to see what long-term effects may be possible.
Fights tooth decay
That cinnamon-flavoured toothpaste is more than just tasty. One study found that cinnamon oil was more effective than clove oil — which many people use to prevent infection after a root canal — in preventing the spread of bacteria in cavities. And another study found that cinnamon oil can help prevent mouth infections.
Improves insulin resistance
The research is still preliminary, but there's some evidence that cinnamon — particularly cassia cinnamon — may be helpful for those with diabetes or insulin sensitivity. "Several small studies have shown promising results for cinnamon at improving insulin sensitivity, which may be helpful in those with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes," says dietitian Rebecca Ditkoff.
Another interesting area of research is in cinnamon's potentially positive effects on cholesterol levels. Some of the research that looked at cinnamon's role in improving health for people with diabetes found some evidence of lowered levels of blood lipids — but it's not clear that cinnamon was directly related.
One way it definitely can help lower your cholesterol, though, is by being used to add flavour to food instead of ingredients like salt and excess sugar, which are related to high LDL cholesterol levels.
Struggle with bad breath? Cinnamon may be able to help you out. One study found that cinnamon chewing gum reduced volatile sulphur compounds in the mouth. And another study found that cinnamon oil could help control bad breath by inhibiting bacterial growth.
Helps your colon
The research is still early, but there is some evidence that cinnamon might be good for colon health in ways that go beyond its digestive benefits. Researchers in Arizona found in 2015 that cinnamaldehyde may inhibit colorectal cancer. When the compound was added to the diet of mice, their cells showed a protective effect against exposure to a carcinogen.
Boosts your brain
Another animal study found that mice showed an improved ability to learn after they were fed ground cinnamon. The mice metabolized the cinnamon into sodium benzoate, which promoted brain changes in the rodents that improved their ability to memorize and learn. The findings cannot yet be extended to humans, but show potential for further research.