Of all the items in my pantry, the one I never want to run out of is cinnamon. My dogs and I enjoy this amazing, deliciously fragrant spice every single day of the year. The dogs get cinnamon sprinkled over their food at every meal; I like it in and on everything from yogurt, lemonade, and chai tea to vegetable curry, baked apples, and rice pudding.
Not only does cinnamon smell and taste great, it has many health benefits, as we’ll see below.
But first, what is it and where does it come from? Cinnamon is a small tree that grows in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam, and Egypt; its bark is dried and rolled into cinnamon sticks (also called quills), then ground into powder.
There are four varieties, but Ceylon cinnamon (its Latin name is Cinnamomum verum) and Cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) are the most popular; Ceylon, also called true cinnamon, is sweeter, lighter in color, and more expensive than Cassia, which is the darker type of cinnamon more commonly found in supermarkets and Starbucks. Whichever variety you choose, it’s definitely worth it to spend a bit more on organic cinnamon, which tends to be even more wonderfully fragrant than its non-organic counterpart.
Traditionally, cinammon has been used around the world to remedy flatulence, nausea, diarrhea, and painful menstrual periods. It’s also believed to boost energy, vitality, circulation, cognitive function and overall brain health, and to improve the digestion of dairy products.
In one study, sniffing cinnamon was shown to result in improved brain function – test subjects performed better at memory and attention after a whiff of this spectacular spice. So if you’re working with your dog on learning new tricks, definitely offer him or her a sniff of cinnamon before you begin your training session!
Recent studies have shown that just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day helps to regulate blood sugar and raise insulin resistance; it actually boosts the body’s ability to use insulin to improve blood glucose levels. This is vital for anyone at risk for Diabetes – and that includes senior and overweight dogs. So in addition to feeding a low glycemic index dog food, top his kibble bowl off with cinnamon! Other studies reveal that cinnamon is antifungal; it works to combat Candida albicans, the fungus that causes yeast infections. These infections are often resistant to medication, but not to cinnamon. (Dogs who suffer from allergies are often prone to yeast infections).
Cinnamon is also antibacterial, and slows down the spoilage of food. When I have to store part of a can of dog food overnight, I’ll sprinkle half a teaspoon of cinnamon over it before refrigerating (on a side note, never refrigerate dog food in the can – to preserve palatability, spoon it into a glass storage container with a plastic top). Researchers at Kansas State University found that cinnamon even prevents the growth of E. Coli bacteria in unpasteurized juices! So for safety’s sake, be sure to add some cinnamon to your raw apple cider.
An anti-inflammatory, cinnamon is great for senior dogs struggling with arthritis. With my K9 seniors, I’ve had great results mixing a half-teaspoon of cinnamon with a tablespoon of honey. This is the recipe used by researchers at Copenhagen University, where arthritis patients were able to walk without pain after just a week of taking cinnamon with honey every day. Yet more studies show that cinnamon can lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, and slow the growth of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells.
Here’s a caveat: Cassia cinnamon (the darker, more common type) contains a compound called coumarin, which can damage the liver at high levels. One more reason to use Ceylon cinnamon instead! But Cassia cinnamon is safe as long as you don’t overdo it; a teaspoon or so every day with food will still be beneficial in all the ways described above, but won’t give you or your dog nearly as high a dose as the higher concentration found in, say, a cinnamon supplement capsule (which would contain a substantially higher amount of coumarin).
Also, cinnamon has a mild anti-clotting effect on the blood, so too much can cause bleeding problems if a person is on blood-thinning medication such as aspirin. And pregnant women (or dogs) should not take too much cinnamon, as it may have a stimulating effect on the uterus.
But in small amounts – half a teaspoon at every meal – cinnamon obviously does a lot more good than harm. Enjoy!