When you're in the last weeks of pregnancy or even overdue, you'll probably be given lots of advice for ways to induce labor naturally. Most of these methods are not backed up by science and some can be dangerous. One home remedy that's often suggested is taking cinnamon. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that this aromatic spice will help induce labor, and in large quantities, cinnamon may actually be harmful to pregnant women.
There are many different species of cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon, primarily grown in Sri Lanka, is known as "true cinnamon." Meanwhile, cassia cinnamon, grown in southeastern Asia, is the type primarily sold in North America. Different types of cinnamon produce different chemical compounds. These compounds also may vary based on what part of the cinnamon plant was harvested.
While cinnamon may taste great — especially on your pastries — there's no evidence it will help induce labor. Cinnamon is safe in normal doses if you're pregnant, but scientists remain uncertain whether taking cinnamon in high doses —much more than you'd normally eat in foods — could be harmful.
If you're past your due date and trying to induce labor, consult with your doctor first before adding cinnamon to your diet.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is a common ingredient that can give a tasty kick to various dishes and desserts. It’s been widely studied for its potential health benefits, including:
- Cognitive enhancement
- Anti-microbial effects, which help kill harmful microorganisms
- Antioxidant properties, which can prevent or reduce cell damage
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Reducing the risk of heart disease
- Anti-cancer effects, especially for gastric cancer and melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer
- Lowering blood sugar
However, there’s not a lot of conclusive evidence that supports most of these benefits. Below is a deeper dive into some of the most studied potential effects of cinnamon:
Lowers blood sugar. Cinnamon has been touted as an effective food for lowering blood sugar and helping people with diabetes. But, while some studies have shown that cinnamon can indeed lower blood sugar, others have found it has no impact on blood sugar or diabetes.
Antibacterial effects. A review of 45 studies done between 2010 and 2015 found that cinnamon can help control bacteria that cause human disease and food and cosmetics to spoil. In contaminated samples, cinnamon oil significantly reduced bacterial growth compared to uncontaminated samples.
These studies were done on cinnamon essential oils and extracts from the bark, leaves, and sticks. Cinnamon has phytochemicals (chemicals found in plants), including cinnamaldehyde and eugenol that are responsible for its antibacterial properties. It may be useful for treating infectious diseases, but more clinical trials are needed.
One problem is that cinnamon oil can cause toxicity or death in human cells. This needs to be studied more before cinnamon can be used clinically for antibacterial purposes.
Lowers cholesterol. Other studies have focused on cinnamon’s potential ability to lower cholesterol and triglycerides. One analysis of 10 studies showed that cinnamon decreased glucose, total cholesterol, LDL ("bad" cholesterol), and triglycerides. However, because the studies used different amounts and types of cinnamon, it's difficult to know what varieties and dosage amounts are most beneficial.
Other potential benefits. Cinnamon also may be effective in reducing the pain and soreness felt after an episiotomy (a surgical procedure down during childbirth), when applied as an ointment. It could also help treat polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) by stabilizing the menstrual cycle and reducing insulin resistance.
Is Cinnamon Safe During Pregnancy?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eating up to 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day is considered safe. However, there are no guidelines for pregnant or nursing women. It may be unsafe to take cinnamon in amounts greater than normally found in food while you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
Cinnamon may be dangerous if you’re taking blood thinners. Additionally, if you’re taking medicines that may cause liver damage, cinnamon could increase this risk.
Cassia cinnamon, the most common type sold in North America, contains coumarin, a chemical that can be harmful to the liver. Under normal conditions, consuming cinnamon doesn't give you enough coumarin to cause any problems. However, people who are sensitive to it, including people with liver disease, may have problems if they consume too much cinnamon for a prolonged time.
While you probably don't need to worry about your cinnamon rolls or a dash of cinnamon to perk up your oatmeal, you should talk with your doctor if you want to increase the amount of cinnamon in your diet while pregnant.