It’s not a well-known fact among acne patients, but herbs and spices are among the most nutritious foods on the planet. At your local grocery store packets of ginger, oregano, basil, and turmeric are often as cheap as sand, yet very few acne-clearing enthusiasts are taking advantage of their awesome skin powers.
One of the tastiest spices of all is cinnamon and excellent news – it’s one of the healthiest for acne too.
This spice is actually the bark of the cinnamon tree – an evergreen plant native to Sri Lanka that grows to between 32 and 49 feet in height. Humans have been using the four varieties of cinnamon for nearly as long as garlic. Ancient Egyptians enjoyed the powder for spicing up their beverages and they also used cinnamon in mummification. Cinnamon was first mentioned in journals of Chinese Botanic Medicine back in 2700BC. It was a staple of the biblical era as according to the Book of Exodus, God instructed Moses to make a holy anointing oil out of cinnamon, olive oil, cassia, myrrh, and hemp.
Its medicinal history is equally storied. Traditional Indian medicine (Ayurvedic medicine) prescribes cinnamon bark for treating diabetes and improving digestion. In Chinese Traditional Medicine cinnamon is recommended for colds, nausea, and painful menstrual cramps. Interestingly, it was also given to people who felt hot in their upper body but had very cold feet.
We’re not going to beat about the bush in this article. Cinnamon is fantastic for clearing your acne and it achieves this by lowering your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Lowered insulin = unblocked pores = less acne
We discussed insulin’s role in acne in depth in this article but if you’re new then read this recap. Insulin is a hormone whose main job is to convert blood sugar (glucose) to glycogen (energy) and shuttle it into your glycogen stores. Whenever you eat a carbohydrate whether it be starch or sugar, your blood glucose increases. In turn, this triggers a burst of insulin from your pancreas to deal with that increase.
Insulin is a healthy hormone which you need for energy, but the problems start when you don’t use that energy, through exercise. Your glycogen stores become full and what’s their response? They become less sensitive to insulin. Your blood glucose begins to increase, so next your body responds by pumping out higher levels of insulin to compensate for its impaired effectiveness. Your glycogen stores continue to fill and insulin resistance, the loss of insulin sensitivity, continues to progress.
The end result is a bloodstream with chronically elevated glucose and insulin levels. This condition is extremely common worldwide; insulin resistance is a form of pre-diabetes and 30 million Americans now have diabetes itself.
High insulin and blood glucose are bad news for any acne patient because they block your pores. Glucose increases the turnover of dead skin cells and insulin stimulates your sebaceous glands to produce more sebum (oil). Both are fine for acne in moderation but deadly for acne when elevated.
The main cause of extreme insulin resistance (and possibly acne full stop) is the high carbohydrate diet that nearly all governments have recommended since the 1970s. However, certain foods and acne nutrients like vitamin D can make your insulin receptors more sensitive independent of glycogen status. When you’re analysing a prospective acne supplement or acne food for its effects on insulin, there are three features you should look for:
- You need to directly lower both insulin and glucose levels in the blood.
- You need to lower the post prandial (post meal) spike of glucose and insulin.
- You need to increase the sensitivity of your insulin receptors/glycogen stores.
In light of that information, take a look at these promising studies examining cinnamon.
Cinnamon effectively lowers oily skin and acne
In our first study conducted on humans with type 2 diabetes, consuming as little as 1 gram of cinnamon per day was found to lower triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. In the study, which was published in the December 2003 issue of Diabetes Care, scientists evaluated 60 patients with type 2 diabetes (30 men and 30 women aged between 44 and 58 years) and divided them into 6 groups. Groups 1, 2, and 3 were fed 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon daily respectively, whereas groups 4, 5, and 6 received 1, 3 or 6 grams of a placebo.
After 40 days of daily supplementation, all three quantities of cinnamon reduced triglycerides by 23-30%, LDL cholesterol by 7-27%, and total cholesterol by 12-26%…
…and what happened to blood glucose levels? They fell by 18-29%. Furthermore, no noticeable changes were observed in the groups receiving placebos. The scientists thus concluded: adding cinnamon to the diet of people with type 2 diabetes will reduce the risk factors associated with that diabetes (like high blood sugar). Just one gram of cinnamon lowered glucose by 20%; that’s equivalent to ¼ or ½ of a teaspoon.
That’s one study clearly demonstrating that cinnamon can reduce blood glucose levels and thus acne.
Our second study featured in the December 2003 edition of Diabetes Research and Clinical Practise. This time it demonstrated an enhancement of insulin’s potency. In the study scientists gave rats a daily serving of cinnamon, equivalent to 300mg per KG of bodyweight.
After three weeks, the animals’ skeletal muscles were able to absorb 17% more glucose per minute compared to the control rats, which didn’t receive any cinnamon. The increase was attributed to cinnamon’s enhancement of the insulin-signalling pathway in the muscle cells.
This study also found that cinnamon supplementation improved insulin sensitivity in the brain. What’s most interesting is that the scientists here identified the compounds responsible – two antioxidants in cinnamon called eugenol and cinnamaldehyde. Eugenol was found to improve the synthesis of glycogen from glucose and cinnamaldehyde activates a bunch of enzymes responsible for insulin sensitivity, with names like PPARδ, PPARγ, and RXR.
Numerous animal studies have also found that cinnamon stimulates insulin receptors. Scientists have also dropped hints that cinnamon inhibits an enzyme that inactivates the receptors’ ability to use glucose.
Here we have strong evidence that cinnamon can clear acne by enhancing your insulin sensitivity and combating insulin resistance.
Our next study was very interesting. Apparently, by improving insulin signalling cinnamon can combat insulin resistance even in rats fed a high fructose diet. The scientists found that when rats given a high-fructose (high sugar) diet were also fed cinnamon extract, their ability to respond to and utilize glucose (blood sugar) was improved so well that it was identical to that of the rats on a healthy control diet. That reinforces the data we’ve already seen above.
Then there’s this 2009 review which examined the body’s glucose response. Five studies on cinnamon and diabetic subjects and 3 on non-diabetic subjects were all analysed. Three diabetic studies demonstrated “no significant response” but one non-diabetic study reported an 8.4% fall in fasting glucose, and another observed “significant reductions” in the glucose response using oral glucose tolerance tests. They concluded that cinnamon “does possess antihyperglycaemic properties and potential to reduce postprandial blood glucose levels”.
In other words, cinnamon can blunt the release of glucose during the digestion of meals as well as during fasting. Note: fasting glucose is most critical for acne because that’s basically your constant level throughout the day, but blunting the glucose release still prevents acne somewhat.
There’s even evidence that cinnamon can slow the rate at which the stomach empties after a meal; it was found in one study that adding 6 grams of cinnamon to rice pudding reduced the clearance rate from 37% to 34.5%. This was accompanied by a much mellower blood sugar spike. It’s not surprising that Ayurvedic medicine favoured cinnamon for treating type 2 diabetes for hundreds of years.
The conclusion is clear. If blood sugar or insulin issues are behind your acne then cinnamon is your number one spice for flavouring foods. With continual usage your skin could be less oily and your acne dramatically reduced.
Cinnamon can kill unfriendly acne bacteria
One of the most fascinating studies on cinnamon ever tested its potency against food-borne bacteria. Scientists took some carrot broth and sprinkled cinnamon all over it, then stored the mixture in the fridge for 60 days.
First of all, the cinnamon effectively killed the common food pathogen bacillus cereus. Secondly, the bacteria failed to return and multiply for 60 whole days. Another carrot broth without cinnamon was refrigerated and even at low temperatures, the poisonous bacillus cereus began to thrive with ease.
So how do these antibacterial powers help your acne? They help by killing harmful acne pathogens in your gut lining:
Candida – this sugar-fuelled yeast is a common villain behind acne. Candida is notorious for crowding out healthy acne-friendly bacteria and gradually weakening the epithelial cells of your intestines. That means only thing – an impaired ability to absorb good acne nutrients and much weaker defences against bad ones. In one study, Cinnamon extract was found to inhibit candida in the majority of cases, even when those yeasts were resistant to the anti-fungal medication fluconazole.
In 2012 a bunch of Chinese scientists took 60 patients infected with intestinal Candida. The patients were suffering from chronic digestive problems, had already failed to improve when treated with antibiotics, and were eventually diagnosed with candida overgrowth. Dr Wang and his team fed them a capsule containing both pogostemon oil and cinnamon oil.
The results were very impressive. 72% of the candida patients were found to have no infection left after just 14 days of supplementation. The remaining 28% enjoyed a significant reduction.
In an earlier section of the study, the researchers treated candida cells directly with cinnamon oil. They observed that “Irregular hollows appeared on the surfaces, inside organelles were destroyed and the cells burst after treatment”.
Clostridium difficile– this acne-causing bacteria is a vicious pathogen notorious for inflaming the cells of the large intestine, by churning out harmful toxins. Such inflammation can lead to food allergies, which as you might have experienced, are bad news for acne patients.
This recent 2014 study tested the effect of two plant compounds, cinnamaldehyde from cinnamon and carvacrol from oregano, on clostridium difficile. The scientists found that both compounds substantially inhibited the toxin production of c.difficile by inhibiting the toxin-producing genes of the bacteria. Furthermore, it didn’t kill friendly strains: “The antitoxigenic concentrations of CR and TC did not inhibit the growth of beneficial gut bacteria”. The scientists commented that cinnamon and oregano could be useful for inhibiting clostridium difficile in the future.
Enriching the diversity of your gut flora is one of the most overlooked ways to improve acne, as is killing off the unfriendly strains. Scientists are researching gut bacteria and its effect on health and acne more than ever.
It’s become clear that acne-prone Westerners completely lack gut flora diversity compared to Africans or Asians. We don’t have the species that, for instance, manufacture serotonin or lower inflammation because 1) our lifestyle is so sanitised, 2) we don’t eat fermented foods like yoghurt or sauerkraut, and 3) we don’t eat enough plants with prebiotics like onions or cruciferous vegetables.
This is important for acne patients because a bias towards bad bacteria can cause leaky gut syndrome, where a constant stream of inflammatory molecules flows through your bloodstream.
Eating cinnamon is therefore a convenient and pleasurable way to improve your gut flora and acne.
Cinnamon also has other positive effects on digestion. Cinnamon is full of acne-clearing antioxidants called catechins, which help to relieve nausea. The volatile oils in cinnamon can also improve the digestion of fats and hence any foods high in fats. Ayurvedic medicine favoured cinnamon for enhanced digestion as well as diabetes, so it seems that their opinions on this spice are right on the mark.
Best product – ceylon cinnamon reigns supreme
There’s a big war in the world of cinnamon that’s raged for centuries and it’s between the main two types on the market: Ceylon and cassia cinnamon. Cassia is grown primarily in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, whereas Ceylon cinnamon is grown in India, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Madagascar, and the Caribbean. Ceylon is the original version whereas cassia is far cheaper.
Cassia cinnamon, also known as “bastard cinnamon” accounts for 90% of cinnamon powders or sticks imported into the USA, but this is NOT what you need to buy for acne.
Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon taste quite similar. Cassia cinnamon is darker with a pungent taste whereas Ceylon cinnamon is more delicate and flavoursome. However the biggest difference is in their nutrition, nutrition which can impact your acne.
Cassia cinnamon is one of the biggest sources of coumarin, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound, in our modern day diets. Why is that a problem for acne? Coumarin is also a natural plant toxin that can be damaging to human livers and kidneys in high doses. It’s a potent rodenticide and hence is used in rat poisons. Coumarin is a possible carcinogenic in moderate doses and also has appetite suppressing properties in humans.
Coumarin is safe in low amounts but with regular consumption of cassia cinnamon the dose can quickly add up. It’s been estimated that a child consuming Cassia cinnamon on toast or oatmeal just 3 times a week is already exceeding the safe exposure level. Health bodies like the European Food Safety Authority currently recommend no more than 0.1 milligrams of daily coumarin intake in the diet per 2.2 pounds of body weight. For a person weighing in at 150 pounds, that translates into roughly 7 milligrams of coumarin, which isn’t much at all.
It’s been estimated that adults who regularly consume Cassia cinnamon in their diet or take Cassia cinnamon in supplement form could easily be exceeding toxicity limits. Many people suffer allergic style reactions to cassia cinnamon with stomach upset and pain, but mysteriously eat Ceylon cinnamon without any problems. Stomach upsets can cause acne and indeed many digestive problems can cause acne.
Coumarin has some good powers for acne like lowering inflammation but intolerance to this toxin is pretty common, so I’d keep cassia cinnamon somewhat restricted when on the acne warpath. The good news is that Ceylon cinnamon contains either no coumarin at all or such tiny trace amounts that science cannot detect them. Cassia cinnamon reportedly contains 1200 times more coumarin.
Furthermore, as a medicinal spice it is Ceylon cinnamon that has been extensively researched. It is Ceylon cinnamon that shows all the insulin normalising and bacteria killing benefits for acne.
Therefore, your solution is clear: If you want to use cinnamon to clear your acne then it is Ceylon cinnamon you need to sprinkle on everything. Ceylon is less available in the USA but you can find it in health food shops and normal supermarkets with a health food or world/international food section.
You can also buy it on the good old internet from amazon, iherb, or realfoods.co.uk. Note that some manufacturers call Ceylon cinnamon by its scientific name – Cinnamomum zeylanicum or Cinnamomum verum.
A great product for acne patients available on amazon.com is this 1 pound bag of Frontier Ceylon Cinnamon Organic Ground Powder.
Notable health benefits of cinnamon
Cinnamon has dozens of smaller powers aside from clearing acne: it’s a good source of antioxidants, there’s preliminary data that its compounds can relieve arthritis, relieve menstrual discomfort, and prevent tooth and gum decay. Two of these health benefits are especially interesting:
Brain enhancement – apparently merely smelling cinnamon can boost your brain function. In a study presented on April 24, 2004, at the annual meeting of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences, in Sarasota, Florida, Dr. P. Zoladz reported in that smelling cinnamon or chewing cinnamon flavoured gum enhanced the participants’ cognitive processing superbly.
Cinnamon substantially improved participants’ scores on a number of computer-based tasks related to working memory, attentional processes, virtual recognition memory and visual-motor speed.
Participants were exposed to four odorant conditions: cinnamon, no odour, peppermint odour, and jasmine. Cinnamon emerged as the clear winner in improving all the parameters above. The researchers were encouraged by the study and resolved to evaluate cinnamon’s abilities to enhance cognition in elderly patients.
Sure enough, a new study later emerged analysing the effect of cinnamon on Alzheimer’s disease. Daily application resulted in a substantial reduction of tau aggregation and filament formation in the brain, which are classic hallmarks of a deteriorating brain. The scientists concluded: “This work shows that compounds endogenous to cinnamon may be beneficial to AD (Alzheimer’s disease)”.
Improved heart health – the study discussed earlier found that consuming 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon lowered LDL cholesterol by 7-27%. Seeing as LDL cholesterol is widely acknowledged as the “bad” type, with HDL cholesterol being the good, cinnamon is clearly great for anyone with cardiovascular problems. Total cholesterol fell by 12-26%.
Yet again, the old adage “let food be thy medicine” stands up excellently. Whether you will enjoy the health and acne benefits from cinnamon is unknown, because we all have different bodies and circumstances with our health.
However, there’s no reason for an acne patient not to give cinnamon a try. Cinnamon is commonly believed to irritate the lining of the stomach, increase the heart rate, and cause shortness of breath and dizziness. In reality, it does, but see above – it is cassia cinnamon that has side effects. Ceylon cinnamon is almost completely safe in the required doses, which for acne, are just a teaspoon or two a day.
Conclusion – cinnamon is a healthy spice for acne
Cinnamon is a fantastic spice to eat for many people with acne. Ginger and turmeric are both great spices for acne because of their anti-inflammatory properties. However, cinnamon is unique for acne because improving insulin sensitivity so excellently is not a common acne power in foods.
Just ½ a teaspoon of cinnamon will work well against acne. Cinnamon will work well on acne if oily skin is behind your acne and if you previously ate a diet too high in carbs. Cinnamon will work well on acne if you never expose your skin to sunlight or get vitamin D from a supplement, and if you’re deficient in magnesium, which at least 50% of the US population is.
Also, a diet high in sugar is ultimately the biggest risk factor for candida overgrowth and indeed overgrowth of other acne-causing micro-organisms. If you’ve just started detoxifying your body from a sugary diet high in fruit juice, cake, cookies, and milk chocolate, cinnamon could rebalance your gut flora extra fast.
If you’re going to eat cinnamon for acne then I advise you to do so regularly. If you eat a teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon powder per day, every day, the reduction in glucose and insulin will be consistent and hence your less oily skin and reduced will also be consistent. Daily intake will prevent the candida from regrouping and multiplying.
You can sprinkle cinnamon onto whatever food you find it tastes good with, but some acne-friendly suggestions are natural yoghurt, coffee, green tea and white tea. You could also add a teaspoon to a homemade dark chocolate recipe to stack up the acne clearing nutrition (and flavour) to the maximum.
Thanks for reading!