The broad spectrum of pharmacological actions of cinnamon cortex and cinnamon oil, together with its use as a spice, makes it a wonder plant. In the Indian and Chinese systems of traditional medicine cinnamon is used in many therapeutic formulations as a stimulant, a tonic, and in the relief of rheumatic disorders, of stomach disorders, of diabetes, etc. But in these systems an active principle-based pharmacological activity is not considered as the basis of therapeutics. Therefore, investigations employing modern tools of pharmacological parameters have not been undertaken to ascertain the wide range of actions attributed to cinnamon. However, the past two decades have seen a spurt in research activities in Ayurveda medicines and medicinal plants due to the revival of popularity of this system of traditional medicine. Many studies have been reported from China and Japan on their traditional medicines and these investigations provide pharmacological supports for many of the traditional uses of medicinal plants including cinnamon and cassia.
Most studies are confined to in vitro and in vivo in small laboratory animals. The results are all encouraging. Cinnamon is mainly used as a food additive and flavouring agent. The antimicrobial and antioxidant actions protect food from oxidative spoilage and also from bacterial growth. Cinnamon is a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger. Free radical scavenging inhibits tissue damage of the host cell. Another significant activity is the hypoglycemic effect of this herb. It reduces the blood glucose level and also modulates the enzyme aldose reductase, thereby preventing complications of diabetes such as retinopathy, neuropathy, etc. The hypocholesterolemic potential of cinnamon is also high. It reduces not only serum cholesterol but also triglycerides, low density lipoproteins and phospholipids. These findings are very significant because these factors are decisive in cardiac disorders. The results of studies on the antiulcerogenic effects have also yielded valuable information. Cinnamon inhibits gastric secretions and potentiates mucosal flow. The hypoglycemic, antihy-perlipedemic and antiulcerogenic effects are exerted at low doses. These beneficial effects could be obtained even at low concentrations through daily food intake.
Another important activity is the immunomodulatory effects exerted by cinnamon. Immunomodulation (immunostimulants and suppressants) plays an important role in human health. An interesting factor regarding cinnamon is that it can act both as immunostimulant and suppressant. Macromolecules isolated from cinnamon, such as glycoproteins and water soluble polysaccharides, were found to stimulate the immuno-logical system, whereas smaller molecules such as cincassiol — CL, C2, C3, C4 and their glycosides suppress the system. The antiallergenic potential of this plant is a complementary reaction to the immunosuppressant action. Anticancer studies also yielded encouraging results. The modulative effect of cinnamon on certain enzymes such as Farnesyl-prolein-transferase shows that fruitful results may be obtained by further research in this area. Cytotoxicity effects were also obtained with certain molecules isolated from cinnamon.
The antimicrobial study unambiguously proved the high beneficial effect of cinnamon. It exerts selective action against many human pathogenic bacteria but spares some beneficial ones. The bactericidal and bactereostatic effects are the aspects which have been studied very widely. Cinnamon completely inhibits the growth of five foodborne pathogenic bacteria at low doses. Further studies may result in developing cinnamon as a selective antibacterial agent specific for human pathogenic organisms. Cinnamon is bactericidal not only to foodborne infective organisms but to other pathogenic microbes also. Similarly, it is a broad spectrum antifungal substance. Both cinnamon bark and oil inhibit growth of many storage fungi on cereals and pulses. In the area of insecticidal activity it has also yielded beneficial effects and is nontoxic to humans. This wide spectrum of beneficial effects makes cinnamon a wonder plant with a very high potential for future development. However, further research is required to establish and validate the beneficial activities documented in the traditional systems of medicines.
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