Mary Poppins once sang, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
But a spoonful of cinnamon can cause lesions, scarring and lung damage, according to some doctors.
They issued their professional health warning because of a growing YouTube fad over the past several years called the “Cinnamon Challenge,” in which young people are dared to swallow 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon without drinking any liquid within 60 seconds.
In an article in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatricians, the doctors alerted teens and others that ingesting a tablespoon of cinnamon could lead to “choking, aspiration and pulmonary damage. In most cases, the effects are temporary, yet the Cinnamon Challenge has led to dozens of calls to poison centers, emergency department visits and even hospitalizations for adolescents requiring ventilator support for collapsed lungs.”
Doctors, parents and other concerned citizens were hoping that the possibly life-threatening fad would dwindle over the years, but it went viral in 2012. Pediatrics explained that as of Aug. 10, 2012, there were 51,100 YouTube clips depicting youths taking the Cinnamon Challenge – one with more than 30 million views. And with its rise in popularity from 2001 to 2007, the Cinnamon Challenge website in January 2012 boasted 70,000 Twitter mentions daily.
Unfortunately, though the Internet demonstrates its benefits every moment of each day, here again we are reminded that it simultaneously possesses the sway to unleash a plethora of demons. Peer pressure and social media, combined with risk taking and potential YouTube popularity, have led to myriad woeful and regretful decisions.
As if the Cinnamon Challenge weren’t bad enough, some young people are switching from cinnamon to dried chili powder, using it as a punishment in truth-or-dare games. And we already have learned that doing so can cause death, as we saw with the mother who, in 2004, suffocated her baby when she used chili powder on her thumb as a deterrent for thumb sucking, according to Yahoo News. The mother was convicted of manslaughter.
And just in January of this year, the New York Daily News reported that another young mother was arrested for forcing her boyfriend’s 2-year-old daughter to consume chili powder as a punishment. The precious little girl had a seizure and died.
And for those who think it’s still safe to ingest swiftly a tablespoon of cinnamon, think again.
Commenting on the Pediatrics article, Time’s Health & Family explained: “When swallowed by the tablespoon, powdered cinnamon coats and dries out the mouth, making swallowing difficult. Cinnamon also contains a substance called cellulose that can stick in the lungs and compromise their ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.”
Dr. Steven Lipshultz, one of the authors of the study, elaborated to The New York Times: "The cellulose doesn't break down. So when it gets into the lungs it sits there long term, and if it's coated with this caustic cinnamon oil, that leads to chronic inflammation and eventually scarring of the lungs, something we call pulmonary fibrosis. Getting scarring in the lungs is equivalent to getting emphysema."
Here are a few more health risks related to taking the Cinnamon Challenge, according to the Pediatrics exposé:
- "Cinnamon is a caustic powder composed of cellulose fibers, which are bioresistant and biopersistent; they neither dissolve nor biodegrade in the lungs."
- "Cinnamon inhalation can cause pulmonary inflammation, predisposing airways to epithelial lesions and scarring."
- "Aspirated powder entering the upper airways can cause inflammation and, in more severe cases, aspiration pneumonia."
- "The fibers and other components of cinnamon can also cause allergic and irritant reactions, including acute symptoms and temporary, if not permanent, lung function changes."
- "The Cinnamon Challenge may pose greater and unnecessary health risks for persons allergic to cinnamon or with bronchopulmonary diseases, including asthma."
The doctors who penned the Pediatrics alert advised parents, peer workers, schools, pediatricians and others "to discuss with children the Cinnamon Challenge and its possible harmful effects, especially with children having cinnamon hypersensitivity, asthma, pulmonary cystic fibrosis or chronic lung disease."
Though parents would be wise not to leave the cinnamon dispenser front and center on the kitchen shelf, let's also be careful not to rid the house or our diets of this healthy spice. The fact is that cinnamon is good for you when properly consumed in healthy doses and mannerisms typical of normal food ingestion.
Ann Kulze, author of "Dr. Ann's 10 Step Diet," collaborated for Women's Health in the article "Cinnamon's Health Benefits." According to the article, "research has linked the copper-colored stuff with helping lower blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes, and a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adding a little more than a teaspoon to rice pudding even helped tame blood sugar in people without diabetes. Dr. Kulze says cinnamon also contains polyphenols, antioxidants that create healthier arteries and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, cinnamon benefits include an energizing scent that has also been found to help increase alertness."
So my cinnamon challenge is this: I'm calling everyone to help put the squeeze on our culture's fad of inhaling powdered cinnamon through the Cinnamon Challenge and to put the nutritious spice back into our healthy and normal diets. A sprinkle on your latte, oatmeal, yogurt, toast, carrots or sweet potatoes or in lots of recipes will go far for your taste buds and fitness.
Dare to be different, not dumb. Educate and warn your friends and loved ones about the hazardous Cinnamon Challenge craze (by posting or passing along this column), and dare them instead to get over others' putrid peer pressure that can put their breathing, health and lives at risk.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.