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Pediatricians to Kids: Do Not Eat Straight Cinnamon

As it turns out, trying to eat that much cinnamon can be really bad for you

There are all sorts of food challenge ideas that are probably bad for you. There’s the gallon challenge, in which you try to drink a gallon of whole milk in an hour. Or the saltines challenge, which asks you to eat six saltines in sixty seconds without drinking anything. But some of these challenges are more dangerous than others. In fact, pediatricians are now officially opposed to you trying the cinnamon challenge, in which you swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon without water. Here’s what that looks like:

 

And, as it turns out, trying to eat that much cinnamon can be really bad for you. Reuters reports:

“What we were discovering was that it wasn’t just that this was a dare prompted by peer pressure, but in fact there were acute health issues associated with it and there might be some real concerns for more chronic health issues,” said Dr. Steven Lipshultz, a co-author on the study from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

The shorter term health issues include choking, lung inflammation and asthma attacks. And since cinnamon powder is almost entirely made of cellulose, a chemical that doesn’t break down easily, it can stick around in your lungs and cause serious damage. In fact, the cinnamon challenge sends some people to the hospital. Reuters reports that in 2012, U.S. poison control centers were called 222 times “relating to abuse or misuse of cinnamon by teens” and about thirty of those teens required medical attention.

A study on the phenomenon, titled “Ingesting and Aspirating Dry Cinnamon by Children and Adolescents: The “Cinnamon Challenge”” points to a YouTube search that found 51,000 clips showing the challenge. The authors say that there hasn’t been much in the way of research on cinnamon exposure to human lungs, but in studies with rats they found serious damage to the lungs. They write:

Although we cannot make a strong statement on documented pulmonary sequelae in humans, it is prudent to warn that the Cinnamon Challenge has a high likelihood to be damaging to the lungs. These discussions can also help learn to weigh the risks and rewards of yielding to peer pressure when considering senseless and risky behaviors.

The moral of the pediatricians story here: parents, tell your kids not to eat spoonfuls of cinnamon. And kids, knock it off, you could seriously damage your lungs.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Cinnamon as Health Food
Too Much Chili Powder Or Black Pepper Can Kill Kids

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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