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The cinnamon challenge may lead to lung damage according to new study

Spice not nice to lungs, researcher reports

by Arshon Howard
Apr 30, 2013

The cinnamon challenge has become popular the last couple years, spawning thousand of videos uploaded by teens attempting the challenge of swallowing a tablespoon of the spice.

Even though the fad seemed to die down so far this year, doctors are urging people to not attempt the challenge, In fact, a new study published in the current edition of journal Pediatrics warns that the challenge could lead to lung damage.

Teens and young adults have uploaded thousands of YouTube videos in which they attempt the challenge, which consists of someone swallowing a tablespoon of ground cinnamon in 60 seconds without a beverage. People end up gagging and coughing up the spice, but according to researcher Steven Lipshultz, professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, there may be long-term effects.

“Cinnamaldehyde is the chemical oil in cinnamon. When you put the oil next to your skin, it burns and leads to irritation,” Lipshultz said. “When people do this challenge they usually choke and spit the cinnamon out. Next they usually breathe in because they just coughed everything out, and those dust particles are still usually lodged in the back of their mouths, which may eventually end up in their lungs.”

The study was performed on rats. Scientists blew a dust of cinnamon into the rats’ lungs and followed them for several months. When researchers examined the rats, they saw that the lungs were scared and inflamed. Even though there are no human studies of cinnamon inhalation, according to Lipshultz, “In humans, that would be the equivalent of an elderly person developing emphysema and needing oxygen."

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported  88 percent of phone calls to the nation's poison control centers  in the first three months of 2012  were related to the cinnamon challenge. In Chicago there were seven calls in 2012, but there only has been three calls so far this year.

Even though the fad has seemed to have died down, media outlets such as YouTube have encouraged people to attempt the challenge.

“You always want to try something when it’s popular,” 19-year-old Milford, Del. resident Jaleel Shockley said. “Everyone was talking about it, and it seemed like everyone was doing it, which was one of the reasons why me and my friends did it.”

Pediatricians believe people think a household item such as cinnamon is harmless, which may be a reason why the challenge became so popular.

“When people think of cinnamon they think of sweets, they don’t think of how it can hurt you,” said pediatrician Maria Alkureishi, of the University of Chicago Medicine Comer’s Children Hospital. "When you’re something in your body that isn’t supposed to be there of course there is going to be consequences, but people don’t seem to realize that.”  

Lipshultz said the goal of the study was to educate people about the consequences of attempting the challenge so young people would to twice about attempting it.