Unfortunately, this week’s fun food fact is not, in fact, so fun. You may have heard recently that the seemingly innocuous challenge of eating a tablespoon of cinnamon, also known as the “cinnamon challenge,” can actually be extremely dangerous.
If you thought cheap, flavored alcohol and whipped cream cans were the only substances abused by bored teenagers, think again. Never heard of the cinnamon challenge? Luckily, you can educate yourself on its website, entirely devoted to the challenge. The site describes the goal of the challenge as trying to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon in 60 seconds without drinking water. The task is not easy because cinnamon in large quantities (or anything in large quantities, for that matter) triggers a gag reflex.
But apparently, this unpleasant feat is attractive to more adolescents than it should be. According to data compiled by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 222 cases of “abuse or misuse of cinnamon by teens” in the United States last year. During the first half of the year, there were about 30 cases of cinnamon ingestion that required medical treatment. The medical journal Pediatrics recently published an article stating the dangers of the cinnamon challenge. While most reports of taking on the challenge involve a burning sensation in the airways, nosebleeds, lack of consciousness, vomiting, difficulty breathing and puffs of rust-colored smoke spewing from the daring individual’s mouth, apparently the damage done can be far more serious. In the worst of cases, teenagers have suffered collapsed lungs and ended up on ventilators.
After reading this, you’re probably tempted to YouTube “cinnamon challenge” to see for yourself how dire the results really can be. You’re not alone. Dr. Steven E. Lipshultz, the author of the report in Pediatrics, says that, “We have seen a rise in calls to poison control centers around the United States that mirrored the rise in YouTube videos and their viewing,” confirming that food as a vehicle of masochism is an appealing subject. In fact, the cinnamon challenge website states that more than 40,000 challenge videos have been posted on YouTube.
Although cinnamon is harmless, delicious and has even been shown to have healthful effects when consumed in small amounts, it can be caustic to the airways when inhaled. The damage is caused by cellulose, a starch found in cinnamon powder that is harmless but does not break down. Therefore, when it is becomes lodged in the lungs due to coughing, it remains there in the long term. If the lungs are coated with caustic cinnamon oil, it can lead to chronic inflammation and eventually scarring of the lungs — a phenomenon called pulmonary fibrosis, a condition equivalent to getting emphysema.
Clearly, while shoveling a spoonful of cinnamon down your throat may sound like an entertaining and exhilarating way to spend your night, you might want to think again.