Cinnamon Challenge Sparks New Warning From Doctors

The “cinnamon challenge,” an internet (and YouTube in particular) fad that has persisted in popularity for some time now, may seem relatively harmless — but years after it became a trend, doctors are warning that engaging in the activity could cause damage to lungs.

The cinnamon challenge warning was issued in the most recent issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, which will be published in May.

Researchers examined the cinnamon challenge given its continued popularity among children and teens. What it entails is swallowing a tablespoon of the spice and abstaining from drinking any liquids for 60 seconds — most of the people who attempt barely manage to ingest any cinnamon before beginning to cough and splutter the powder everywhere, much to the amusement of YouTube viewers.

It’s here that potential damage may result, lead researcher Dr. Steven Lipshultz explains. While some of the spice in the cinnamon challenge is indeed swallowed, inevitably, some is inhaled — and some serious problems can result. He says that those who attempt “to swallow a tablespoon of dry cinnamon, when they choke on it, it not only goes down their food pipe … they also breathe in and some of this powder goes in to their airway.”

Damage sustained during ill-fated cinnamon challenge attempts can, for instance, inflame lung tissue, leading to conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema. Testing on rats, Dr. Lipshultz explains, revealed how the cinnamon challenge can cause lasting damage, as evidenced in research: ” … cinnamon would coat the airways and the lungs [of rats used in the cinnamon challenge study] and it would lead to inflammation.”

Lipshultz continued: “It wouldn’t stop there. The inflammation led to scarring in the lungs, something called pulmonary fibrosis.”

Complications of pulmonary fibrosis include heart failure.

Lipshultz noted that asthmatics in particular are prone to risk from the cinnamon challenge, and that few previous studies had addressed the complications of actually inhaling cinnamon. The Miami specialist had planned to do an interview about the cinnamon challenge prior to the research and explained that all of his children had heard of the trend — and found it amusing:

“One of our kids was a freshman at Harvard, and she said, ‘Dad, everybody does this in college.’ And they started pulling up YouTube videos and started laughing. And I thought, as a pediatrician, this is kind of startling. [Cinnamon challenge video participants] are stuttering; they can’t catch their breath.”

Lipshultz said that, to his knowledge, none of his kids attempted the cinnamon dare — but admits that parents are usually unaware of their child’s viral YouTube fame.