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What is the Cinnamon Challenge?

April 24, 2013

Perhaps more commonly known as an ingredient in your favorite banana bread recipe, cinnamon has now gained traction as the favorite ingredient in a popular dare among kids and teens: the “Cinnamon Challenge.” And thanks to social media, the dare has gone viral. As of August 2012, there were over 51,000 YouTube videos of individuals partaking in the challenge, and one of these videos has been viewed over 19 million times! The Cinnamon Challenge even has its own website, and in January 2012 the phrase was mentioned an average of 70,000 times on Twitter daily. If you aren’t heavily involved in social media, trust me, the Cinnamon Challenge is a big deal and kids just want to be a part of the craze.

What is the Cinnamon Challenge?

The challenge is actually quite simple, or so it seems. It requires a person to swallow one tablespoon of cinnamon in 60 seconds without drinking any liquid. Sounds easy, but as you can see in the videos that are publicly displayed for viewers’ entertainment, the victims of this challenge usually end up coughing and choking, as the spice triggers a severe gag reflex in response to a burning sensation in the mouth and throat. This challenge is known to be nearly impossible and potentially harmful, as stated on the cinnamon challenge website, but this doesn’t keep kids from wanting to try it themselves.

The dangers behind the challenge

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics took a closer look at the potential dangers of the popular dare. As noted in the study, eating cinnamon in small amounts and mixed with other foods does not cause a problem for most people. However, problems can arise when large amounts are consumed in isolation from other foods. The coughing, choking and gag reflex that occurs in response to consuming cinnamon in this way can cause the spice to make its way into the lungs. While most side effects are temporary, there can be long-lasting lesions, scarring, and damage to the fragile airways. Those who are allergic to cinnamon or have other diseases, such as asthma, may be at a greater risk for developing these long-term side effects.

In the first 6 months of 2012, the US American Association of Poison Control Centers received 178 calls related to the Cinnamon Challenge, and approximately 30 of these calls required immediate medical attention. Likewise, according to the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami, there were 13 cases between July 2011 and June 2012 involving the Cinnamon Challenge, and 2 of these were “potentially toxic” exposures. Common symptoms reported included coughing and burning of the mouth, nose, and throat, and more serious symptoms included extensive coughing, vomiting, nosebleed, and chest tightness. Even though the known health risks of the challenge are fairly low, they are unnecessary and avoidable.

Given the popularity of this new “trend” and the peer pressure that comes with it, parents and health experts have a challenge of their own when educating kids and teens on the dangers of the challenge. Go ahead and ask your teenagers if they’ve seen the Cinnamon Challenge, and take the time to explain the risks. You’ll be glad you did.