Pediatrics Journal Warns Against 'Cinnamon Challenge'

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This is a serious medical issue. But I must admit, the video above, demonstrating the issue at hand, provides some wonderful comic catharsis to aid with post-Boston-bombing recovery. So please take a minute to watch it if you could use a helpless laugh — nearly 30 million others have, among the tens of thousands of cinnamon videos on YouTube.

Here's the medical issue in brief: If you're foolish enough to take a dare and inhale a spoonful of cinnamon (or a ladle-ful as in the video above) you could end up with damaged, collapsed or scarred lungs. Here's a press release on the paper just out in the journal Pediatrics:


Young people often challenge each other to try various stunts that may not be safe, but one bad idea is getting the attention of millions of teens and young adults thanks to the Internet, and some of them are being injured.

An article in the May 2013 Pediatrics (published online April 22), “Ingesting and Aspirating Dry Cinnamon by Children and Adolescents: The ‘Cinnamon Challenge’,” looks at cases of children and teens who have accepted the dare to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon. There were more than 50,000 YouTube videos depicting youth attempting this activity as of August 2012, and they show the subjects coughing and choking as the spice triggers a severe gag reflex in response to a caustic sensation in the mouth and throat.

Eating cinnamon in small amounts, mixed with other foods, does not cause these problems for most people, but larger amounts can be harmful because of the fibers and other components of the spice.

According to the authors, this stunt has raised concerns in the medical community of choking, aspiration (drawing foreign substances into the lungs) and lung damage. Some adolescents have gone to the emergency department after taking the Cinnamon Challenge, and some have required hospitalization for collapsed lungs.

At least 30 youth in the U.S. have needed medical attention. There also were 178 calls to U.S. poison control centers in 2012 related to this stunt. While the authors note that the effects are temporary in most cases, there can be long-lasting lesions, scarring and inflammation of the airway. This activity may pose greater and unnecessary health risks for people who are allergic to cinnamon or who have respiratory diseases such as asthma. The authors advise that the combination of social media, peer pressure and a trendy new fad can be tough to resist for children and teens, so it is important for pediatricians, parents and schools to counsel about the risks of choosing to take part in this activity.

Readers? Just please don't tout the virtues of inhaling cinnamon...

This program aired on April 22, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.