Videos of people trying to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon proliferate on the internet. But can this seemingly harmless stunt land you in the ICU? Michael D. Patrick Jr., MD, FAAP, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital takes the time to answer whether this sweet spice can end you up in the hospital.
Kids have always pulled stupid stunts. The earliest one I remember is the eat-a-bag-of-Pop-Rocks and drink-a-can-of-Coke trick. This one supposedly caused death by stomach-explosion for Mikey, the famous star of the Life Cereal commercials. Turns out it wasn’t true. Mikey is alive and kicking, selling radio ads in New York City. But for a long time, kids believed the story… and guess what? They stayed away from Pop Rocks and Coke! Today’s kids have a new source for verifying the safety of stupid stunts: YouTube.
A quick search reveals dozens of video stars safely braving Mikey’s belch-provoking combination. But why stop there? Why not kick it up a notch and try something new? That mindset has led to some pretty crazy proposals. Drink a gallon of milk in 60 seconds. Eat an entire sleeve of saltine crackers without drinking water. Not keen on saltines? Try downing a box of Lemonheads or a bag of Atomic Fireballs. Or… if you’re really brave… take the Cinnamon Challenge.
The Cinnamon Challenge goes like this: Eat a tablespoon of cinnamon.
That’s it. Not a gallon or a sleeve or a box or a bag. Just a tablespoon. Sounds easy, right? Well, not so fast… It can kill you. A teenage boy in Michigan gave it a try, and he ended up in an intensive care unit with a breathing tube down his throat. Almost died! Now you may be asking, really? Can you really die from a tablespoon of cinnamon? Or are you pulling a Mikey on us?
Well, in this case, the story checks out. You really can die from a tablespoon of cinnamon. Here’s how:
Cinnamon absorbs spit. In fact, it takes far less than one tablespoon of cinnamon to absorb every molecule of saliva in your mouth. That means your mouth turns bone dry with lots of cinnamon powder left over.
When your mouth turns bone dry, you get an intense “I’m choking” sensation and an uncontrollable desire to cough. And so you cough. Hard. When you cough hard, the remaining cinnamon powder explodes out of your mouth in a big red cloud. Now I’ll admit, this looks pretty cool on YouTube. Unfortunately, it’s also the point when cinnamon turns deadly.
Following the coughing fit, you’ll have another uncontrollable urge—to take a deep breath in. If the cinnamon cloud lingers in front of your face, you can suck spice particles deep into your lungs, and that’s not good. Cinnamon in the airways can lead to swelling and wheezing, lung collapse and infection. It can lead to the hospital. And it can lead to death.
Don’t mistake the number of successfully-completed stupid stunts on YouTube as a sign of safety. Turns out some of them can kill you. Which leads me back to Pop Rocks and Coke. Life Cereal’s Mikey and dozens of YouTubers may have survived the fizzy cocktail, but the question remains… Would you?
Dr. Mike Patrick is an emergency medicine physician and Medical Director of Interactive Media for Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Each week, Dr. Mike presents news parents can use, answers listener questions, and interviews pediatric experts on PediaCast: a pediatric podcast for parents.