Save Your Lungs, Don't Try The Cinnamon Challenge
April 22, 2013

Save Your Lungs, Don’t Try The Cinnamon Challenge

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Viral videos and internet memes might be a good way to waste time at work, but some of these trends can be dangerous to those who pursue YouTube notoriety.

A new study from researchers in Miami has found that the viral sensation known as the “cinnamon challenge” resulted in a dramatic uptick in choking, aspiration and potential lung damage.

Videos of the cinnamon challenge can be found all over YouTube and they typically involve a person attempting to ingest a spoonful of the pungent spice. The challenger undoubtedly coughs and hacks as the cinnamon is spewed into a cloud of orange-brown dust.

"I think the cinnamon challenge is something that has been around for some time; however, I don't think we've really appreciated what the potential medical implications may be,” Kent Pinkerton, director of the University of California Davis (UCDavis) Center for Health and the Environment, said in a web video.

According to the study, which appeared in the journal Pediatrics, calls to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) related to the cinnamon challenge increased from 51 in 2011 to 178 calls in the first half of 2012.

Of the 2012 calls, 69 percent were determined to be intentional misuse or abuse "consistent with the cinnamon challenge," the study said. About 17 percent required medical attention mostly consisting of irrigation and washing of the affected area with water.

"Possible aspiration and pulmonary symptoms were limited to adolescents, all of whom had ingested dry powder from the cinnamon challenge. Although the known health risks of the challenge are relatively low, they are unnecessary and avoidable," the authors added.

Study author Steven Lipshultz, a pediatrician with the University of Miami, told USA Today that ingesting a spoonful of dry cinnamon can be a significant and unnecessary health risk for individuals with asthma or lung disease.

"It could really put them in a bad way," he said.

The pediatrician cited animal studies involving the inhalation of cinnamon that showed tissue inflammation and long-term damage.

"In humans, that would be the equivalent of an elderly person developing emphysema and needing oxygen,” he said.

According to the researchers, cinnamon can be particularly harmful if it is allowed to settle in the lungs.

"Cinnamon is a caustic powder composed of cellulose fibers, which are bioresistant and biopersistent; they neither dissolve nor biodegrade in the lungs," they wrote.

Cinnamon also contains oil that produces an allergic and potentially toxic reaction in some people.

In their conclusion, the authors recommended that parents discuss the potential risks associated with engaging with viral video fads and internet memes.

"Given the allure of social media, peer pressure, and a trendy new fad, pediatricians and parents have a 'challenge' of their own in counseling tweens and teens regarding the sensibilities of the choices they make and the potential health risks of this dare," they wrote.

While some online fads, like the “Harlem Shake” and “Gangnam Style” videos can be fun and harmless — others can prove harmful or even deadly. An Australian man reportedly fell to his death in 2011 while participating in the online ℠planking´ meme.