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Cinnamon Stunt Can Have Serious Lung Effects

Researchers warn that highly cited kids' 'challenge' can land them in the ER
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, April 22 (HealthDay News) -- As if parents didn't have enough to worry about, it seems a growing number of kids are taking the "Cinnamon Challenge" -- a stunt that has landed some in the ER, pediatricians warn.

The Cinnamon Challenge sounds simple but is almost impossible: Swallow a tablespoon of ground cinnamon in 60 seconds without the help of a drink. Invariably, the taker ends up gagging and coughing up the spice -- creating a big brown cloud dubbed "dragon breath."

Onlookers apparently find it funny, said Dr. Steven Lipshultz, a pediatrics professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida. There are over 51,000 YouTube clips of the stunt -- one of which was viewed more than 19 million times as of last August, Lipshultz and his colleagues report in the May issue of Pediatrics.

But it could be dangerous for the person who downs the cinnamon.

Usually, people suffer no more than burning in the throat, mouth and nose, and a bad cough. But, Lipshultz said, ground cinnamon can be inhaled into the lungs, and some kids have ended up in the ER with problems as serious as a collapsed lung.

"We wanted to bring this to people's attention," Lipshultz said. "This seems to be an increasing problem, and based on animal studies, there's the potential for lasting effects (on the lungs)."

In animal studies, he and his colleagues noted, a single dose of cinnamon "dust" has been found to trigger lasting lung inflammation, thickening and scarring.

Cinnamon is composed of cellulose fibers that do not break down if they enter the lungs, according to Lipshultz. No one knows if Cinnamon Challenge takers face any risk of long-term lung damage, but there is evidence of immediate risks.

In 2011, Lipshultz's team said, U.S. poison control centers fielded 51 calls related to the stunt. In just the first half of 2012, there were 122 calls linked to "misuse or abuse" of the spice.

At least 30 challenge takers have needed medical attention, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

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