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Popular "Cinnamon Challenge" Has Serious Long-Term Health Risks, Doctors Warn

Update Date: Apr 22, 2013 08:10 AM EDT
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Pediatricians are warning young people about the dangers of a popular dare game called the "cinnamon challenge" in which a person attempts to swallow a spoonful of dry cinnamon in 60 seconds without any water.

Doctors say the notorious game, which has gained popularity because of YouTube and other social media sites over the past few years, has led to numerous hospitalizations and a spike in the number calls to the U.S. poison centers.

A report published in the May issue of Pediatrics revealed that at least 30 U.S. teens needed medical attention after taking the "cinnamon challenge" in 2012, and according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers the number of poison center calls about teens doing the prank "has increased dramatically" from 51 in 2011 to 222 in 2011.

The report highlights the serious health risks associated with the "cinnamon challenge".  When used sparingly, the "cinnamon challenge" is harmless, but when eaten in larger quantities the spice can cause throat irritation, choking, breathing problems, asthma attacks and lung inflammation and collapse.

"What we were discovering was that it wasn't just that this was a dare prompted by peer pressure, but in fact there were acute health issues associated with it and there might be some real concerns for more chronic health issues," Dr. Steven Lipshultz, a co-author on the study from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Reuters.

Doctors say people with asthma or other respiratory conditions are at an even greater risk of experiencing the dangerous symptoms associated with the challenge, according to the Associated Press.

Researchers explain that cinnamon is made from tree bark and contains cellulose fibers that aren't easily broken down by the body.  While no studies of cinnamon exposure have been conducted in humans, past research on animals suggest that when cinnamon gets into the lungs, it can cause granulomata, interstitial fibrosis, alveolar histiocytosis, alveolar lip proteinosis, and alveolar cell hyperplasia, according to Medscape.

"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," researchers concluded, according to Medscape.

A spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr, Stephen Pont, an pediatrician in Austin, Texas, said the latest report is " a call to arms to parents and doctors to be aware of things like the cinnamon challenge" and to be vigilant of what their children are viewing online, according to the Associated Press.

Dejah Reed, a 16-year-old girl from Michigan, has started a website called nocinnamonchallenge.com to encourage teens to "just say no" to the dangerous fad after she tried the cinnamon challenge with a friend last February and ended up in the hospital with a collapsed lung.

"I was laughing very hard and I coughed it out and I inhaled it into my lungs," she said, according to the Associated Press. "I couldn't breathe."

Her father, Fred Reed, told AP that he had come home soon after to find Dejah "a pale bluish color. It was very terrifying. I threw her over my shoulder" and rushed to a nearby emergency room.

She had been hospitalized for four days. Dejah, who never had asthma or breathing problems before attempting the cinnamon challenge, now needs to use an inhaler when she gets short of breath from running or talking too fast.

Dejah said that she thought the "cinnamon challenge" would be "cool" to try after she heard about it on Facebook and other social networking sites, but now she knows "its not cool and it's dangerous".

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