Can a pinch of cinnamon stimulate your brain?

Prized for its delicious scent, cinnamon holds a prominent place amongst spices with known health benefits. Rich in antioxidants, it is also known for its antispasmodic (also supports digestion), antiviral and antiseptic properties. After a recent American study, this natural spice can also boast positive effects on memory and brain plasticity among its many benefits. How did researchers reveal cinnamon's ability to boost memory capacity, promote learning, and limit cognitive decline?

To study the potential impact of cinnamon on the brain, researchers from Rush University and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Chicago tested rats by placing food at the exit to a maze. This first experiment allowed them to divide the mice into two groups: the fastest and the slowest (to find the exit). After two days of training, the scientists were able to determine which mice had good or poor learning and memorization abilities. The slowest mice were then given a cinnamon supplement for a month. After completing the diet, they were again placed in the maze.

The results of the second experiment, published in the medical review Neuroimmune Pharmacology indicate that, compared to the first test, the slowest mice were 90 seconds faster in finding the exit. In fact, their performance (60 seconds to complete the maze) equaled those of the fastest mice during the first experiment. By analyzing the brains of the “doped” mice, the researchers were able to isolate the chemical compound, sodium benzoate, present in the spice. The compound appears to stimulate the hippocampus, the main area for memory, and to improve the structure of dendrites (neuronal extensions). While cinnamon seems to have improved the results of mice with poor learning abilities, the same did not hold true for the mice that were already performing well.

The work should spark the development of studies in humans. According to Kalipada Pahan, the study’s lead author: “We need to further test this approach in poor learners. If these results are replicated in poor learning students, it would be a remarkable advance.” Those involved in the research are enthusiastic about the positive effects of cinnamon; not only to boost memory and cerebral plasticity, but also to combat the progression of mild cognitive impairment and slow cognitive decline.

While we’re waiting for new studies to be published, feel free to sprinkle your meals with cinnamon and have another piece of pumpkin pie!
Source: K.K. Modi, S.B. Rangasamy, S. Dasarathi, A. Roy, K. Pahan, Cinnamon Converts Poor Learning Mice to Good Learners: Implications for Memory Improvement, in Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, June 2016.

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