PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Hit the books and eat your cinnamon!
That could be the new standard advice for students, according to researchers.
Dr. Kalipada Pahan, a researcher at Rush University and the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center, has found that cinnamon turns poor learners into good ones… among mice at least.
Researchers hope that will also be the case for people.
The findings were published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.
“The increase in learning in poor-learning mice after cinnamon treatment was significant. For example, poor-learning mice took about 150 seconds to find the right hole in the Barnes maze test. On the other hand, after one month of cinnamon treatment, poor-learning mice were finding the right hole within 60 seconds,” says Pahan.
Researchers say the effect appears to be due to sodium benzoate, a chemical produced as cinnamon is broken down in the body.
Cinnamon acts as a slow-release form of sodium benzoate, says Pahan.
According to the research, lab studies show that different compounds within cinnamon–including cinnamaldehyde, which gives the spice is distinctive flavor and aroma–are “metabolized into sodium benzoate in the liver. Sodium benzoate then becomes the active compound, which readily enters the brain and stimulates hippocampal plasticity.”
In the study, the group first tested mice in mazes to separate the good and poor learners.
Researchers say the good learners made fewer wrong turns and took less time to find food.
In analyzing baseline disparities between the good and poor learners, the group found differences in two brain proteins. And the gap was all but erased when cinnamon was given.
Pahan says, “We saw increases in GABRA5 and a decrease in CREB in the hippocampus of poor learners. Interestingly, these particular changes were reversed by one month of cinnamon treatment.”
Researchers say cinnamon has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so it could be expected to exert a range of health-boosting actions. However, the study says the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says that “high-quality clinical evidence to support the use of cinnamon for any medical condition is generally lacking.”
Pahan believes that “besides general memory improvement, cinnamon may target Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment [a precursor to Alzheimer’s], and Parkinson’s disease as well.”
But remember, “Anything in excess is toxic,” says Pahan.