Cinnamon: The Spice of Life?

A soothing cup of warm cinnamon tea may not be the first drink that comes to mind in the middle of summer, but Jarmanese Torrance is brewing away.

The 31-year-old multiple sclerosis patient believes the sweet-smelling spice helps ease her symptoms.

“It calms inflammation. I have a cinnamon tea that I make,” said Torrance. “I make, like, cinnamon cookies or anything like that.”

Forget that this common spice is typically partnered with sugar to create mouth watering goodies. It actually has a long history as a medicine to treat a variety of disorders including arthritis and sore throats.

It may also help tame blood sugar in diabetics and reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol.

Now, it is being investigated as a possible treatment for multiple sclerosis.

“Cinnamon powder is decreasing clinical symptoms of MS in mice,” said Dr. Kali Pahan, a neurological scientist at Rush University Medical Center.

With a two-year, $750,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Rush University Medical Center is evaluating whether cinnamon can stop the destructive process of MS in mice. What they are seeing so far almost seems too good to be true.

Researchers provided a video of mice with an MS-like disease showing the difference in the mice before and weeks after receiving cinnamon powder.

It is still early, but Pahan says the changes are dramatic.

“I didn’t believe initially we would get this result with just the powder,” said Pahan.

MS is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that attacks the central nervous system.

It causes damage to the myelin sheath, a fatty tissue that protects nerve cells.

When myelin is destroyed, it disrupts the body’s ability to send signals to the brain. Resulting symptoms include numbness, paralysis and loss of vision.

Researchers suspect cinnamon has compounds that can block inflammation and protect brain cells responsible for maintaining nerve cells and the myelin sheath.

Rush University Medical Center neurologist Dr. Roumen Balabanov warns that what may seem to work in animals may do nothing for humans.

“Active intake of cinnamon for the purposes of controlling the disease – I think that this would be wrong and a premature thing to do,” said Balabanov.

He says FDA-approved medications are effective but can have side effects and are costly.

The hope is that cinnamon can be used alongside traditional medications as an inexpensive adjunct to help control the disease, but there are still a lot of unknowns.

“We have to really look for what would be the safest way to use it in patients,” said Balabanov.

For the most part, researchers say working a teaspoon of ground cinnamon into a diet shouldn’t cause trouble.

Doctors warn that MS patients should not abandon prescribed drugs to self-medicate with cinnamon and should consult their physician with any questions.