The C in Cinnamon Stands for Cognition
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By Jill Horn
Cinnamon is a popular spice which is also known for its memory-enhancing effects. In recent years, nutrition science has established more supporting clinical evidence for cinnamon’s protective effects in neurodegenerative disease and beneficial impact on learning and memory. A recent systematic review looked at 40 different studies investigating cinnamon’s effects on brain health and performance. Overall, the converging evidence concludes that cinnamon may significantly improve learning and memory, while also exerting neuroprotective effects.
“Due to its plant phenolic compounds, cinnamon possesses anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer and immunoregulatory properties, as well as having a positive effect on cognitive function and exerting neuroprotective effects.”
Cinnamon is a spice commonly used in various cultures, and it has been used as an herbal medicine for centuries. Cinnamon is obtained from the inner bark of trees, which is also known as Cinnamomum. There are two main types of cinnamon, of which the more popular and healthier one is said to be Cinnamomum zeylanicum, also known as Ceylon type. Based on in vitro studies, cinnamon has been shown to have antioxidant properties and reduce inflammation through different pathways. A variety of plant compounds found in cinnamon are known for these beneficial effects, as they belong to the category of polyphenols, a group of large plant-derived molecules often discussed in this blog and in The Gut Immune Connection book. The main polyphenols found in cinnamon include catechin, tannin, syringic acid, and epigallocatechin gallate. Due to these plant phenolic compounds, cinnamon when tested in vitro, possesses anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer and immunoregulatory properties, effects that are thought to contribute to cinnamon’s health benefits. Cinnamon’s volatile oils cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, and cinnamic acid may further contribute to these health benefits. The main pathways through which these polyphenols reduce inflammation are the NF-kB pathway and through reduction of reactive oxygen species.
“In several different in vivo studies, decrease of amyloid beta formation or aggregation were observed as an effect of cinnamon ingestion. These biochemical changes corresponded to enhancements in spatial memory, improvement in retention and recognition, and increased learning ability.”
Cinnamon’s neuroprotective effects are mainly attributed to the inhibition of factors and mechanisms thought to play a role in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that is associated with progressive cognitive deficits. It is thought that the overproduction of the molecule amyloid-β which is characteristic for Alzheimer’s disease can lead to impaired memory, oxidative damage, and cognitive impairment. Cinnamon has been studied for its potential protective role in neurodegenerative disease. In several different in vivo studies, decrease of amyloid beta formation or aggregation were observed as an effect of cinnamon ingestion. These biochemical changes corresponded to enhancements in spatial memory, improvement in retention and recognition, and increased learning ability in animal models. It has also been suggested that the cognitive impairments In Alzheimer’s disease may be linked in part to a lack of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine neurotransmitters. Choline is a bioactive compound found in cinnamon and is a molecule which is important in the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in cognition. This is another pathway by which cinnamon has been proposed to exert neuroprotective effects but does need more research. In-vitro studies looking at the exact effects of cinnamon compounds on specific brain cells confirmed the findings from in vivo animal studies. In several studies where cinnamaldehyde was applied to different cell types, the cinnamon compounds significantly reversed amyloid beta neurotoxicity and significantly inhibited tau aggregation, both of which are important reversals of Alzheimer’s pathology. Another study looked at methanol extract from cinnamon bark and found that it also reduced amyloid-beta in specific cells. Based on these preclinical studies, the components of cinnamon can have neuroprotective effects and may play a preventive and adjuvant role in Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis.
“Most studies carried out on this subject so far reported that cinnamon might be useful for preventing and reducing cognitive function impairment.”
In conclusion, the evidence surrounding cinnamon’s effect on cognitive health is promising. Most studies carried out on this subject so far suggest that cinnamon might be useful for preventing and reducing cognitive function impairment and therefore might be useful as an adjuvant treatment in the management or prevention of early cognitive decline. However, more controlled studies in human populations are required to clearly establish such a health benefit. The claim of potential benefits in slowing early cognitive decline is likely not specific to cinnamon, as many other plant-based foods, seeds and herbs, including green tea, coocoa powder and berries contain the same polyphenol compounds which may have similar benefits. A diet rich in a variety of such foods is probably the best way to achieve the desired benefits. So, the C in cinnamon may indeed stand for cognition, but more research is needed to fully understand its potential benefits.
Jill Horn is a recent UCLA graduate with a degree in Neuroscience. She is deeply interested in the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit takes an integrative approach to health and well-being. She aspires to the public about a research-based lifestyle and mindset that promote health. Jill also deeply resonates with the One Health concept, which emphasizes the interdependence of the health of people and the health of our planet, given the climate crisis we are facing.