Cinnamon adds some spice to learning

Cinnamon may help boost our ability to learn(Credit: trophygeek/CC 2.0)

If you have trouble learning, you might want to try eating more cinnamon. That's according to new research from Dr. Kalipada Pahan, a neuroscientist at Rush University and the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. Already, he's found that "slow learner" mice do better at finding their way through mazes, after a month of ingesting the spice.

Pahan and colleagues initially started by testing mice in mazes, to separate the poor learners from the good learners. The poor learners tended to make more wrong turns, and took longer to find the food reward at the end of the maze – an average of about 150 seconds. After eating cinnamon for a period of one month, however, their maze-solving time was down to around 60 seconds. That was right in line with the performance of the good learners.

The secret apparently lies with several compounds within cinnamon including cinnamaldehyde, which gives the spice its distinctive smell and flavor. Those compounds are metabolized by the liver into a chemical known as sodium benzoate, which subsequently enters the brain. There, it stimulates plasticity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that's responsible for memory.

Additionally, when examining the brains of mice from the two groups, it was found that the poor learners initially had more of the protein GABRA5 and less of one called CREB. After the cinnamon treatment was complete, though, those proteins were at the same levels as those of the good learners.

What's more, it was also found that the sodium benzoate boosted the structural integrity of the brain cells, allowing them to communicate better with one another.

Pahan now hopes that cinnamon could be used not only to boost the learning capabilities of people such as students, but that it may also be used to treat conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Clinical trials are currently being planned.

A paper on the research was recently published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.

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