According to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, cinnamon might be able to improve learning. The article, titled “Cinnamon Converts Poor Learning Mice to Good Learners: Implications for Memory Improvement,” describes the research used to discover this new effect of the common spice.
Scientists in this experiment gave daily oral doses of cinnamon to mice. When consumed, cinnamon is converted into sodium benzoate, a common compound used in medications and therapies for brain damage. The sodium benzoate helped improve the plasticity (the ability to re-organize) of neural networks in the mice’s brains, and promoted the release of memory-boosting neurotransmitters while simultaneously limiting the release of harmful inhibitory neurotransmitters.
According to lead researcher Dr. Kalipada Pahan, the tests have already showed remarkable results:
We have successfully used cinnamon to reverse biochemical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brains of mice with poor learning. [...] This would be one of the safest and the easiest approaches to convert poor learners to good learners.
The mice’s memories were tested using - you guessed it - a maze. The particular maze, called a Barnes maze, is not the stereotypical labyrinth-style maze however. Instead, this maze features many similar-looking doors cut into a flat wall-free disk surrounded by visual cues.
The mice must remember these visual cues to find the escape door rather than finding a successful path through a labyrinth, which could be accomplished through trial and error. Since mice are innately averse to open areas, they instinctively will attempt to find a safe hiding place when placed upon a Barnes maze.
Mice were tested at the beginning of the experiment and again after one month of cinnamon treatment. After one month of feeding the mice cinnamon, researchers found marked improvement in the poor-learning mice. The mice who were already adequate learners showed no change, interestingly.
The results imply that learning deficiencies might one day be treatable though simple oral medications or dietary changes. According to this study, further testing is needed before it can be determined if this treatment could improve learning in humans.
These same cinnamon- based treatments have already been discussed as possible therapies for Alzheimer’s and other memory-related neural disorders and as a potential treatment for a number of diseases and disorders including multiple sclerosis.