Study: ordinary cinnamon turns poor learners into good students

Cinnamon may be a tool in a student's learning arsenal. According to a new study coming from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, cinnamon is transformed into sodium benzoate by the liver after ingestion, and it then makes its way into the brain where it boosts hippocampal plasticity. The result of this, at least in the mice used in the study, was a fairly rapid improvement in their ability to learn new things and remember them. While synthetic sodium benzoate is found in many processed foods, cinnamon, it turns out, is basically a slow-release way to consume the chemical.

The work was performed by the VA Medical Center in Chicago and Rush University's Dr. Kalipada Pahan, and is now available in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology. According to the study, mice that were classified as poor learners were given a treatment with cinnamon and experienced a 'significant' improvement in learning abilities. The change happened fairly fast; in one case, a month of cinnamon treatments enabled poor learning mice to find the solution to a maze more than twice as fast as before the treatment.

The cinnamon is likely lending these increased learning abilities to mice via the sodium benzoate it results in. The plasticity apparently results in improved learning abilities, as does the difference in a particular brain protein level between good and bad learners. After treatments with cinnamon, this protein level increased to nearly the same level as that of good learners.

The benefits don't end there, though — researchers also found that the structural integrity of brain cells were enhanced after exposure to sodium benzoate.

Don't be so fast to run out and buy a bunch of cinnamon, though — the VA warns that commonly available cinnamon is Chinese and could be toxic to the liver in high amounts due to a chemical called coumarin. If you want to try boosting your memory with dietary cinnamon, you should get the non-coumarin versions like Sri Lanka and Ceylon. Even then, researchers say don't get carried away, as even water is dangerous in excessive quantities.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs