In addition to being a gorgeously flavourful spice, cinnamon has umpteen health-boosting capabilities, supported by modern science. Two new studies further expand the list of beneficial effects of this ancient spice.
Cinnamon boosts learning ability
A study published this July in The Journal Of Neuroimmune Pharmacology demonstrated that cinnamon can convert poor learning mice into good learners.
What exactly differentiates good learners from weaker ones (at a cellular and molecular level) is unclear. What is known is that poor learners tend to have altered levels of certain molecules in the hippocampus, a region in the brain involved in memory and learning.
Specifically, in weak learners, levels of CREB, a protein involved in memory and learning, are lower. These same poor learners have elevated levels of another molecule called GABRA5, which blocks communication between brain cells. It's as if their brain biochemistry is stacked against them, inhibiting learning in multiple ways (so unfair!).
When animals are fed cinnamon, it is metabolised into sodium benzoate as part of the normal breakdown of the spice.
In poor learners that were given cinnamon orally for a month, the sodium benzoate produced appeared to reverse the chemical 'defects' in the brains of poor learners, making their brain chemistry look like their strong learning brethren. The cinnamon-fed weak learners also showed improved abilities in typical learnings tests like the maze challenge commonly used in mice studies.
Interestingly, already good learners saw no additional improvement in response to cinnamon consumption (darn it).
This was a well conducted study and begs the question of whether dietary cinnamon could improve learning and memory in people who have a lower ability.
Importantly, the researchers commented on the superiority of Ceylon cinnamon versus the Cassia variety because of its low coumarin (a liver toxin) content, a point I tend to go on and on about until the cows come home.
Cinnamon cools your stomach down
This one sure took me by surprise!
Ancient medical systems like Ayurveda in India and traditional Chinese medicine think of cinnamon as a 'warming' spice, best consumed in winter months. A recent study published in Scientific Reports shows quite the opposite effect in animals.
The researchers used novel 'gas sensory capsules' to more accurately measure the goings on in the guts of pigs during digestion and in response to stresses like heat. They found that during normal digestion and in response to heat stress, cinnamon lowered the amount of carbon dioxide gas produced in the gut, literally cooling down the animals' stomachs by 2 degrees celsius!
Cinnamon appeared to preserve the integrity of the stomach lining and also reduced the secretion of gastric acid and pepsin in the gut, likely leading to this cooling effect.
This could have therapeutic implications for people with excess stomach acid and poor digestion, although trials in human have not yet been conducted.
Meanwhile, we can continue to enjoy this beloved, warming (or shall we say cooling) spice in our food for a flavour and health boost.
Try your hand at one of these simple, delicious, nutritious cinnamon-laced recipes from babies to adults and everyone in between: