Cinnamon tops the list of most widely consumed spices the world over. It gained popularity not only for the rich, aromatic flavor it adds to all manner of recipes but also for its potential to mitigate an abundance of health issues. Professionals seem encouraged, so perhaps we should pay attention to what fills our medicine cabinet as well as our pantry!
Cinnamon has received much attention in the world of natural healing over the years, and the list of ailments it claims to help certainly seems enticing. Long touted as an ideal substance for mitigating blood sugar levels by reducing insulin resistance in individuals living with well-controlled Type 2 diabetes, cinnamon’s uses in the medical world extend to include everything from warding off colorectal cancer to fungal infections and inflammation. A relatively new area of research focuses on cinnamon as a potential tool in overcoming learning disabilities.
Ceylon versus Cassia Cinnamon
Ceylon cinnamon, harvested from the bark of a tree native to Sri Lanka, conveys a bright, sweet flavor and adds a lighter color to foods than Cassia. The latter variety, more pungent and stronger than its Sri Lankan counterpart, hails from Indonesia and China. For medicinal purposes, Ceylon remains the optimal choice, since the less costly “grocery store variety” of Cassia cinnamon contains a substance called coumarin, linked to potential liver damage in higher doses. While more expensive, Ceylon contains undetectable amounts of coumarin.
The Spice-Brain Connection
One well-documented study sought to determine the effect of cinnamon bark extract on the cognitive performance of rats, as well as associated altered oxidative stress markers in their brains. By utilizing tasks such as navigating a water maze, the scientists noted significant cognitive function in the rats treated with the extract. Furthermore, by analyzing certain parameters located in the rats’ brains, they found an abatement of oxidative stress, possibly a result of the abundance of free radicals found in the cinnamon extract.
While additional research into exactly how oxidative stress contributes to cognitive ability needs to occur, scientists remain optimistic about cinnamon’s powerful free radical eliminating properties. Whether or not medicinal cinnamon hails as the next therapeutic panacea for individuals struggling to learn new skill sets remains on the scientific horizon.
Another research study looked at how substrates of cinnamon can improve learning abilities by stimulating plasticity in the hippocampus of the brain. The term neuroplasticity refers to physiological changes in the brain that happen when an individual interacts with a new environment. Perhaps learning to speak a foreign language illustrates this concept best.
The substrate in question, sodium benzoate, seems to rely on an enzyme, protein kinase A, to upregulate those molecules responsible for plasticity in the brain. Spatial memory also benefitted from oral treatment of cinnamon and/or sodium benzoate. The potential to restructure a slower learner into a better student seems very promising, but again, such evidence-based results will require additional study.
Playing on our Olfactory Senses
A report on nutraceuticals derived from spices, including cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, and ginger, revealed a strong link to supporting brain health. Another report found that just the smell of such spices might improve brain activity. A study in Florida concluded that cinnamon improved attention, memory, and visual motor speed of participants. Of particular interest, a mere 2 teaspoons of cinnamon provides 50% of the U.S. RDA of manganese, a substance considered vital for brain health.
Healing Infections with Cinnamon
Bacterial infections, including the common food-borne salmonella, can lead to serious and even life-threatening health complications. Cinnamaldehyde, a primary component of the spice, demonstrated the ability to effectively inhibit the growth of such bacteria. The combination of cinnamon and peppermint oils also shows great promise as a highly effective agent against some antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a growing problem in the current medical/pharmacological arena.
Spice Up the Holidays
This time of year, clients often express concern regarding family gatherings replete with festive treats. While we try to steer clients towards the best ways in which to celebrate while not sabotaging a year’s worth of prudent fitness and eating habits, we might want to suggest they choose (or bake themselves and bring to a party) foods that contain a healthy dose of cinnamon, such as mulled cider, spice cakes, ginger snap cookies, or even add a dash to a coffee drink. Extoll cinnamon’s abundant health-related benefits, and then send clients off to their kitchens to revamp recipes!