Cinnamon may have the power to improve some neurodegenerative diseases; Here's why

3 reasons why cinnamon, an unassuming spice with a unique flavour and aroma, may have the potential to prevent cell death and so improve neurodegenerative diseases

  (photo credit:  Ngô Trọng An from Pexels)
(photo credit: Ngô Trọng An from Pexels)

Neurodegenerative diseases can poorly affect your memory and your movement.  Cinnamon, an unassuming spice with a unique flavour and aroma, may potentially prevent cell death and improve neurodegenerative diseases. 

What is cinnamon?

Cinnamon is a sweet spice.

Cinnamon is an extensively used spice that has been consumed for thousands of years. It has a golden-brown colour and is commonly sold shaped like a roll or a fine powder. Its characteristic warm and sweet flavour comes from its essential oil known as Cinnamaldehyde. 

Cinnamon is harvested from the bark of the cinnamon tree. Its distinct, warm, and spicy scent can be added to sweet and savoury dishes such as that delicious cinnamon bread from the Publix weekly ad or the popular Cinnabon treats. 

What are neurodegenerative diseases?

Neurodegenerative diseases stop the cells of the brain and the spinal cord from working properly. 

Neurodegenerative disorders are a major cause of death and disease worldwide. Nearly one-sixth of the world's population have neurological disorders such as:

  • Parkinson's disease
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s Disease

They can cause symptoms such as: 

  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Depression

Here are 3 reasons why cinnamon may be able to improve some neurodegenerative diseases

1. Cinnamon contains a compound that can eat away bad brain proteins and may help brain function.

One symptom of neurodegenerative disease is memory loss. So, for example, a person with dementia may have short term memory loss and forget where they put their glasses. This happens because the parts of the brain for short term memory have been damaged. So the memory cannot be retrieved. 

Harmful proteins in the brain can clump together and cause brain damage. This happens as the messaging cells are blocked from sending messages to different parts of the brain, e.g. to retrieve a memory.

When cells cannot send messages, they die. This reduces the ability to send messages in the brain, so remembering and other brain-based skills such as problem-solving and decision making get worse. 

Cinnamon has a compound that can eat away at the bad brain proteins. 

  • Cinnamaldehyde

Tests on laboratory mice have shown that cinnamon can reduce inflammation in the brain and has a neuroprotective effect. Therefore, cinnamon may be suitable for conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's disease. 

2. Cinnamon contains antioxidants that may reduce cell death caused by oxidative stress 

In the brain, there are atoms called free radicals. These are very reactive and can cause brain cells to die. Fortunately, there are antioxidants that can combat the free radicals and reduce cell death. 

Cinnamon contains antioxidants that can counteract the free radicals. This ensures that free radicals do not outnumber the antioxidants. Excess free radicals cause oxidative stress, which may then lead to neurodegenerative diseases.

Unfortunately, neurodegenerative diseases are likely to increase in the future due to an ageing global population. Right now, approximately 9% of the world is aged 65 or over. By 2030, 1 in 6 people will be aged over 60, and by 2050, it is estimated that 115 million people worldwide will suffer from a type of neurodegenerative disorder.

3. Cinnamon increases glucose metabolism in the brain, which may help to prevent neurodegenerative diseases

Glucose is the brain's preferred source of energy. However, in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, there is abnormal energy metabolism. This leads to a decreased energy supply to the messenger cells in the brain that transmit information, which may lead to neurodegeneration. Therefore, anything that can improve the energy metabolism of the brain can have a positive effect.  

Cinnamon increases glucose metabolism.  In a study, rats were given cinnamon and a high fat/high sugar diet for 12 weeks. The experiment showed that cinnamon did have an effect on the whole body’s insulin sensitivity. So there was improved glucose control, and cinnamon showed that it might have a neuroprotective effect. 

Is it safe to take cinnamon?

Cinnamon can be toxic when taken in large quantities. A maximum of 1 teaspoon a day is considered safe for most adults.

As the studies have all been done in the laboratory, more work needs to be done to see if similar improvements can be replicated in humans. 

Conclusion

Cinnamon is widely available to add to desserts and dinners and has shown some promising results in the laboratory for its various protective effects on neurodegenerative disorders. 

Cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde which may reduce inflammation in the brain and also have a neuroprotective effect. In addition, it contains antioxidants that combat free radicals, which may prevent brain cell death. Finally, cinnamon may improve glucose metabolism, which in turn has a neuroprotective effect. 

So, cinnamon is not just delicious but good for your health too.

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