More reasons to spice up your toast, coffee and pastries. A new study has found that eating more cinnamon could help improve learning abilities.
A team of neurological scientists from the Rush University Medical Center in Illinois fed cinnamon to mice subjects to see the spice's effects. They discovered that the household spice made the animal subjects better learners.
According to the study's lead researcher Kalipada Pahan, eating cinnamon could be one of the easiest and safest ways to convert "poor learners to good learners." Pahan is also Rush's Floyd A. Davis Professor of Neurology.
There is not much known about the neurological processes that cause some people to have poor learning abilities or how to improve a poor learner's performance. Some people's good learning abilities are innate while others become good learners through their own efforts. However, there are also those who, despite the effort and perseverance, find it difficult to learn new tasks.
"Understanding brain mechanisms that lead to poor learning is important to developing effective strategies to improve memory and learning ability," said Pahan.
The research team found that the hippocampus of people who have trouble learning new tasks has less CREB, which is a protein that plays a role in learning and memory. Compared to good learners, poor learners' hippocampus have more GABRA5, which is an alpha5 subunit of the GABAA receptor. The GABRA5 is a protein that helps generate tonic inhibitory conductance in the person's brain.
This is where the spice could be beneficial. The mice, which were orally fed with ground cinnamon, metabolized the spice into sodium benzoate, a chemical found in the drugs used to treat brain damage. When the chemical entered the animals' brains, it managed to increase the levels of CREB and decrease levels of GABRA5. Moreover, it helped stimulate the hippocampal neurons' plasticity or ability to change.
All these changes then improved the learning and memory abilities of the mice subjects. Findings showed that cinnamon was able to reverse the anatomical, biochemical and cellular changes that were happening in the mice's brains with poor learning skills.
To identify the good and bad learners, the team used a Barnes maze, which is a circular maze with 20 holes. They trained the mice for two days and then put them to the test to find the target hole. After a month of feeding the mice with cinnamon, they repeated the same test.
Finally, the team found that the poor learners were able to increase their level of memory and learning to the level of the good learners. However, they found no significant changes as to the effects of the spice among the good learners.
Research findings were published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology on June 24.