Want Some Extra Brain Power with That Dessert?

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If you’re like me, when you think about dessert, you probably consider it a guilty pleasure, not a healthy option. But at least many desserts contain an appealing spice that stimulates the brain as well as the taste buds. According to the latest research, cinnamon contains a provocative profile of natural chemicals that can help the brain avoid memory loss. And many health-minded people dose themselves with cinnamon extracts or even straight cinnamon without adding sugar and carbs. Keep reading for the full story. . .

Biblical Protection

Some of the modern research into cinnamon was kicked off when an Israeli researcher became intrigued by its mention in the Bible. Cinnamon, according to biblical texts, was used by high priests in a holy salve designed to protect them from infections while they were performing ritual sacrifices. In his initial analysis, the researcher, Michael Ovadia, found that cinnamon possesses significant anti-viral properties. From there, he decided to test the potential effects of cinnamon extracts on Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. Dr. Ovadia and his colleagues discovered that an extract from cinnamon bark called CEppt could slow down Alzheimer’s disease in a variety of laboratory models of the illness. In animal tests – which, of course, don’t guarantee the same results in humans – CEppt helped animals with Alzheimer’s live longer and hang on to their memories better. It also reduced the formation of harmful plaques in brain tissue.1

Research Focuses on Selected Extracts

It’s important to remember that Dr. Ovadia used a cinnamon extract, not cinnamon itself, in his lab tests. And the CEppt extract is still not available for consumers. But further research at other institutions has found other compounds in cinnamon that protect the brain’s neurons. For example, studies at Rush University in Chicago demonstrate that a chemical the liver makes from the natural substances in cinnamon may improve the brain’s ability to learn new knowledge and retain it.2 This metabolite produced by the liver, sodium benzoate, is chemically the same as the artificial preservatives found in many foods. But researcher Kalipada Pahan points out that when you consume cinnamon and the liver creates and releases sodium benzoate into the body, it’s a much more gradual process than taking in processed sodium benzoate. This slow-release form of sodium benzoate, says Dr. Pahan, “readily enters the brain and stimulates hippocampal plasticity." In other words, the chemical allows neurons in this crucial area of the brain to adjust and shift their connections in ways that facilitate learning and memory. Plus, research at Rush in conjunction with the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center shows that when another compound in cinnamon called cinnamaldehyde is made into cinnamic acid by the body, it can protect sections of the brain that are damaged during Parkinson’s disease.3 In these tests, the cinnamic acid helped support the function of neurons that release dopamine – neurons that cease functioning as Parkinson’s attacks the brain. Along with these benefits, studies show that cinnamon can:
  • Reduce harmful neuroinflammation in the brain. If the immune cells in the brain called microglia go into a chronic inflammatory mode, they can damage neurons. But when the body converts cinnamaldehyde into cinnamic acid it sends anti-inflammatory signals to the microglia.4
  • Improve insulin sensitivity in the brain and strengthen neural communication. Tests in Germany show that this improvement of the action of insulin also improves the brain’s control of muscle activity.5

How to Supplement with Cinnamon

If you decide to start using more cinnamon, don’t overdo it. Since cinnamon can lower blood sugar, overdosing can lead to hypoglycemia. But it’s only fair to note that this “side effect” is the desirable “main effect” that has made cinnamon a favorite home remedy among people with diabetes or prediabetes. Another side effect – this one not so desirable – is that some people get mouth sores in reaction to large amounts of cinnamon. Dr. Pahan himself takes about 3.5 grams of cinnamon powder (a teaspoon) mixed with honey every night. He and most experts recommend Ceylon or Sri Lanka cinnamon. The Chinese variety, which is what most supermarkets sell, contains a natural form of coumarin -- a blood thinner. And even though the amount of coumarin in Chinese cinnamon is considered to be too small to cause problems (unless you consume huge amounts), the other cinnamons, available at health food stores, are thought to be preferable.

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