Cinnamon is a warm, sweet spice that you can sprinkle on top of your latte while consuming a sticky cinnamon roll. In addition to tantalizing your taste buds, cinnamon may improve your ability to learn, new research has found.

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Cinnamon improved learning and memory in mice defined as poor learners.

The study, published in the journal Neuroimmune Pharmacology, finds that mice that are considered poor learners improve in learning ability after consuming cinnamon.

“This would be one of the safest and the easiest approaches to convert poor learners to good learners,” says Kalipada Pahan, Ph.D., lead researcher of the study and the Floyd A. Davis Prof. of Neurology at Rush.

Little is known about why some people are naturally good at learning and why some people who struggle with learning can either learn or fail to learn new skills with effort.

Pahan comments that by finding out why some brain mechanisms result in poor learning, strategies can be developed to increase learning ability and improve memory.

Researchers have located proteins in the hippocampus – the part of the brain that is involved in memory formation, memory organization, and memory storing – that are present in poor learners.

In poor learners, less of the CREB protein – that plays a role in memory and learning – was present in the hippocampus.

More of the alpha5 subunit of GABAA receptor or GABRA5 proteins – that generates tonic inhibitory conductance in the brain – was observed in poor learners than those mice that learned more effectively.

Feeding the mice cinnamon improved their learning and memory by altering the proteins associated with poor learning.

On consuming cinnamon, the mice metabolized the spice into sodium benzoate, which can be used as a treatment for brain damage.

The sodium benzoate had the effect on the mice of increasing the CREB in the brain and decreasing GABRA5 while increasing the ability of the hippocampal neurons to change. Consequently, these changes improved memory and learning.

The researchers trained the mice for 2 days in a maze consisting of 20 holes to observe if they could learn to find their target hole.

“We have successfully used cinnamon to reverse biochemical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brains of mice with poor learning,” says Pahan.

After 1 month of feeding the mice cinnamon, those mice deemed as poor learners improved in memory and learning, and the good learners were unchanged.

Individual difference in learning and educational performance is a global issue. We need to further test this approach in poor learners. If these results are replicated in poor learning students, it would be a remarkable advance.”

Kalipada Pahan, Ph.D., Floyd A. Davis Prof. of Neurology at Rush University Medical Center

Pahan and co-workers have previously found a relationship between consuming cinnamon and the reversal of changes in the brains of mice with Parkinson’s disease.

The team has also detected through analysis that not all types of cinnamon are equal. Of the two major types of cinnamon available in the United States – Chinese and Ceylon – Ceylon cinnamon is purer, and Chinese cinnamon contains a molecule associated with liver damage.

Learn more about the health benefits of cinnamon.