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A study suggests that cinnamon may positively affect learning and memory, but further research is needed. Jeff Wasserman/Stocksy
  • Researchers analyzed 40 studies investigating how cinnamon affects cognitive function.
  • They found that consuming cinnamon may improve learning and memory.
  • Further studies are needed before conclusions can be made.

Cinnamon has a long history in culinary use, as an aroma, and in herbal medicine.

Studies show that cinnamon confers cognitive benefits and anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and immunomodulatory properties.

Some research shows that cinnamon potentially has neuroprotective effects, including against Alzheimer’s disease.

A compound in cinnamon known as cinnamaldehyde, for example, has been shown to inhibit the buildup of amyloid-beta plaques in the brain- a key sign of Alzheimer’s.

Further study of cinnamon’s potential cognitive benefits could aid the development of preventive strategies for cognitive decline.

Recently, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 40 studies investigating the effects of cinnamon on cognitive function.

They found that cinnamon significantly improves cognitive function, described as learning and memory.

The study appears in Nutritional Neuroscience.

For the study, the researchers analyzed 40 studies detailing the relationship between cinnamon and cognitive function.

For the analysis, they included two clinical studies, five in vitro studies, and 33 in vivo studies, including 17 involving rats, 15 in mice, and one in the common fruit fly.

To begin, the researchers analyzed studies involving cinnamon extract or powder.

In one clinical study, the researchers found that chewing cinnamon gum for 40 days positively affected memory in adolescents. The other clinical study, however, reported no significant changes in memory when taken orally.

Most in vivo studies found cinnamon positively affected learning and memory. One study, however, found that cinnamon decreased learning and short memory.

Meanwhile, an in-vivo study found that methanol extract from cinnamon bark can inhibit amyloid-beta production.

Next, the researchers investigated cinnamon components such as eugenol, cinnamic acid, and cinnamaldehyde.

They found that eugenol has cognitive protective effects due to its antioxidant properties and ability to inhibit amyloid plaques.

They further found that compounds known as cinnamaldehyde and trans-cinnamaldehyde have anti-cell death and anti-inflammatory effects that protect against cognitive impairment in animal models.

The researchers noted that their results were not dose-dependent, meaning that both low and high doses of cinnamon conferred positive effects.

When asked about limitations to the findings, Molly Rapozo, RDN, Registered Dietician Nutritionist & Senior Nutrition and Health Educator at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, CA, not involved in the study, told Medical News Today:

“Only 2 clinical studies were part of this review, and one of the two did not show a positive effect. Most of the literature included were rodent models. Therefore more clinical studies are needed. Furthermore, there were many variations among the studies for duration, dosage, and cinnamon components used.”

When reflecting on why one of the two clinical trials included reported positive effects, she said: “Perhaps cinnamon didn’t show a positive effect in one of the clinical studies because the dosage, duration, or cinnamon used wasn’t as impactful as the combination used in the positive study.”

Dr. Karen D. Sullivan, board certified neuropsychologist and creator of I CARE FOR YOUR BRAIN, not involved in the study, also told MNT:

“The main limitations are the low quality of many of the included studies which even the authors describe as “imprecise.” Numerous variables were [poorly-defined, including] the cognitive abilities tested, the use of different components of cinnamon and varying exposures to the compounds.”

“The data on cinnamon inhibiting the pathophysiological mechanisms seen in Alzheimer’s disease is very weak and limited to very small sample sizes in laboratory samples,” she added.

Dr. Jonathan J. Rasouli, Director of Complex and Adult Spinal Deformity Surgery at Staten Island University Hospital, also not involved in the study, told MNT that the human studies did not have adequate control groups, meaning it is hard to draw a firm conclusion from the research.

“In order to definitively say there is a benefit, we will need a prospective, randomized controlled trial, and that is still pending,” Dr. Rasouli noted.

Cinnamon comes in two types: Ceylon and cassia. Both can be healthy additions to one’s diet, however, cassia cinnamon contains a toxin that can be harmful if you eat too much of it.

“Eating high amounts of cassia cinnamon can hurt liver function, increase the risk of lung, liver and kidney cancer, medication-interactions and due to high amounts of coumarin. Also, eating too much ground cinnamon of either kind at once cause coughing and difficulty breathing because the very fine texture of the spice can get caught in the vacuoles of the lungs. This is especially concerning for people with asthma,” Dr. Sullivan cautioned.

Rapozo, however, noted that cinnamon is considered to be a safe herbal medicine and has a long history in various cultures. This means it could easily be included as a part of an accessible whole foods diet for a broad range of people.

“I recommend culinary herbs and spices as part of a brain-healthy anti-inflammatory diet. Cinnamon makes a wonderful hot or cold tea, tastes great with whole grains and fruit, as well as being essential to savory spice blends throughout the world,” she concluded.