Fun Friday: Does cinnamon improve your learning ability?

by L&D15 Jul 2016
Do you fancy some cinnamon with your toast or coffee?

If so, get ready for some good news.

In the past it’s been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, providing protection against cancer and fighting bacterial and fungal infections.

Further, it also aids learning ability and memory, according to neurological scientists at Rush University Medical Centre.

The scientists have found that giving cinnamon to lab mice with poor learning ability made them better learners.

“This would be one of the safest and the easiest approaches to convert poor learners to good learners,” said the lead researcher of the study Kalipada Pahan, PhD.

“Understanding brain mechanisms that lead to poor learning is important to developing effective strategies to improve memory and learning ability.”

The way to gain that understanding involves the hippocampus, a small part in the brain that generates, organises and stores memory.

Research indicates that the hippocampus of poor learners has less CREB (a protein involved in memory and learning) and more alpha5 subunit of GABAA receptor or GABRA5 (a protein that generates tonic inhibitory conductance in the brain) than good learners.

The mice were given oral feedings of ground cinnamon and they metabolised this into sodium benzoate (a chemical used as a drug treatment for brain damage).

As the sodium benzoate entered their brains, it increased CREB, decreased GABRA5, and stimulated the plasticity (ability to change) of hippocampal neurons.

Consequently, these changes led to improved memory and learning among the mice.

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

The team used a Barnes maze (a standard elevated circular maze consisting of 20 holes) to find the mice with inferior and superior learning abilities.

The mice were then examined for their ability to find the target hole following two days of training. They tested the mice again after one month of cinnamon feeding.

The result was that after eating cinnamon, the poor learning mice had improved memory and learning at a level found in good learning mice.

However, they did not find any major improvement among good learners by cinnamon.

“Individual difference in learning and educational performance is a global issue,” Pahan said.

“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.”

The results are published in the July issue of the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.