A study published last month suggests that the potential value of cinnamon may go far beyond tickling our taste buds. The research group reports that cinnamon was able to substantially reverse and protect Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms in mice. Could the next groundbreaking treatment for the world’s most common neurodegenerative disease really be moonlighting as the world’s most popular baking spice? Sadly, the answer is most likely not.
Cinnamaldehyde – the chemical that gives cinnamon its famous flavor and odor – is metabolized to sodium benzoate in the liver. Sodium benzoate can enter the brain and act as an anti-oxidant. At first glance, this seems very promising! Parkinson’s disease occurs when dopamine neurons in the midbrain start to die. Scientists are not positive why the dopamine cells start dying, but a popular hypothesis is that these neurons experience high ‘oxidative stress’, which causes cells to release poisonous molecules that result in cell death. So using an anti-oxidant to reduce oxidative stress makes good sense as a potential therapy for treating Parkinson’s disease.
In fact, it makes so much sense that scientists and doctors have already been trying it for decades – unfortunately, largely to no avail. While several anti-oxidant drugs have proved tantalizingly efficacious at treating Parkinson disease-like symptoms in mice, clinical studies have found no strong evidence that they work to alleviate Parkinson’s disease in humans.
Interestingly, however, people who eat more dietary anti-oxidants (like vitamin E) throughout life may be slightly protected from developing Parkinson’s disease (although this remains an ongoing debate). It might be informative to investigate whether people or societies with especially high cinnamon intake have lower rates of Parkinson’s disease.
While this recent study presents sufficient evidence to entertain further investigation into cinnamon as a potential therapy for Parkinson’s disease, the results do not represent new or innovative insights into what is already known about anti-oxidants, oxidative stress, and Parkinson’s disease. For now (at least where Parkinson’s disease is concerned) cinnamon still belongs in the spice rack, not the medicine cabinet.
Edited by SITN Waves Editor Shay Neufeld. Special thanks to Dean Lee from the Harvard Neuroscience Program for providing expert commentary.
Read the Nature World News report here
Read the original research paper here
Examples of studies showing that dietary anti-oxidants are slightly protective against developing Parkinson’s disease:
1. Dietary Anti-oxidants and Parkinson’s disease
2. Dietary intake of anti-oxidant vitamins and risk of Parkinson’s disease