Sometimes something delicious is good for you too. We already know that cinnamon has a host of health benefits, from improving digestion to reducing inflammation (and maybe even assisting in blood sugar regulation). But recent research shows that it may also have very real effects in slowing the progress of Parkinson's disease, which affects 1.2 million people in the United States. 

In studies on mice published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, treatment with cinnamon was found to "... reverse the biomechanical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brains of mice with Parkinson’s disease (PD)," by researchers at Rush University Medical Center. 

“Cinnamon has been used widely as a spice throughout the world for centuries,” Kalipada Pahan, PhD, study lead researcher and the Floyd A. Davis professor of neurology at Rush, said in a statement. “This could potentially be one of the safest approaches to halt disease progression in Parkinson’s patients.”

How does cinnamon work against this slow, progressive, and ultimately debilitating disease?

The brains of Parkinson's sufferers have a higher than normal rate of death of important dopamine-producing brain cells, the result of which is the tremor and/or rigidity in the body that's the most obvious sign of the disease. (There are other physical symptoms too.) Levels of certain proteins that protect cells from stress are also lower, and it is via this complex mechanism that Parkinson's wreaks its particular havoc on the human system. 

Cinnamon is converted to sodium benzoate (NaB) by the liver — it moves as that compound into the blood and then up to the brain, where researchers think it blocks the molecules that threaten the proteins, mentioned above. This means that the proteins can do their job to protect cells from stress and keeps dopamine-producing cells doing what they do.  

But so far, the mechanisms above have only been tested — and proven to work — on mice.

“Now we need to translate this finding to the clinic and test ground cinnamon in patients with PD. If these results are replicated in PD patients, it would be a remarkable advance in the treatment of this devastating neurodegenerative disease,” said Pahan.

But before you bulk-order cinnamon bark, consider this from Harvard University's Science in the News: "... the results do not represent new or innovative insights into what is already known about antioxidants, oxidative stress, and Parkinson’s disease." Scientists have been trying to alleviate Parkinson's with antioxidants in various combinations for decades now — based on long-term knowledge about the mechanism — to no avail.

Some protection from Parkinson's has been found for those who ate a diet high in antioxidants and vitamin E throughout their lives, so keep eating those dark red, blue and green fruits and veggies (and enjoy your cinnamon too — it can't hurt to use it in moderate amounts — but be sure to avoid any of the potential negative effects of cinnamon enjoyment by choosing Ceylon cinnamon). 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Can cinnamon help ease Parkinson's disease?
The tasty spice has been found to block the progression of Parkinson's in mice, and it looks like human brains get the same effect.