Americans were shocked and saddened when Robin Williams committed suicide following a long history of depression. Another shock followed; the beloved comic was fighting Parkinson's disease, a devastating condition that causes tremors and problems walking.
There is no cure for Parkinson's, but a common spice — cinnamon — may be able to help stop its progression.
Cinnamon has been used for flavoring everything from toothpaste to herbal teas— including mom's apple pie — and it has been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to help improve circulation and digestion. Modern studies are finding even more uses for the versatile spice, including putting the brakes on Parkinson's disease.
According to studies, cinnamon's healthy effects may be due to its ability to reduce inflammation and to have antioxidant effects, or that it may fight bacteria. Below are studies that show some of the conditions cinnamon can help combat:
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• Parkinson's disease. A study at Rush Medical Center suggests that cinnamon can reverse changes in the brain seen in Parkinson's patients. Researchers found that when cinnamon was consumed, it was metabolized into sodium benzoate, which reversed biochemical, cellular, and anatomical changes in the brain. Mice that were fed the spice showed better brain function and motor skills, which are often affected in Parkinson's patients. "This could potentially be one of the safest approaches to halt disease progression in Parkinson's patients," said Floyd A. Davis, professor of neurology at Rush University.
• Diabetes. Numerous studies show that cinnamon is a safe, effective way to reduce blood sugar levels. A study published in Diabetes Care found that consuming cinnamon over a 40-day period reduced blood glucose levels up to 29 percent. Participants were given amounts of 1, 3, or 6 grams a day, and all doses were equally effective at reducing glucose levels. A study conducted at Ball State published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that when healthy adults — those of average weight as well as those who were obese — ate a breakfast cereal with 6 grams of cinnamon added, their blood sugar levels dropped by 25 percent during the following two hours. "As health care in the United States becomes more expensive, cinnamon may offer a low cost approach to modifying blood glucose," said Ball State researcher Jo Carol Chezem. In addition, a meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled studies found that cinnamon reduced blood glucose better than the drug Januvia (sitagliptin).
Numerous test tube and animal studies show that cinnamon stimulates insulin receptors while inhibiting an enzyme that turns receptors off, resulting in a significant increase in cells' ability to use glucose.
• High cholesterol. A clinical trial of patients with Type 2 diabetes found that consuming up to 6 grams of cinnamon daily reduced triglycerides by up to 30 percent, LDL (bad) cholesterol by up to 27 percent, and total cholesterol by up to 26 percent. A study from Penn State University found that adding spices, such as cinnamon, to a high-fat meal reduced the body's negative responses to such meals by about 30 percent when compared to a similar meal without spices.
• Brain damage. Researchers from Tel Aviv University found that an extract in cinnamon bark called CEppt inhibits the development of Alzheimer's disease. A study presented at a meeting of the Association for Chemoreception found that simply smelling cinnamon boosted several areas in the brain involved in everything from memory to attention and focus. A study by scientists at the Agricultural Research Service found that cinnamon extract might protect brain cells after stroke or traumatic brain injury.
• Multiple sclerosis. The cause of multiple sclerosis is still unclear, but studies show that sodium benzoate, a component of cinnamon, can lower clinical symptoms by more than 70 percent by tamping down pro-inflammatory molecules in brain cells. In animal models, according to studies published in the Journal of Immunology, sodium benzoate mixed into drinking water completely inhibited MS. Researchers at Rush University found that cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties that appear to inhibit the autoimmune reactions that attack and destroy the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells.
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