Could cinnamon improve multiple sclerosis?
A number of environmental factors, such as smoking, sun exposure and viral illnesses, are believed to influence MS. Diet may also play a role, but the foods that are helpful or harmful to MS have not been clearly identified.
One area of interest is spices, in part because some regions of the world with a low incidence of MS and other neurodegenerative diseases are also places where people are high consumers of spices. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is four times more common in the U.S. compared to India (Kannappan and colleagues. Mol Neurobiol 2011;44:142-159), which may be due in part to the consumption of spices such as curcumin in India.
Spices – like other constituents of food – are chemicals, so they have the potential to act like medications (called nutraceuticals) in the body. Thus far, most spice studies have looked at curcumin. (See (Curcumin: does it work in multiple sclerosis? MSology, March 27, 2014). But a new study has now looked at the potential benefits of cinnamon in MS.
The cinnamon used in sticky buns, mouthwash and mulled wine comes from the bark of the Cinnamomum tree, and has been highly valued as a spice for over four thousand years (cinnamon and cassia are both mentioned in the Bible). In traditional medicine, it’s often used for stomach upset, menstrual cramps, as an appetite stimulant and to treat the common cold. Two main varieties are sold: “true” (verum) cinnamon from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and cassia cinnamon (from China, Indonesia or Vietnam).
When cinnamon is consumed, it’s converted in the liver to sodium benzoate, a common food additive that is used to inhibit bacteria and fungi from growing in jams, fruit juices, carbonated drinks and other consumables. Sodium benzoate is also a constituent of an FDA-approved medication (Ucephan), which is used to treat a type of metabolic disorder in children.
To study the effects of cinnamon in MS, true cinnamon (Cinnamonum verum) powder was fed to mice with the animal equivalent of MS (called EAE, or experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis). Cinnamon altered several aspects of the abnormal immune response seen in MS. For example, the spice appeared to preserve cells that re-regulate the abnormal immune response in MS (called regulatory T cells, or Tregs), inhibited very damaging immune cells (called Th17), and blocked inflammatory cells from invading the spinal cord. Cinnamon also appeared to promote remyelination of damaged myelin. The net result was that cinnamon-fed animals had less severe MS-like symptoms.
These preliminary results are encouraging and could open up new areas of research. But they don’t mean that overloading on cinnamon or cinnamon-containing products will help control the inflammatory process in MS. More research is needed to determine if cinnamon has an effect in people – not just animals – with MS.
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