When it comes to the highest antioxidant values on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale
, cinnamon comes in third only lower than clove and sumac.
The learning improvement in poor-learning mice after cinnamon treatment was significant. As one example, poor-learning mice took about 150 seconds to find the right hole in a maze test called the Barnes test. After one month of cinnamon treatment, poor-learning mice were finding the right hole within 60 seconds, a remarkable improvement.
The effect appears to be due to sodium benzoate, a chemical produced as cinnamon breaks down in the body. (Sodium benzoate may sound familiar, because food makers use a synthetic form of it as a preservative. Also, it is approved by the U.S. FDA for treatment of hyperammonemia -- too much ammonia in the blood.)
Scientifically speaking, there is only one true cinnamon, which is most commonly called "Ceylon cinnamon," and comes from the plant Cinnamomum zeylanicum. An alternative scientific name for Ceylon cinnamon is Cinnamomum verum, which simply translates as "true cinnamon."
The term "cassia" never refers to Ceylon cinnamon but rather to other species of cinnamon, including Cinnamomum cassia (alternatively called Cinnamomum aromaticaum) and Cinnamomum burmannii. While most simply referred to as "cassia," you'll often find Cinnamomum aromaticaum being referred to as "Chinese cinnamon" or "Saigon cinnamon," and you'll find Cinnamomum burmannii being called "Java cinnamon" or "Padang cassia."
Although both types of cinnamon are metabolized into sodium benzoate, we have seen that Ceylon cinnamon is much more pure than Chinese cinnamon, as the latter contains coumarin, a hepatotoxic (liver damaging) molecule.
Ceylon cinnamon can reverse biochemical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brains of mice with poor learning.
Various other compounds within cinnamon, including the cinnamaldehyde that gives the spice its distinctive flavour and aroma, stimulate activity in the hippocampus, the main memory centre in the brain. Cinnamon, like many spices, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.