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Can cinnamon prevent Alzheimer’s tangles?

UC SANTA BARBARA (US) — Two compounds found in cinnamon may delay the onset of—or even ward off—the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

New research shows the compounds—cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin—are showing some promise in preventing the development of the filamentous “tangles” found in the brain cells that characterize the disease.


Alzheimer’s patients develop brain tangles more often and in larger amounts. (Credit: GE Healthcare/Flickr)

“Wouldn’t it be interesting if a small molecule from a spice could help?” says Donald Graves. (Credit: Amanda G. Rose/Flickr)

Responsible for the assembly of microtubules in a cell, a protein called tau plays a large role in the structure of the neurons, as well as their function.

“The problem with tau in Alzheimer’s is that it starts aggregating,” says Roshni George, a graduate student researcher at University of California, Santa Barbara. When the protein doesn’t bind properly to the microtubules that form the cell’s structure, it has a tendency to clump together, forming insoluble fibers in the neuron.

The older we get the more susceptible we are to these twists and tangles, but Alzheimer’s patients develop them more often and in larger amounts.

As reported online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the use of cinnamaldehyde, the compound responsible for the bright, sweet smell of cinnamon, has proven effective in preventing the tau knots. By protecting tau from oxidative stress, the oil compound could inhibit the protein’s aggregation.

To do this, cinnamaldehyde binds to two residues of an amino acid called cysteine on the tau protein. The cysteine residues are vulnerable to modifications, a factor that contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s.

A protective ‘cap’

“Take, for example, sunburn, a form of oxidative damage,” says Donald Graves, adjunct professor in the department of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.

“If you wore a hat, you could protect your face and head from the oxidation. In a sense this cinnamaldehyde is like a cap.” While it can protect the tau protein by binding to its vulnerable cysteine residues, it can also come off, which can ensure the proper functioning of the protein.

Oxidative stress is a major factor to consider in the health of cells in general. Through normal cellular processes, free radical-generating substances like peroxides are formed, but antioxidants in the cell work to neutralize them and prevent oxidation. Under some conditions however, the scales are tipped, with increased production of peroxides and free radicals, and decreased amounts of antioxidants, leading to oxidative stress.

Epicatechin, which is also present in other foods, such as blueberries, chocolate, and red wine, has proven to be a powerful antioxidant. Not only does it quench the burn of oxidation, it is actually activated by oxidation so the compound can interact with the cysteines on the tau protein in a way similar to the protective action of cinnamaldehyde.

“Cell membranes that are oxidized also produce reactive derivatives, such as Acrolein, that can damage the cysteines,” George says. “Epicatechin also sequesters those byproducts.”

Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Studies indicate that there is a high correlation between Type 2 diabetes and the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. The elevated glucose levels typical of diabetes lead to the overproduction of reactive oxygen species, resulting in oxidative stress, which is a common factor in both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Other research has shown cinnamon’s beneficial effects in managing blood glucose and other problems associated with diabetes.

“Since tau is vulnerable to oxidative stress, this study then asks whether Alzheimer’s disease could benefit from cinnamon, especially looking at the potential of small compounds,” George says.

Although the research shows promise, Graves says scientists are “still a long way from knowing whether this will work in human beings.” The researchers caution against ingesting more than the typical amounts of cinnamon already used in cooking.

If cinnamon and its compounds do live up to their promise, it could be a significant step in the ongoing battle against Alzheimer’s. A major risk factor for the disease—age—is uncontrollable. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2013, it will cost the US $203 billion.

“Wouldn’t it be interesting if a small molecule from a spice could help?” says Graves, “perhaps prevent it, or slow down the progression.”

Source: UC Santa Barbara

chat15 Comments

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15 Comments

  1. Jeff

    Cell integrity is the key to the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Ensuring your cells produce energy properly, rid themselves of the free radicals they produce effectively and are able to repair themselves accordingly if necessary is the first step in prevention. While certain dietary compounds such as cinnamon may help, supplementing the body with key antioxidants such as Acetyl Glutathione is essential to maintain cell health and integrity. Not only as a means of prevention but also as a cognitive enhancer and overall immune support.

  2. CAROL MANN

    HOW DO WE FIND OUT HOW MUCH CINNAMON DO YOU HAVE TO TAKE TO HELP IN PREVENTION?

  3. Donna

    If you are considering adding cinnamon to your diet, make sure to do some research as the spice most typically used in cooking is actually “cassia” and contains much higher levels of coumarin than the “true cinnamon,” aka Ceylon or Sri Lanka cinnamon.

  4. Timothy W. Lacinak

    I love cinnamon and appreciated the chap’s suggestion about buying the correct type if used regularly. It’s good to know that cinnamon continues to be beneficial to one’s health.

    Now as far as memory loss, from what I have read, and not too long ago, can’t remember where (not to be intended to be funny) that Indian’s (those living in India) keep better memory banks due to eating lots of curries. The secret compound in curry is the all beneficial tumeric.

  5. Jeff

    Very true Timothy, turmeric contains Curcumoids which are extremely beneficial to our health. Sabinsa actually patented an extract of the turmeric root called Curcumin C3, when supplemented in conjunction with acetyl-glutathione and bioperine it increases absorption dramatically and has powerful health benefits. We outline some of the benefits of taking a turmeric extract such as Curcumin C3 on our site.

  6. Dr Rob Peers

    It is a great popular delusion, that Alzheimer’s disease [AD] risk is somehow caused by ageing. Only a minority of elders get the disease, while the incidence rate in India–in subjects of the same age as in Pittsburgh–is only a quarter of the American rate. Clearly, something other than ageing causes AD. The most suggestive correlation [from nutrition surveys] is with higher intakes of common Omega-6 seed oils. In their usual refined state, such oils are partly vitamin E-depleted, and capable of causing lipid peroxidation in the highly polyunsaturated synaptic and photoreceptor membranes of the human brain and retina. Peroxidation products like 4-hydroxynonenal are now known to inhibit beta-amyloid degrading enzymes, so allowing this key AD peptide to slowly build up, over some decades of vegetable oil exposure. That is how we get the disease. Let’s hope cinnamon and like natural substances do help, but far more promising is the grain and legume sugar, myo-Inositol, which has remarkable anti-ageing properties, due to its ability to inhibit the pro-ageing Insulin-like signalling pathway. Andy Dillin, at the Salk, has shown that partial genetic suppression of this same pathway, in transgenic AD mice, leads to clearing of toxic soluble amyloid and better cognition. A 1996 human AD study with Inositol, 6 gm/day, showed better language and orientation within a mere 4 weeks!! Cognitive scores trended upwards, and may have later reached statistical significance, had the Inositol powder supply not run out in 4 weeks!

  7. Michael

    Dr Rob Peers your inference of Alzheimer’s not being a age-related disease or caused by the process of aging is not grounded very well. If Alzheimer’s were not caused by some aspect of aging (i.e. being alive a long time) you would see more or less uniform incidence across all demographics. On the subject of India Alzheimer’s disease international estimates that 90% of dementia cases in India are not formally diagnosed. This means any comparison between the sub-continental population and the United States is not a fair or meaningful comparison. Most clinical companies are looking at removing the many damaging substances that occur in the brain throughout life such as advanced glycation end products and the various amyloids (not just Beta) for the start of a comprehensive cure.

  8. Dr Rob Peers

    Michael has not done his homework. Where are the studies that show that AD is linked with ageing, and not with a specific dietary factor? Do we dismiss European diet surveys that link cognitive decline and AD with Omega-6 seed oils? What about Mary Ganguli’s study, showing an AD risk 4 times higher in Pittsburgh than in Northern India [with careful ascertainment of cases]? I suggest that Michael do more research, before denigrating my far more comprehensive analysis, that includes a special disease mechanism unknown to those not trained in biochemistry.

  9. Michael

    Dr Rob Peers the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease increases as people get older.

    http://www.alz.org/downloads/facts_figures_2012.pdf

    “Alzheimer’s disease appears to increase dramatically with age,
    from approximately 53 new cases per 1,000 people
    age 65 to 74, to 170 new cases per 1,000 people age
    75 to 84, to 231 new cases per 1,000 people over age
    85 (the “oldest-old”).”

    On Dr. Mary Ganguli she was also present at a panel that had come to the conclusion that;

    “The medical community does not have enough evidence to support using any drug, dietary supplement or behavioural change to prevent Alzheimer’s or cognitive decline.”

    http://nihrecord.od.nih.gov/newsletters/2010/05_28_2010/story1.htm

    To hold the position that Alzheimer’s is not some way related to ageing is not a helpful. I believe that the companies and research bodies looking to remove the harmful proteins in the brain are trained in biochemistry and I thank them for their continued work into removing the suffering caused by this particular age related disease.

  10. Dr Rob Peers

    poor michael is doing his best to learn more about alzheimer’s, but still has very little information, on which to base further speculations—if the cause acts very slowly, then of course the disease will appear increasingly with age—but the majority of old folks do NOT get the disease at all, and the brain changes seen in healthy ageing have no overlap with alzheimer pathology–if michael, whoever he be, cares to ingest the actual cause of the disease [try 30ml/day of supermarket refined seed oil] he will soon get seed oil syndrome [amnesia, irreversible photophobia and night blindness]–and a few decades later, he will be dying in a nursing home–speechless, wasted, bed-ridden and totally demented

  11. Michael

    Dr Rob Peers the experts in the field and I myself think it is highly unlikely you yourself have discovered the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. I believe you are making a fundamental error when you try to say that aging and diseases of aging are separable. It would be nice if the cause of Alzheimer’s were as simple as refined seed oil, however, metabolism is incredibly complicated and your observations regarding seed oil have not been validated. I also think a more explanative tone would be suitable if you are trying to sell your hypothesis.

  12. gabriel bear

    The question is not the sale of hypotheses, but the sale of wares.
    Neither than become an empiric approach to outcome prediction without
    rigorous statistical analysis.
    The amusing part of this discussion is the opinion of Big Pharma that something has to be subject to their world view before they can “recommend” it, whereas actual scientists and health providers would be building lists of contra-indications, such as cinnamon vs cassia for “active agents.”

  13. Dr Rob Peers

    poor long-suffering michael seems incapable of digesting what i have already posted about alzheimer’s…if ageing were the cause, how can one identical twin, but not the other, die of it? no doubt michael has not seen such twin-discordance studies, in his short career as an amateur alzheimer researcher…and would michael care to actually name the experts who he says do not agree with my discovery, that refined seed oils cause the disease?…and how about posting his own qualifications? i am a graduate of melbourne university, and i make much use of the medical library there, to do my research…and finally, why should metabolism be so complicated that a simple toxic cause [in this case, unprotected polyunsaturated fatty acids] cannot easily cause serious nerve cell membrane oxidation, which is now known to inhibit the natural disposal of the alzheimer protein, beta-amyloid?…block its disposal, man, it will build up relentlessly, and in 40 years you are a dead duck…i repeat my challenge; take 30 ml/day of supermarket sunflower oil, and see how long it takes for you to develop a bad memory, irreversible glare sensitivity and night blindness..it’s time for you to rise to my seed oil challenge, or else keep your peace

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