New research suggests that a sprinkle of one of your favorite spices may do more than tickle your taste buds—it may improve your memory as well. A paper published in the December 2016 issue of the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology suggests that cinnamon boosts plasticity—the ability to change and grow in response to new information—in a key memory region of the brain called the hippocampus.

Working with laboratory mice, the researchers compared the animals’ ability to remember how to navigate a maze. Scientists then separated the mice into two groups, one consisting of good learners and the other of poor learners. The scientists fed the poor learners regular doses of cinnamon over a one-month period, and tested the animals again. They found that the “spice mice” had essentially been converted into good learners, showing more than twice the ability to learn maze navigation after treatment with cinnamon than they had in the initial maze test.

Although it is not clear precisely how cinnamon improves memory, it is thought that the spice is converted in the liver into a chemical that enters the brain and somehow enhances the structural integrity of brain cells.

Previous studies have shown that cinnamon has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and also helps to protect the brain’s communications networks. The researchers suggested that individuals who plan to add cinnamon to their daily diet choose varieties produced in Ceylon or Sri Lanka. Cinnamon produced in China is less desirable because it contains a compound called coumarin that may be toxic to the liver in very large amounts.

This article originally appeared in Mind, Mood & Memory, a publication of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital dedicated to maintaining mental fitness from middle age and beyond.

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