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Cinnamon might slow Parkinson's, research suggests

The tools to slow the progression of Parkinson's disease might one day come from the kitchen cabinet instead of the medicine cabinet, according to a new study.

Long lauded for its antimicrobial properties, cinnamon might soon be called into service to help Parkinson's patients. Michael Franco/CNET

Parkinson's disease, a neurological condition that causes body tremors and mobility troubles, affects an estimated 7-10 million people worldwide. While there is much research being done to create drugs that combat the illness, researchers at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center might have found a much simpler way to combat it. Cinnamon.

In a recent paper released in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, the scientists reported that when they gave the spice to lab mice, it was metabolized into sodium benzoate. The study found that this compound, which is often used as a food preservative, then enters the brains of the rodents and "stops the loss of Parkin and DJ-1, protects neurons, normalizes neurotransmitter levels, and improves motor functions in mice with PD," according to a statement about the work.

Both Parkin and DJ-1 are proteins that have been found to be deficient in the brains of Parkinson's patients, so it is believed that stopping their loss could slow the progression of the disease.

"Cinnamon has been used widely as a spice throughout the world for centuries," said Kalipada Pahan, a professor of neurology at Rush and the study's lead researcher. "This could potentially be one of the safest approaches to halt disease progression in Parkinson's patients."

Using mass spectrometric analysis, the researchers also found that Ceylon cinnamon was more beneficial as opposed to Chinese cinnamon, which contains a chemical called coumarin that can be toxic to the liver. Both types of cinnamon are readily available in the U.S.

So what's next?

"Now we need to translate this finding to the clinic and test ground cinnamon in patients with PD," said Pahan. "If these results are replicated in PD patients, it would be a remarkable advance in the treatment of this devastating neurodegenerative disease."