Cinnamon prevents colorectal cancer in mice: Study shows that cinnamaldehyde could also potentially protect cells against other kinds of chemical carcinogens and UV-induced cancers.

Scientists at University of Arizona have found that the compound, which gives cinnamon its distinctive smell and flavor, is able to inhibit colorectal cancer in mice.

Cinnamon is a spice that is obtained from the inner bark of trees. It is used in both sweet and savory foods. Commonly found in Asian cuisines, it is the third most widely used spice in the world. The two major types of cinnamon are known as cassia cinnamon and true (Ceylon) cinnamon. Both types contain the compound cinnamaldehyde.

George Wondrak, associate professor, and Donna Zhang, professor, both belong to the College of Pharmacy Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Arizona. They completed a study in which they added cinnamaldehyde to the diet of mice. They observed that as a result the animal cells acquired the ability to protect themselves against exposure to a carcinogen through detoxification and repair.  

Donna Zhang said, “This is a significant finding. Because colorectal cancer is aggressive and associated with a poor prognosis, there is an urgent need to develop more effective strategies against the disease.”

A pathway known as the Nrf2 pathway is important in protecting cells against stress inducers such as exposure to cancer-causing agents. Both labs look for molecules, which can activate the Nrf2 pathway. One of the compounds they identified was cinnamaldehyde.

Another thing that came to light in the most recent study was that cinnamaldehyde could also potentially protect cells against other kinds of chemical carcinogens and UV-induced cancers.

“We are not preaching at this point to eat a lot of cinnamon. We are just saying that cinnamaldehyde has properties that help it protect cells from cancer by the activation of Nrf2 pathway, ” Wondrak clarified.

The next step the research team is looking at is to determine whether cinnamon prevents cancer. Because of the fact that cinnamon is not a synthetic or novel drug but a safe spice, a study in humans could be on the horizon.

“We’re wondering if cinnamon can do the same thing that cinnamaldehyde can. And whether we can use either of them to go after major infectious diseases as well. These are the big questions to which this common spice may hold the answers to,” concluded Wondrak. The study was published in the Cancer Prevention Research journal.