Cinnamon, a common food spice and flavoring material, may halt the progression of Parkinson's disease, according to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.

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

Parkinson's disease affects about 1.2 million people in the United States and Canada. It slowly progresses throughout the body and is caused by the loss of the vital chemical neurotransmitter, dopamine.

Symptoms include resting tremors, slow movement, stiffness of limbs and gait or balance problems.

Although 15 percent of patients are diagnosed before age 50, it is generally considered a disease that targets older adults, affecting one of every 100 persons over the age of 60.

Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamonum cassia) and original Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamonum verum) are two major types of cinnamon that are available in the United States, and may be the key to slowing down this degenerative disease.

"Cinnamon is metabolized in the liver to sodium benzoate, which is an FDA-approved drug used in the treatment for hepatic metabolic defects associated with hyperammonemia," noted Pahan.

And although both types of aforementioned cinnamon are metabolized into sodium benzoate, Ceylon is more pure and therefore the better kind to use, according to researchers.

The study fed ground cinnamon to mice with Parkinson's disease (PD), and researchers found that it stopped the loss of Parkin and DJ-1 in the brain - proteins known to decrease in the brains of PD patients.

Overall, they discovered that cinnamon can reverse the biomechanical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brains of mice with PD.

"Understanding how the disease works is important to developing effective drugs that protect the brain and stop the progression of PD," Pahan concluded.

Their next step is translating these findings to human patients with PD.

This research was supported by grants from National Institutes of Health.