A cinnamon extract inhibits the development of Alzheimer's disease (AD ), Tel Aviv University scientists have discovered.

The scientists, headed by Prof. Michael Ovadia of the zoology department in the life sciences faculty, have isolated a substance from the cinnamon plant, referred to as CEppt, which inhibited the disease in laboratory mice.

The study, published in the scientific periodical PLoS ONE in January, was conducted with several Tel Aviv University life sciences laboratories, including those headed by Prof. Ehud Gazit, the university's deputy research and development president, Prof. Dan Segal and Dr. Dan Frenkel.

In the first stage, the scientists succeeded in showing with an electron microscope that the CEppt extract inhibits the creation of amyloid molecules. Extracting the substance involved creating powder from cinnamon sticks with a coffee grinder and isolating it in a solution in 4 degrees Celsius until use, the study says.

They then mixed the extract with the drinking water of mice and flies and examined the effect. The flies were raised with an Alzheimer's stimulating gene and the mice were raised with five genetic mutations that cause an aggressive development of Alzheimer's from the age of two months.

After four months the scientists found the disease's development had slowed down and the animals' longevity and activity resembled that of their healthy counterparts.

They also found the extract helped in breaking up already formed amyloid fibers. "This finding indicates the possibility that the substance may not only prevent AD, but can cure it, after Alzheimer-causing molecules have already been formed," says Ovadia.

Ovadia was interested in cinnamon attributes already as a youth, when he took part in the National Bible Contest and was asked about the substances comprising the holy paste the priests used to spread on the altar before the sacrifices.

"I had a blackout, and remembered the materials, which include cinnamon, just as the gong went," he says.

The substances, including also myrrh, cassia, fragrant cane and olive oil, appear in Exodus chapter 30, verses 23-25.

"The question bothered me for years. I decided to examine cinnamon's attributes and have been doing so, until I made the current discovery," he says.

However, if you're rushing to use cinnamon, Ovadia warns of over consumption. In large doses the spice could harm liver functions, due to a component called cinnamaldehyde. The recommendation is not to exceed 10 grams of cinnamon a day, he says.

Tel Aviv University took out a patent on the extract and its attributes as a food supplement back in 2004.

"The discovery is extremely exciting because while there are companies developing synthetic AD inhibiting substances, the extract is not a drug with side effects but a safe, natural substance that human beings have been consuming for generations," says Ovadia.

So far the scientists have failed to isolate from the extract a single molecule with the healing properties. "When we tried to take apart the cinnamon substances and isolate them the healing properties were lost, as is the case with numerous natural substances," he says.

The team intends to experiment with the extract on different animals in the future, in view of the difficulty of experimenting on people, due to Alzheimer's slow progression.

Meanwhile Ovadia is already applying the findings to himself and has been drinking tea with the cinnamon extract on a daily basis. "My students also drink tea with cinnamon daily. It not only prevents Alzheimer's but other viral diseases, like the flu," he says.

Alzheimer's is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. It is caused by processes in the brain consisting of an accumulation of amyloid proteins outside the neurons and tangled bundles of fibers. An estimated 70,000 people in Israel suffer from Alzheimer's and similar diseases that cause memory loss.

The World Health Organization estimates there are 18 millions Alzheimer's patients throughout the world and their number is expected to rise to 34 million by 2025.