Cinnamon may be the spice you need this holiday season as a new study finds that it can potentially protect you from obesity. A team of researchers from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute (U-M LSI) wanted to better understand how cinnamaldehyde – an essential oil that gives cinnamon its flavor – works, as it was previously seen to protect mice against obesity and hyperglycemia. Moreover, they wanted to know whether it has protective effects in humans.
“Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism. So we wanted to figure out how – what pathway might be involved, what it looked like in mice and what it looked like in human cells,” said Jun Wu, research assistant professor at the LSI.
The researchers examined fat cells or adipocytes from individuals who represent a range of ages, ethnicities and body mass indices, and treated the adipocytes with cinnamaldehyde. The findings show that cinnamaldehyde enhances metabolic health by responding straight on fat cells which stimulates them to begin burning energy through a process of heat production called thermogenesis. They observed that there was an increased expression of some genes and enzymes that enhance lipid metabolism. In addition, they discovered an increase in Ucp1 and Fgf21, which are primary metabolic regulatory proteins that play a role in thermogenesis.
Typically, fat cells store energy in the form of lipids. This long-term storage gave an advantage to our distant ancestors who had less access to high-fat foods and had a greater need to store fat in times of scarcity or in cold temperatures. Such situations induce the fat cells to convert stored energy into heat.
“It’s only been relatively recently that energy surplus has become a problem. Throughout evolution, the opposite – energy deficiency – has been the problem. So any energy-consuming process usually turns off the moment the body doesn’t need it,” Wu explained.
Wu believes that cinnamaldehyde may provide a way to activate thermogenesis to burn fats. She also explained that since cinnamon has been widely used in food and most people enjoy it, it can be an easier therapeutic approach that people can adhere to in fighting against obesity. However, Wu warned that more research is needed to identify how to maximize the metabolic benefits of cinnamaldehyde without causing negative side effects.
Fast facts on cinnamon
Cinnamon is a household spice that has been used for centuries and it is widely used in cooking, especially in baking and curries. There are different varieties of cinnamon, but the main type is known as Ceylon cinnamon which comes from the Cinnamomum zeylanicum plant that originates in Sri Lanka. Another main type is Cassia cinnamon which as a stronger taste and is less costly.It comes from the inner bark of a small evergreen tree, in which the bark is peeled and laid in the sun to dry where it curls up into rolls known as cinnamon sticks. The spice can also be found in powder form. It has a pleasant and warm smell that comes from its essential oils contained in the bark known as cinnamaldehyde.
Cinnamaldehyde, aside from its protective effect against obesity, is reported to have antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal effects. Moreover, cinnamon has large amounts of polyphenol antioxidants that can help prevent diseases and inflammation. The spice is also rich in manganese and has small amounts of calcium and fiber. Other health benefits of cinnamon include blood pressure reduction, control and management of blood sugar and type 2 diabetes, and relief of gastrointestinal problems. (Related: Cinnamon for holiday cooking reduces blood sugar and can cure the common cold.)
Find out more health benefits of cinnamon at AlternativeMedicine.news.