NOV 23, 2017 08:41 AM PST

Burning Fat with a Little Help From Cinnamon

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

New work by scientists at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute has found that a familiar and beloved spice may help us fight obesity. Cinnamon gets its flavor from an essential oil called cinnamaldehyde, which has been previously determined to confer some protection against hyperglycemia and obesity in mice. However, there is very little known about how or why that happens. Researchers wanted to know more about this phenomenon, and whether it might benefit people in the same way. 

Many people love cinnamon, and new work suggests it helps burn fat. / Image credit: Pixabay

"Scientists were finding that this compound [cinnamaldehyde] affected metabolism," explained Jun Wu, a Research Assistant Professor at the LSI who led the study. "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."

Reporting in the journal Metabolism, the scientists found that cinnamaldehyde can impact fat cells or adipocytes directly. That induces the cells to start thermogenesis, a process that burns energy. Learn more from the following video.

The investigators enlisted the help of a group of volunteers that came from a range of ethnicities, ages, and body types. Human adipocytes were harvested from the participants and were subsequently treated with cinnamaldehyde. The cells then upregulated several genes and enzymes that are associated with fat metabolism. The proteins Ucp1 and Fgf21 also increased; they have important regulatory roles in thermogenesis, which starts to solidify the likelihood that cinnamon does indeed help cells burn more fat.

Adipocytes act as a repository of energy, as lipids. In the early days of human life, that storage was critical to the survival of people who might have never known where their next meal was coming from, and who had only limited access to foods rich in fat. They needed to store fat whenever they could get it, so in lean times it would be there to prevent them from starving, or from freezing to death. In modern life, that ease and readiness to store fat is far less desirable and leads to unintended consequences.
 
"It's only been relatively recently that energy surplus has become a problem," Wu noted. "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."

As obesity rises, and associated health problems with it, scientists are searching for ways to encourage thermogenesis in fat cells and get rid of excess lipids. Wu thinks that cinnamaldehyde may be one way to do that. It's also conveniently popular already and might be easier for patients to use instead of a drug.

"Cinnamon has been part of our diets for thousands of years, and people generally enjoy it," Wu said. "So if it can help protect against obesity, too, it may offer an approach to metabolic health that is easier for patients to adhere to."

Caution is advised, however; further research will be necessary to determine the best way to use cinnamaldehyde so it will maximize health benefits and minimize potential problems.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Michigan, Metabolism

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
NOV 10, 2018
Videos
NOV 10, 2018
Engineering Viable Offspring From Same-sex Mouse Parents
Using a special kind of stem cell and genetic engineering, researchers have learned more about what's possible in reproduction....
NOV 12, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
NOV 12, 2018
A New Look at Messenger RNA
Researchers have discovered that longstanding textbook knowledge about an important molecule called mRNA is probably incorrect....
NOV 19, 2018
Neuroscience
NOV 19, 2018
Researchers identify neural pathways that control behavioral responses to noxious stimuli
Behavioral responses to the pain perception could range from reflexive withdrawal to more complex behaviors to avoid or decrease the pain. Neurons in the lateral division of the parabrachial...
NOV 20, 2018
Cardiology
NOV 20, 2018
What Makes Some Fats Bad
You may recall hearing at some point that there are “good fats“ and “bad fats.“ What does that really mean? But what makes one type...
NOV 26, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
NOV 26, 2018
Researcher Claims to Have Genetically Engineered Human Babies
Shocking the scientific community, a Chinese scientist announced that he edited human embryos, and twins have been born....
DEC 03, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
DEC 03, 2018
Reducing the Potential for Negative Side Effects in CRISPR
CRISPR-Cas9 is an amazing gene-editing tool, but there are some drawbacks. This work aims to fix that....
Loading Comments...