- Cinnamon, the commonly used spice in a range of dishes is also known to reduce the risk of obesity.
- The effect of the spice is due to the presence of an essential oil cinnamaldehyde.
- Cinnamaldehyde improves metabolic health by acting directly on fat cells and inducing fat burning.
Cinnamon was known for its anti-obesity properties but the mechanism behind it was unknown.
A recent study done at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute has revealed the possible mode of action.
Jun Wu, research assistant professor at the LSI, and his team wanted to better understand cinnamaldehyde's action and determine whether it might be protective in humans, too.
"Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism," said Wu, who also is an assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the U-M Medical School. "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."
Their findings, which appear in the journalMetabolism, indicated that cinnamaldehyde improves metabolic health by acting directly on fat cells, or adipocytes, inducing them to start burning energy through a process called thermogenesis .
Cinnamaldehyde Acts on Adipocytes
Wu and her colleagues tested human adipocytes from volunteers representing a range of ages, ethnicities and body mass indices. When the cells were treated with cinnamaldehyde, the researchers noticed increased expression of several genes and enzymes that enhance lipid metabolism. They also observed an increase in Ucp1 and Fgf21, which are important metabolic regulatory proteins involved in thermogenesis.
Adipocytes normally store energy in the form of lipids. This long-term storage was beneficial to our distant ancestors, who had much less access to high-fat foods and thus a much greater need to store fat. That fat could then be used by the body in times of scarcity or in cold temperatures, which induce adipocytes to convert stored energy into heat.
"It's only been relatively recently that energy surplus has become a problem," Wu said. "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."
Cinnamon Activates Thermogenesis
With the rising obesity epidemic, researchers like Wu have been looking for ways to prompt fat cells to activate thermogenesis, turning those fat-burning processes back on.
Wu believes that cinnamaldehyde may offer one such activation method. And because it is already used widely in the food industry, it might be easier to convince patients to stick to a cinnamon-based treatment than to a traditional drug regimen.
"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."
Now, before anyone goes dumping tons of extra cinnamon in their egg nog in hopes of keeping holiday-season pounds at bay, Wu cautioned that further study is needed to determine how best to harness cinnamaldehyde's metabolic benefits without causing adverse side effects.
Cinnamon For Better Health
- Reduces risk of Metabolic syndrome: A single supplement intervention with 3g cinnamon for 16 weeks resulted in significant improvements in all components of metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions such as insulin resistance, clustering of abdominal obesity, high blood lipids, high blood sugar and hypertension, and increased risk of clotting, predisposing individuals to diabetes, stroke and coronary heart diseases.
- Improves learning abilities: Cinnamon not only enhances flavor, but can also make you smarter, and improve learning abilities, suggested a Rush University Medical Center study. Oral intake of cinnamon was metabolized by the body to sodium benzoate that increases a protein involved in memory and learning. It also reduced a protein that generates tonic inhibitory conductance in the brain.
- Skin care: Cinnamon has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which help in keeping the skin free from infections.
- Protects colon cells:Cinnamon contains cinnamic aldehyde, which activates a protein that controls the expression of antioxidants which protect the colon cells from cancer.
- Fights skin cancer: Cinnamaldehyde exhibits anti-melanoma activity in mice injected with human skin cancer forming cells.
- Reduces Alzheimer's risk: Cinnamon contains two compounds, cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin that have an inhibitory effect on tau proteins which is known to cause Alzheimer's disease.
- Jun Wu, Juan Jiang, Margo Emont, Heejin Jun, Xiaona Qiao, Jiling Liao and Dong-il Kim. 'Cinnamaldehyde induces fat cell-autonomous thermogenesis and metabolic reprogramming.' Metabolism (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.metabol.2017.08.006.