Cinnamon may be key to fighting obesity

December 6, 2017

A study published in the journal Metabolism suggests that an essential oil in cinnamon may be used as a treatment to fight obesity. Scientists had previously observed that cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives cinnamon its flavor, appeared to protect mice against obesity and hyperglycemia. But the mechanisms underlying the effect were not well understood. University of Michigan researchers wanted to better understand cinnamaldehyde’s action and determine whether it might also be protective in humans.

The researchers 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.

The researchers believe that cinnamaldehyde may be one way to prompt fat cells to activate thermogenesis. However, they noted that further research is needed to determine how best to harness cinnamaldehyde’s metabolic benefits without causing adverse side effects.