New Study Explains Fat-Fighting Effects of Cinnamon
Researchers had previously observed that cinnamaldehyde appeared to protect mice against obesity and hyperglycemia. But the mechanisms underlying the effect were not well understood.
Life Sciences Institute researcher Dr. Jun Wu and co-authors wanted to better understand cinnamaldehyde’s action and determine whether it might be protective in humans, too.
“Scientists were finding that cinnamaldehyde affected metabolism,” Dr. Wu said.
“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.”
The findings indicated that cinnamaldehyde improves metabolic health by acting directly on adipocytes, inducing them to start burning energy through a process called thermogenesis.
The authors tested human adipocytes from volunteers representing a range of ages, ethnicities and body mass indices.
When the cells were treated with cinnamaldehyde, they 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,” the researchers said.
“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,” Dr. 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.”
“Because cinnamon 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,” he said.
“Cinnamon has been part of our diets for thousands of years, and people generally enjoy it. 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.”
“Further study is needed to determine how best to harness cinnamaldehyde’s metabolic benefits without causing adverse side effects.”
The results appear in the journal Metabolism.