- Jason Lemon, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
If you're looking to shed a few pounds, you may want to go heavier on the cinnamon this holiday season.
New research from scientists at the University of Michigan (or U of M) revealed that cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives the spice its flavor, appears to have an anti-obesity effect, Newsweek reported.
The study follows previous research, which showed that cinnamaldehyde protects mice from obesity and hypoglycemia. Scientists at U of M wanted to better understand why this is, so they tested the cinnamon extract on human and mice fat cells.
"Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism," Jun Wu, an assistant U of M professor of molecular and integrative physiology who oversaw the study, told Medical Xpress.
"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.”
Published in the December issue of of the journal "Metabolism", the findings show that cinnamaldehyde acts directly on fat cells, or adipocytes, causing them to burn energy through a process known as thermogenesis. Overall metabolic health is improved as a result, and fat is burned.
For the study, Wu and her team tested the cinnamon oil on a range of subjects, with different ages, body types and ethnicities. They noted that fat cells treated with cinnamaldehyde resulted in the expression of several genes and enzymes that enhance lipid metabolism.
Normally, adipocytes store energy as lipids, which is beneficial when you go without meals for an extended period of time. Essentially, this fat can be used by the body for energy, instead of food. In cold temperatures, adipocytes are also induced to transform stored energy into heat.
"It's only been relatively recently that energy surplus has become a problem," Wu explained. "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."
In modern society, where food is generally abundant and a sedentary lifestyle is normal for many, our bodies instinctively store fat even though it's not necessary. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, especially when a person is inactive and consumes fatty foods.
However, the results of this new study suggest that cinnamaldehyde may be one way of making this excess fats burn quicker.