New research shows that active substances in cinnamon can help turn up the heat on the body's natural fat metabolising mechanisms. [Photo: Bigstock]

Cinnamon enhances fat metabolism

28 November, 2017

Natural Health News — New research has shown how an everyday spice – cinnamon – might be enlisted in the fight against obesity.

Scientists had previously observed that cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives cinnamon its flavour, appeared to protect mice against obesity and hyperglycaemia. But the mechanisms underlying the effect were not well understood.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute wanted to better understand cinnamaldehyde’s action and determine whether it might be protective in humans, too.

Their findings, published in the journal Metabolism, suggest that cinnamaldehyde improves metabolic health by acting directly on fat cells, or adipocytes, inducing them to start burning energy through a process called thermogenesis.

What you need to know

» In animal experiments cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives cinnamon its flavour, appears to protect mice against obesity and hyperglycaemia.

» Now a laboratory study using human cells has shown that the common kitchen spice can increase the activity of several genes that increase fat metabolism.

» Cinnamon’s fat metabolising properties may offer a new more natural approach to supporting metabolic health.

The scientists 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 activity of several genes and enzymes that enhance lipid metabolism. They also observed an increase in the proteins Ucp1 and Fgf21, which have a key role in thermogenesis.

Turning up the heat

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,” said lead researchers, Jun Wu an assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Michigan Medical School. “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.”

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.