New research from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute has determined how a common holiday spice cinnamon might be enlisted in the fight against 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.
Their findings, which appear in the December issue of the journal Metabolism, 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.
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. 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.