Cinnamon tea lovers rejoice! 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.
Researchers in the lab of Jun Wu, research assistant professor at the LSI, wanted to better understand cinnamaldehyde’s action and determine whether it might be protective in humans, too.
“Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism,” said Wu, who also is an assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the U-M Medical School. “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.”
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.
Wu and her colleagues 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.