Can Cinnamon Help You Lose Weight?

December 03, 2017

Could a common holiday spice help people fight obesity? One new study says yes. That’s right. Cinnamon a popular holiday and kitchen staple, might possess unique compounds that could be harnessed to support weight loss, say scientists at the University of Michigan.

While some studies have found that cinnamaldehyde, the essential oil that gives cinnamon its warm and spicy flavor, seem to protect mice against obesity, this is one of the first bodies of evidence to spotlight the spice’s effect on humans.

“Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism,” said lead researcher Jun Wu Wu, assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Michigan. “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.”

Her team’s 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 the body’s calorie burning process.

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. Wu believes that cinnamaldehyde may offer one such activation method. “Cinnamon has been part of our diets for thousands of years, and people generally enjoy it,” Wu said. “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.”

But, before you start consuming loads of cinnamon, take note. “Studies have shown that adding seasoning and spices like cinnamon to foods can make them more satisfying and palatable,” explains Jennifer Peyton, registered dietician at Indiana University Health. The result: “And people often end up eating less if their food has more flavor, she says. “However, cinnamon, by itself, should not be considered a solo formula for weight loss. This was one of the first studies of its kind, so more research is needed before we can all understand the larger picture.”

In the meantime, Peyton suggests, if you’re trying to keep your calories in check, stick to some tried and true methods: “It’s easy to go overboard around the holidays, but sticking to the basics like smart portion control and consuming a healthy diet that’s also high in fiber-rich fresh fruits and veggies can go a long way.”

-- By Sarah Burns

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