Cinnamon may help protect against obesity
University of Michigan scientists have found that a substance in cinnamon — cinnamaldehyde — improves metabolic health by acting directly on fat cells and causing them to start burning energy through a process known as thermogenesis. Their findings are published in the December issue of the journal Metabolism.
Previous research revealed cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that provides the flavor to cinnamon, seemed to protect mice against obesity and high blood sugar. However, scientists didn't understand exactly how the underlying effect took place until recently.
Because cinnamon is so common in the food industry, scientists speculate it may be easier for people wanting to burn more fat to try treatments that include it instead of taking drugs. "Cinnamon has been part of our diets for thousands of years, and people generally enjoy it," said Jun Wu, research assistant professor at the university's Life Sciences Institute. "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."
Anything that might lessen the U.S. obesity problem would be welcome. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. adults (36.5%) were considered obese during the period between 2011 and 2014. Obesity-related health conditions including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are among the leading causes of preventable death.
Records of the culinary and medicinal use of cinnamon date back to ancient Egypt. It comes from the inner bark of the true cinnamon tree. The outer bark is shaved off of selected tree branches. The inner bark, which is the cinnamon layer, is also removed. As it dries, it curls up into "quills" that are cut into sticks or crushed into powder. Cinnamon is commonly used in desserts, as a topping for yogurt or porridge, or as flavoring in mulled wine or hot cocoa. In some countries, such as Morocco and Sicily, it is added to savory dishes.
As far as its medicinal effects, cinnamon has been studied in several experiments through the years. Previous studies identified effects that include anti-microbial and anti-parasitic activity; lowering of blood glucose, blood pressure and serum cholesterol; antioxidant and free-radical scavenging properties; anti-gastric ulcer effects; anti-inflammatory activity; and wound-healing properties. Several supplements manufacturers make cinnamon pills and capsules to take for these potential health benefits, though some substances found in cinnamon can be toxic if taken in high doses.
Cinnamon as a spice is found in many foods and beverages today. According to a report from Technavio, it's one of the most widely traded spices in the world, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.2% from 2017 to 2021. Global sales from exported cinnamon were valued at $484 million last year, which was a 48.7% increase since 2012.
The flavor can be found in Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal from General Mills, cinnamon sugar crunch Donettes from Hostess Brands, and a new cinnamon roll-flavored non-dairy ice cream from Halo Top. And PepsiCo launched a limited-edition cinnamon-flavored cola earlier this year called Pepsi Fire, according to Grocery Headquarters.
While this study could be groundbreaking for the market, it isn't cause for cinnamon-spiced confections to be seen as health food just yet. It may be reason for more savory products, as well as those formulated for weight loss, to include an extra dash of cinnamon. Researchers said that more study is needed to determine how to best harness the spice's weight loss powers without causing adverse side effects — like increased risk of liver damage, cancer or breathing problems.
- University of Michigan Cinnamon turns up the heat on fat cells
- Metabolism Cinnamaldehyde induces fat cell-autonomous thermogenesis and metabolic reprogramming