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Cinnamon to the Rescue

Eat
Cinnamon sticks

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Fight extra holiday pounds with this common spice.

Bring on the mulled cider with cinnamon sticks! A new study looks at how cinnamon’s essential oil, called cinnamaldehyde, might protect people against obesity, as well as prevent abnormally high blood sugar levels (called hyperglycemia).

Scientists had previously known that cinnamon affected metabolism in mice. Jun Wu, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, wanted to explore how this looks at a cellular level, and try it out on human cells, specifically. So Wu, who is an assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the UM Medical School, tested adipocytes from volunteers. An adipocyte is a fat cell. The volunteers ranged in body masses, ages and ethnicities. Dr. Wu and her colleagues took the cells and treated them with cinnamaldehyde. The cells showed an increase in metabolic proteins involved with thermogenesis, or fat burning.

Wu believes that cinnamaldehyde may offer a way to switch on the fat-burning processes that evolution had slowly weeded out. Fat, after all, has been designed by years and years of having our ancestors need to store calories. But we have the opposite problem now—we have less movement and more food than we need—so we need to flip the equation. If cinnamon can turn back on an energy burning process that is stitched off, it could be a useful tool, and because cinnamon is already widely used, Wu thinks it might be easier to convince patients to stick to a cinnamon-based treatment than to a prescription-based treatment.

But before you start opening the cinnamon jar and dumping vast quantities all over your holiday cookies, casseroles and breads, remember that the research is preliminary. Wu doesn’t know what doses are ideal, nor are the adverse side effects of cinnamon yet known or understood. Until then, we always have a little sprinkle to enjoy on our eggnog.


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Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


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