12 January - 20 June 2016

Cinnamon may help protect against obesity

Scientists from the University of Michigan Life Sciences are reporting, in the journal Metabolism, the mechanism as to how cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives cinnamon its flavour, may protect against obesity and hyperglycaemia. Wu et al. report that previous mouse studies have already reported cinnamaldehyde’s (CA) protective role but the mechanisms underlying the effect were not well understood.

Scientists from the University of Michigan Life Sciences are reporting, in the journal Metabolism, the mechanism as to how cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives cinnamon its flavour, may protect against obesity and hyperglycaemia.   Wu et al. report that previous mouse studies have already reported cinnamaldehyde’s (CA) protective role but the mechanisms underlying the effect were not well understood.

The team aimed to understand what the pathways were like in mice as well as in human cells. Wu et al. treated mouse and human fat cells, or adipocytes, from a range of volunteers with different ages, ethnicities and body mass indices with CA as they wanted to “explore the possibility that CA influences whole body metabolism through direct action on adipocytes”. Adipocytes store energy in the form of fats. This energy can then be used when needed, such as during cold weather which can induce adipocytes to convert this fat into heat, a process known as thermogenesis.

Wu et al found that treatment of mouse adipocytes with CA induced expression of thermogenic markers. Inducing thermogenesis is known to be controlled by the activation of an enzyme, PKA, and Wu et al found in mouse cells that CA directly stimulates a thermogenic response and activates PKA. Turning to human adipocyte cells, Wu et al. also found a “clear activation of thermogenic response and PKA signalling” in adipocytes from the human subjects. The researchers further discovered that CA treatment of human adipocyte cells caused the expression of more of an enzyme, Pdk4, which is known to increase lipid metabolism and is thought to be responsible for the “major metabolic adaptations” which occur when white adipocyte cells are converted to beige adipocyte cells. CA treatment also upregulated the expression of other enzymes which might protect adipocyte cells undergoing thermogenesis from oxidative damage. Mouse brown adipocyte cells also increased their oxygen consumption during CA treatment.

In discussion, Wu et al reiterate that they found that CA treatment leads to a “futile metabolic cycle in subcutaneous fat cells” which they state may be the key mechanism by which CA treatment leads to metabolic protection. They also note that as other recent studies have suggested that CA consumption increases energy expenditure and “post-prandial fat oxidation” and that CA was detectable 20 hours after ingestion it might prove to be a “feasible way to activate thermogenesis in subcutaneous fat and ultimately protect against obesity and metabolic disorders”.

Jun Wu is quoted in a press release as saying that “Cinnamon has been part of our diets for thousands of years, and people generally enjoy it, 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."

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