Common spice we all have in kitchen can boost weight loss

A common spice we all have in our kitchens could help with weight loss, according to recent research. Experiments have shown the main ingredient in cinnamon - called cinnamaldehyde - burns fat in humans.

Once more valuable than gold, cinnamon - a popular ingredient in mulled wine, Christmas cake and egg-nog over the festive season - has been linked to reducing the risk of diabetes, lowering cholesterol, relieving symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and staving off heart disease and cancer.

Now scientists have demonstrated the mechanism behind its health benefits for the first time - opening the door to a 'cinnamon pill' to treat a range of conditions. Professor Jun Wu, of the Life Sciences Institute at Michigan University in the US, said: "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."

She said as it's already used widely in food it might be easier to convince patients to stick to a cinnamon-based treatment than to a traditional medicine. Cinnamaldehyde is the active compound in cinnamon - and is also responsible for the flavour that lifts dishes, mainly desserts.

Prof Wu says it could now be enlisted in the fight against obesity after she shed better light on understanding its action - and discovering it might indeed protect humans well-being. Previous studies have observed the essential oil appeared to stop mice becoming obese and developing high blood sugar - which can trigger diabetes.

Prof Wu said: "Scientists were finding this compound affected metabolism. 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 published in Metabolism indicated cinnamaldehyde improves metabolic health by acting directly on fat cells called adipocytes.

This is by causing them to start burning fat through a process called thermogenesis which uses up energy to destroy calories. Her team tested the adipocytes of volunteers with a range of ages, ethnicities and BMIs (body mass indices).

When the cells were treated with cinnamaldehyde they noticed increased expression of several genes and enzymes that boost metabolism of blood fats, or lipids. They also observed an increase in proteins known as Ucp1 and Fgf21 - which help regulate thermogenesis.

Adipocytes normally store energy in the form of lipids. This benefitted our distant ancestors who had a much greater need for long-term storage as they had much less access to high-fat foods. That could then be used by the body in times of scarcity or in cold temperatures - which induce adipocytes to convert stored energy into heat.

Prof Wu said: "It's only been relatively recently energy surplus has become a problem. Throughout evolution the opposite - energy deficiency - has been the problem. So any energy-consuming process usually turns off the moment the body doesn't need it."

With the rising obesity epidemic researchers like Prof Wu have been looking for ways to prompt fat cells to activate thermogenesis - turning those fat-burning processes back on. She believes cinnamaldehyde may offer one such activation method.

But she warned against winter revellers loading their egg-nog or mulled wine with extra cinnamon to keep the Christmas pounds at bay. Prof Wu said further studies are needed to determine how best to harness cinnamaldehyde's metabolic benefits - without causing adverse side effects.

One earlier Japanese study found cinnamaldehyde stimulated the metabolism of the fatty visceral tissue in mice - suggesting the spice could combat a pot belly. Cinnamon is made from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree and from this cinnamon sticks and cinnamon powder are made.

It is also loaded with antioxidants and the spice can help stop inflammation. Australian researchers found cinnamon will help lower the stomach temperature - which aids digestion - up to two degrees. This property may also explain why the rust-coloured spice from a tree bark is so popular in hot countries.

In 2010 a US study found a cinnamon-water solution contains antioxidants that can cut the chances of getting obesity or diabetes by up to 23 percent. The household ingredient could also aid those with Parkinson's disease. Scientists said in 2014 the spice is the source of a chemical that can protect the brain.

Livers convert cinnamon into sodium benzoate - an approved drug used in the treatment for brain disorders. In a study of mice the found it enters the brain, stops the loss of proteins, protects neurons and improves motor functions.