Cinnamon might be the secret to losing weight, according to researchers who studied how the spice interacts with fat cells.

The organic compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, cinnamaldehyde, makes fat cells burn calories to create heat, a process known as thermogenesis. Harnessing the cinnamon ingredient’s power to turn fat into energy could be important in fighting obesity.

A study in the journal Metabolism noted that cinnamaldehyde has previously been shown to have an anti-obesity effect in mice, including in preventing hyperglycemia, which is a high blood sugar level. This research looked deeper into the exact mechanism behind this protective quality in cinnamon.

The team treated mouse and human fat cells with cinnamaldehyde. They found that the compound made the cells from both species express genes and enzymes that were connected to metabolic activity.

That effect was not limited to one body type or another; according to the research, the human tissue was taken from “from multiple donors of different ethnicities and ages and with a variety of body mass indexes (BMI).”

The University of Michigan explained that human ancestors did not have as much high-fat food available, so they stored fat that their bodies could call upon for energy when it was cold or there wasn’t anything to eat. In many cases today, however, that fat storage has become overkill.

cinnamon-2519512_1920 Scientists say the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor might help fight obesity by burning fat cells. Photo: CC0 Creative Commons

The new research provides “a mechanistic explanation for the anti-obesity effects of [cinnamaldehyde] observed previously and further supporting its potential metabolic benefits on humans,” the study says. “Given the wide usage of cinnamon in the food industry, the notion that this popular food additive, instead of a drug, may activate thermogenesis, could ultimately lead to therapeutic strategies against obesity that are much better adhered to by participants.”

Further research is still needed to better understand the effects of cinnamaldehyde on the body, including potential negative effects from over-ingestion, and figure out how best to use it in fighting obesity.

“Cinnamon has been part of our diets for thousands of years, and people generally enjoy it,” researcher Jun Wu said in the university statement. “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.”