If you love cinnamon, add an extra shake to your next meal: new research shows that the popular spice boosts metabolism in mouse and human fat cells.
In the new study, published in the journal Metabolism, researchers from the University of Michigan tested the effect of cinnamaldehyde—the essential oil that gives cinnamon its flavor—on fat cells taken from mice, as well as fat cells from four humans.
They found that exposure to cinnamon oil triggered both the mouse and the human cells to start burning calories through a process known as thermogenesis. A closer look showed that the oil increased the activity of several genes, enzymes and proteins that are known to enhance fat metabolism.
Fat cells, also called adipocytes, normally store energy in the form of lipids. From an evolutionary standpoint, that stored energy can be used by the body during periods of food shortage, or converted to heat during colder months.
But in a society where food and heat are relatively plentiful, stored energy often has nowhere to go and can contribute to unwanted weight gain. Study author Jun Wu, research assistant professor at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute, says that consuming cinnamon on a regular basis may be one way to make fat cells burn some of that energy, rather than storing all of it.
The study looked at cinnamon’s effects on adipocytes directly—not on an actual human bodies—so much more research is needed to know if cinnamon has the same effect in real people and what the implications of increased thermogenesis really are. And while cinnamon is considered safe in quantities normally used in food, Wu says it’s still too early to determine an effective dose.
Wu says that a sprinkle of cinnamon here or there may not be enough to show immediate, measurable effects on metabolism. However, “we speculate that you don’t have to eat a large amount of cinnamon all at once,” she says. “If you eat it every day, we suspect there will be a cumulative effect, and that over time you will achieve these benefits.”
This isn’t the first study to suggest that cinnamon may have beneficial effects on the body’s metabolic processes. Other research has found that the spice appears to protect mice against obesity and hyperglycemia, and that it’s associated with lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
Wu says that her team’s research is another piece of evidence in cinnamon’s favor. “After this, I would recommend eating a little more than you do already,” she says. “If you already eat a lot of it, carry on—and if it’s not something you use regularly, it’s a great time to start.”