Cinnamon, or more specifically cinnamaldehyde, the essential oil that gives cinnamon its flavor, has been the focus of mouse studies on reversing obesity. This news release reports on a study that uses human stem-cell-derived fat cells to test if and how cinnamaldehyde activates fat metabolism in these fat cells. The news release reports that thermogeneisis — energy conversion that produces heat — is the way cinnamaldehyde activates fat cells to use fat.
The release suggests that cinnamaldehyde might be a better alternative to synthesized drugs to reduce obesity because people might be more willing to stick with a regimen based on cinnamon. They caution, however, that more research needs to be done and that people should not go out and try this at this time because of potential side effects.
Obesity is a major problem in the U.S. and other developed countries. Preventing and reducing obesity a major focus of public health endeavors, but success has been minimal. Diet and exercise as treatment for obesity is a difficult prescription for many people to stick with. Drugs to treat obesity have been problematic in the past. While some have found success with surgery-based treatments, serious side effects have thwarted many others. If it panned out, a non-drug, non-surgical approach to weight-loss would be of public interest.
There are no costs discussed in this news release. However, this study is extremely preliminary, and it is not known how cinnamaldehyde would be sourced if this were to become a drug. Cinnamon is a common spice available on any grocery shelf, is fairly inexpensive and is made from tree bark. It can also be chemically synthesized, but the natural source is the least expensive.
This news release does not offer any numbers providing context beyond making the claim that triggering fat burning in cells could reduce obesity. There are no numbers on how much or how quickly cinnamaldehyde induces fat burning, While we recognize that the objective of the study was to determine the mechanism through which cinnamaldehyde acted and to determine its metabolic pathways, we’d still like to see some description of the type of measurements used by researchers.
There are no specific harms mentioned, however a disclaimer is included in the news release that “Wu cautioned that further study is needed to determine how best to harness cinnamaldehyde’s metabolic benefits without causing adverse side effects.”
Consuming too much cinnamon can cause mouth irritation. Some people are allergic to the spice. According to WebMD, cinnamon can interfere with some medications, including antibiotics, diabetes drugs, blood thinners and heart medicines.
It’s clear that the research is many years away from becoming a therapy and the release didn’t establish that fact clearly enough. The lede talks about how the spice “might be enlisted in the fight against obesity.” That kind of claim has to be accompanied by an acknowledgment of the extremely early state of the research.
There is no disease mongering here. Obesity is a problem in the U.S. and around the world in places where food is not scarce. As the news release points our, fat storage is a hedge against starvation, but in economies without starvation, excess fat storage causes obesity and negative impacts on health.
The funding sources are clearly included in the news release. There are no conflicts of interest listed in the news release or study.
The release references traditional drug treatments while suggesting cinnamon might be a safer and easier to adhere to strategy for weight loss than a drug. But there are many other alternatives for weight loss that could have been mentioned such as diet, exercise and behavioral counseling.
The release strongly suggests that cinnamon is not yet ready as a weight loss aid without saying the actual words. The news release warns that researchers have not yet determined “how best to harness cinnamaldehyde’s metabolic benefits without causing adverse side effects.” It also cautions against using cinnamon as an obesity protectant or treatment at this time.
The release establishes novelty and acknowledges past research with this statement: “Scientists had previously observed that cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives cinnamon its flavor, appeared to protect mice against obesity and hyperglycemia. But the mechanisms underlying the effect were not well understood.”
This news release does not use unjustifiable language. It clearly states that this is work that has been done in mice and now in human cells. It also issues a warning not to use cinnamon as a treatment as there might be side effects.