If you can already feel your waistline tightening in anticipation of this year's holiday feasts, we've got some good news for you. New research from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute has discovered that there's one common holiday spice that might conveniently counteract your annual binge, reports MedicalXpress.

Cinnamon, it turns out, has an amazing ability to ramp up your metabolism, fight obesity, and even help to prevent hyperglycemia. Maybe it's no accident that we put this delectable spice into so many of our holiday treats.

The key to cinnamon's powers seems to lie in the essential oil cinnamaldehyde, which is where that distinctive flavor comes from.

"Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism," said Jun Wu, one of the researchers in the study. "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."

For the study, Wu and her colleagues applied cinnamaldehyde directly to human fat cells known as adipocytes. The cells responded immediately to the treatment by increasing expression of several genes and enzymes that enhance lipid metabolism. Essentially, the cinnamon substance induced fat cells to burn stored energy, thus helping to prevent the biological mechanism that causes us to get fat.

Although this isn't the first study to demonstrate the metabolism-boosting powers of cinnamon, it is the first to apply cinnamaldehyde treatment to human — as opposed to rodent — fat cells.

It's unclear exactly what the mechanism behind this process entails, so researchers caution against using an overdose of cinnamon to counteract the amount of calories you intend to consume this holiday season. For instance, this is no excuse to gorge yourself on otherwise unhealthy snacks like cinnamon buns. But an extra sprinkle here or there might not be a bad idea.

The fact that cinnamon is already so widely used in the food industry could make it a much more convenient, not to mention tastier, vehicle for treating obesity and other related ailments than traditional drug regimens. Researchers are optimistic that their findings could lead to much more effective treatments.

"Cinnamon has been part of our diets for thousands of years, and people generally enjoy it," said Wu. "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."

The study was published in the journal Metabolism.

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Cinnamon could be the key to burning off some of that holiday fat
This common holiday spice directly induces fat cells to burn energy, researchers found.