The Benefits of Saffron Extract for Mood and Weight Loss
By: Courtney Sperlazza, MPH
- The benefits of saffron extract go beyond the kitchen. Healers have been using saffron for thousands of years for digestion, detox, and even to treat tumors.
- Recently, saffron and its active component crocin caught the attention of researchers and it’s being studied extensively for its protective effects on the brain, its ability to balance moods, for its potential to help you lose weight, and more.
- Read on to learn the medicinal benefits of saffron and the science behind it.
You might recognize saffron as the star ingredient in your grandma’s bright gold saffron rice or special paella recipe your family saves for summer gatherings. You notice the color instantly, and the flavor is so distinct and delicious that you can’t compare it to anything else.
Did you know that the benefits of saffron go beyond the kitchen? Healers have been using saffron for thousands of years for digestion, detox, and even to treat tumors.
Recently, saffron and its active component crocin caught the attention of researchers and it’s being studied extensively for its protective effects on the brain, its ability to balance moods, for its potential to help you lose weight, and more. Read on to learn the medicinal benefits of saffron and the science behind it.
What is saffron
Saffron comes from the crocus sativus flower — a relative of the iris. Remember learning about the petals, stamen, and pistil of a flower? People painstakingly hand-harvest the dark red filament in the pistil and dry it to make the spice saffron. Just three saffron threads come from each flower, which explains why saffron is so expensive.
You’ll find saffron in the spice section of your grocery store or at specialty markets. Typically, manufacturers wrap the delicate threads in dark paper or plastic before putting it in the jar to protect it from damaging light. Luckily, saffron stays fresh for years, if kept in a dark, well-sealed container.
What are the medicinal benefits of saffron?
People prize saffron for more than just its flavor. Here are some saffron uses.
Appetite suppressant/weight loss
If you snack more than you’d like, saffron could help you cut down the habit. Supplementing with saffron made rats eat less, and researchers saw the same thing in human studies. After taking one capsule a day (176.5 mg of extract), moderately overweight but otherwise healthy women lost more weight than women who were taking a placebo. The women in the saffron group snacked less, which could mean that saffron suppresses appetite.
Saffron and mood
Treating depression with medicine often leaves people frustrated and sometimes worse off than they started. There’s a lot of trial and error involved before you and your doctor find the right treatment. The effectiveness varies from person to person, but they all come with a laundry list of awful side effects that nobody wants — loss of libido, weight gain, mania, and more. Saffron might offer a natural alternative to pills, although we need more research to be sure.
A handful of studies look promising, though. Studies where participants supplemented with 30 mg of saffron per day and 50 mg of saffron per day both showed that saffron reduced depression and anxiety. Further trials showed that 30 mg per day is sufficient to reduce symptoms of depression including post-partum depression.
The antidepressant effects of saffron were compared side-by-side with commonly prescribed antidepressant medications. Researchers found that saffron is just as effective in reducing symptoms of mild to moderate depression as imipramine (Tofranil) without the dry mouth and sedation that comes with the prescription. Studies showed similar effects when comparing saffron and fluoxetine (Prozac).
Saffron may relieve PMS
While you probably reach for chocolate and salt when you have your period, research shows saffron might be the better food for PMS relief. In one study, women either took 15 mg twice a day of saffron or a placebo, and filled out a daily symptom report as well as the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, a diagnostic tool for depression. The women on saffron showed reduced or eliminated both physical and emotional PMS symptoms and reduced depressive symptoms as compared to the women on placebo.
Researchers suspect the reason is that a lot of PMS symptoms result from disrupted serotonin at certain points in the monthly cycle, and saffron stimulates the production of serotonin.
Head on over to this article for more natural ways to reduce symptoms of PMS.
Saffron helps your brain
Researchers have shown that crocin, the active component of saffron, keeps your brain cells young and sharp. It protects them possibly because of its antioxidant action. Snapping up free radicals keeps the immune response in working order, which protects healthy cells from attack. You want to keep as many healthy brain cells as you possibly can, for as long as you live.
It also reduces inflammation in the brain and inhibits certain markers of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder.
Side effects of saffron
People generally tolerate saffron well, but you could experience side effects, like:
- Dry mouth
- Exacerbated asthma
- Impulsive behavior, mania (if taken in bipolar cases)
- Saffron poisoning (extremely high doses)
To minimize risk of side effects, work with a functional medicine doctor on your dosing.
How to get saffron
You can use saffron in cooking, but you’re not likely to get the research-backed effective dose just by eating a bowl of bright yellow rice. If you want the mood, brain, and weight loss benefits, look for saffron in a liquid extract or in capsules. Since saffron is so expensive on its own, you’ll commonly find it as one of several synergistic ingredients in focus or mood blends, such as Zen Mode.
When choosing supplements, it’s hard to gauge what will work best with your biology. The best way to get the result you want is to start with eating nourishing, satisfying foods, getting good sleep, and keeping your stress to a minimum. Once you’ve got those healthy habits in place, a targeted regimen of supplements will take you to the next level.
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