Saffron is a fascinating spice that comes from the dried stigmas of the crocus sativus flower. Also known as the “saffron crocus”, it is a plant from the Iridaceae family, similar to the iris flower. For centuries, saffron has been prized for its distinct aroma, flavor, and color. In recent years, it has gained popularity for its potential health and weight loss benefits.
Now the question is – does saffron truly impact weight loss? Preliminary research suggests that taking saffron supplements or using the spice regularly may help. To find out, we explored further into the available research on saffron and weight management. In the following sections, we’ll take a deeper look at the existing evidence on the potential weight loss effects of saffron.
What Is Saffron?
Saffron originates from a flower called the “saffron crocus”, which is native to Greece and Southwest Asia. The Saffron spice comes from the delicate and thread-like red stigmas inside the flower. These stigmas must be carefully hand-picked and dried to produce the saffron spice. Saffron contains antioxidants, minerals, and bioactive compounds in its vivid red stigmas. Overall, saffron is a healthy, low-calorie spice that can add flavor, color, and variety to dishes.
You can find saffron sold as deep red threads or as a powder in the spice section of grocery stores or speciality markets. It has a distinctive bitter taste and hay-like fragrance. The delicate saffron threads are often packaged in dark containers to protect them from light damage.
In terms of composition, saffron contains antioxidant compounds like crocin and crocetin, which give it a red color, as well as other active ingredients. It takes a huge amount of saffron crocuses (around 150 flowers) to produce just 1 gram of saffron spice, which explains why it is one of the world’s most expensive spices.
How Saffron Aid Weight Loss
Incorporating saffron into your daily diet is an easy way to boost nutrient intake and potentially enhance weight loss. Many studies suggest saffron can reduce appetite, increase fat breakdown and prevent weight gain. Limited human research available also points to saffron as a promising appetite suppressant and weight loss aid. Here’s an overview of the findings:
1. Saffron Reduces Appetite And Snacking
Several studies indicate that saffron may help suppress appetite and cravings, which can support weight loss efforts. In one 8-week clinical trial, female participants who were supplemented with saffron had reductions in appetite, snacking habits, and body weight compared to those given a placebo. Another 8-week study found that participants taking a saffron extract supplement experienced decreases in hunger levels, BMI, waist size, and total body fat compared to the placebo group.
The mechanism behind saffron’s appetite and weight loss benefits is not fully understood. However, scientists theorize it may be due to mood enhancing effects that reduce the urge to overeat. Researchers think saffron elevates mood, which in turn reduces the urge to snack. Active compounds like crocin may also play a role.
2. Enhances Weight Loss
Clinical studies demonstrate saffron supplements enhance weight loss efforts. In a study of women with excess weight, taking a saffron supplement for 8 weeks led to greater reductions in body weight, body mass index, waist size and overall fat mass compared to women in the placebo group.
Another study found that 50 mg of saffron taken twice daily significantly increased weight loss over a period of 12 weeks in people with excess weight. Saffron also reduced waist circumference more than the placebo.
Researchers theorize saffron’s satiating effects combine with its potential to increase thermogenesis – the body’s own fat and calorie burning processes – to enhance weight loss. However, more studies confirming saffron’s fat-burning effects in humans are needed.
Other Benefits Of Saffron
In addition to its potential weight loss effects, saffron contains an impressive nutrition profile and may offer other health benefits. Research has uncovered a number of potential therapeutic properties of this golden-hued spice. Besides weight management, the following are some of the promising effects of saffron.
1. Saffron May Decrease PMS Symptoms
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) involves disruptive physical and emotional symptoms that start before the onset of a menstrual period. Research shows saffron may help alleviate PMS symptoms. In one study of women aged 20-45 years, taking just 30 mg of saffron per day worked better than a placebo for treating PMS symptoms like mood swings, headaches, cravings, and stomach pain. Interestingly, simply smelling saffron for 20 minutes has also been found effective. The aroma helped reduce PMS anxiety and lowered stress hormone levels.
2. Saffron Has Strong Antioxidant Properties
Saffron possesses an abundant variety of antioxidant compounds, such as crocin, crocetin, and safranal. These help protect your cells from free radical damage that can lead to oxidative stress. The distinct color and flavor of saffron come from its antioxidant compounds, crocin and crocetin. Research indicates these may have antidepressant and anti-inflammatory effects. Another antioxidant called safranal gives saffron its unique smell and taste, and studies show it may also improve mood and protect brain cells. The saffron flower petals contain the antioxidant kaempferol, which has been linked to decreased inflammation and potential anticancer properties. Overall, the rich diversity of antioxidants found in saffron provides an array of health benefits.
3. Saffron May Enhance Mood and Relieve Depressive Symptoms
Saffron has traditionally been used to elevate mood and reduce depression. Modern research backs this ancient claim. Several studies have found saffron worked significantly better than placebo for improving symptoms of mild-moderate depression. Other research showed 30 mg of saffron daily worked equally as well as conventional anti-depressants like fluoxetine and imipramine – but with fewer side effects.
Scientists believe the combination of saffron’s many active compounds, like crocin, safranal, and kaempferol, may contribute to these antidepressant effects. More research is still needed to confirm saffron as an alternative depression treatment.
Side Effects Of Saffron
When taken in culinary amounts, saffron is very safe. But in higher medicinal doses of 30+ mg per day, some potential side effects can include:
Dizziness – High doses of saffron may cause dizziness or lightheadedness in some individuals. This side effect is likely due to changes in blood pressure.
Dry Mouth – Saffron supplements can sometimes cause dry mouth, likely due to their effects on saliva production. This can leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
Anxiety – Some people report increased feelings of anxiety or nervousness when taking high amounts of saffron. The exact reason for this is unclear.
Changes In Appetite – Appetite levels may fluctuate in those taking saffron, particularly at doses above 30mg. This can lead to reduced interest in food.
Nausea – Occasional bouts of mild nausea are possible when supplementing with saffron. This may be attributed to digestion issues.
Headache – In some cases, saffron supplementation can trigger headaches. This may be related to its effects on serotonin.
Fatigue – Feelings of tiredness or fatigue are another potential side effect of high dose saffron use. This may be due to changes in energy levels.
It’s best to discuss appropriate saffron dosing with your doctor to minimize side effect risks. Very high doses can potentially be toxic.
The Bottom Line
Saffron is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Saffron is an ancient spice, but modern science is unlocking its many health secrets. Clinical studies indicate saffron can potentially aid weight loss, alleviate PMS symptoms, improve mood, and combat oxidative stress. These wide-ranging benefits likely stem from saffron’s diverse bioactive compounds like crocin, crocetin, and safranal, which exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body. While larger and longer human trials are still needed, the preliminary evidence for saffron’s efficacy and safety is promising.