Benefits of Saffron for Weight Loss

Benefits of Saffron for Weight Loss-the simple spice could reduce depression and help with weight loss.

Saffron is a spice found to be effective for treating a major cause of suffering from depression, with a side effect of decreased appetite. When put to the test in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, saffron, indeed, was found to lead to a significant weight loss (five pounds more than placebo, and an extra inch off the waist in eight weeks). The dose of saffron used in the study was the equivalent of drinking a cup of tea made from a large pinch of saffron threads.

Suspecting the active ingredient might be crocin, the pigment in saffron that accounts for its crimson color, researchers also tried giving people just the purified pigment. That led to weight loss too, but it didn’t do as well as the full saffron extract (beating the placebo by only two pounds and half an inch). The mechanism appeared to be appetite suppression, as the crocin group ended up averaging about 80 fewer calories a day, whereas the full saffron group consumed 170 calories less a day on average.

A similar study looked specifically at snacking frequency. The researchers thought perhaps the mood-boosting effects of saffron might cut down on stress-related eating. Indeed, eight weeks of a saffron extract did cut snack intake in half, compared to placebo, accompanied by a slight but statistically significant weight loss (about two pounds). Even the loss of a few pounds is pretty remarkable, given the tiny doses utilized (about 100mg), which is equivalent of about an eighth of a teaspoon of the spice.


The problem is that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. It’s composed of delicate threads sticking up out of the saffron crocus flower. Each flower produces only a few threads, so you need 50,000 flowers to make a single pound of spice – enough flowers to cover a football field. So, that pinch of saffron could cost a dollar a day.

Biological Properties of Saffron

Saffron is used in natural medicine as anti-catarrhal, anti-spasmodic, nerve sedative, gingival sedative, diaphoretic, carminative and expectorant. In a relatively recent pharmacological studies, saffron demonstrated numerous health properties such as anti-cancer and anti-toxic, antioxidant, antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory, anti-atherosclerosis, anti-diabetic and insulin resistance, hypotensive, hypolipidemic and hypoglycemic, antidepressant and mood improving effects. Although numerous studies have been reported in different medicinal properties of saffron and its constituents but in this paper we concentrated on scientific evidence demonstrating the potential of saffron against obesity and related metabolic disorders.

1. Anti-Oxidant Activity of Saffron

Many studies on medicinal properties of saffron have indicated that saffron has a potent antioxidant activity which is mostly due to the presence of crocin as a unique carotenoid. The crocin bleaching assay was also designed according to this important property of crocin as a basic element for the antioxidant activity of saffron.

Crocin scavenges free radicals, mainly the superoxide anions, and so may defend cells against oxidative stress. Research results have shown that crocin is beneficial for sperm cryo-conservation; therefore, it could be helpful in treatment of neurodegenerative disorders due to its great antioxidant activity

2. Hypolipidemic Effect of Saffron

Crocin has been reported as an effective hypolipidemic agent in several human and animal studies. Crocin decreased the amount of cholesterol in hyperlipidemic rats with 2 months feeding of excessive cholesterol. In another study, it was found that crocin has strong triglyceridemic and cholesterolemic lowering effects in quails with coronary artery disease.  Further research verified that crocetin could reduce the levels of serum, total cholesterol and malondialdehyde and prevent reduction of nitric oxide in serum of hyperlipidemic-diet quails.

3. Hypoglycemic and Anti-Diabetic Effects of Saffron

Reportedly saffron significantly increased serum insulin and lowered blood glucose in diabetic rats. Crocin was found to possess anti diabetic property in rodents fed fructose as it relieved free fatty acid induced insulin insensitivity and dysregulated mRNA expression of TNF-alpha, adiponectin as well as leptin in primary cultured rat adipocytes proposing the possibility of crocin prescription as a preventive approach of insulin resistance and the related diseases.

4. Anti-Depressant and Mood Improving Effects of Saffron

Crocin and ethanolic extracts of saffron are known to show antidepressant impact on rodents. Crocin also reduced immobility time and increased climbing time at dose 50–600 mg/kg may be via individual uptake inhibition of dopamine and norepinephrine.

Link between Saffron’s Antioxidants and Possible Anti-Obesity Property

Obesity is a chronic disease of multi-factorial origin that develops from the interaction of social, psychological, behavioral, metabolic, cellular, and molecular factors. It is the condition under which adipose tissue is increased and can be defined as an increase in body weight that results in excessive fat accumulation. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines obesity as a body mass index (BMI) > 30 and defines overweight as with a BMI of 25. In the last years, several studies have proposed that obesity might be an inflammatory disorder. In addition, oxidative stress has been suggested as a potential inducer of inflammatory status and susceptibility to obesity and related disorders. One possible strategy to reduce oxidative stress, inflammation and insulin resistance is consumption of antioxidant rich diet. A diet with high total antioxidant capacity has been found inversely related to central adiposity, metabolic and oxidative stress bio-markers, and risk for cardiovascular diseases. Thus it is postulated that saffron directly or indirectly can inhibit obesity pathophysiology by working as an anti-inflammatory compound alone or fat reducing agent in parallel.

1. Mechanisms of Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Saffron

Potential mechanisms, by which saffron prevents obesity-mediated inflammation and related metabolic diseases, are still under investigation, but regarding its rich polyphenol/carotenoid content, saffron can assumedly reduce inflammation by (a) acting as antioxidant or increasing antioxidant gene or protein expression; (b) attenuating endoplasmic reticulum stress signaling; (c) blocking pro-inflammatory cytokines or endotoxin-mediated kinases and transcription factors related to metabolic syndrome; (d) suppressing inflammatory or inducing metabolic-gene expression via raising histone deacetylase activity; or (e) activating transcription factors that intensify chronic inflammation.

2. Mechanism of Potential Weight Loss Effect of Saffron

Although possible weight loss effect of saffron and its mechanism of action is not clear yet, saffron extract has a promising potential as an anti-obesity herbal medication through different biological functions which can be classified into four major categories including: (1) decreasing calorie intake by blocking dietary fat digestion via inhibiting pancreatic lipase; (2) acting as an antioxidant and suppressing inflammatory cytokines and adipocyte differentiation; (3) suppressing food intake by increasing satiety, or the feeling of fullness due to raising the level of neurotransmitters or hormonal functions; and (4) enhancing glucose and lipid metabolism.


Antioxidant-rich saffron compounds may modulate obesity and associated metabolic disorders. They can be potentially useful in prevention, control, and/or management of overweight and obesity of individuals. Despite the lack of supporting evidence on possible weight loss effect of saffron in obese individuals, current knowledge about properties of saffron suggests that saffron supplementation will be at least responsible for lowering the risk of over snacking-diet associated with obesity or promoting weight loss in overweight individuals. Due to lack of research on evaluating the efficacy of saffron as an anti-obesity medication and clarifying the possible mechanism of action, both pre-clinical and clinical studies are warranted to demonstrate its full health potential.

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