Who hasn’t felt an intense desire for chocolate, ice cream, cake or candy? Exciting new research into a spice extract sheds light on our yearning for the sweet stuff. It may also help us eliminate our sweet tooth for good.
Research shows that an extract of the spice saffron (Crocus sativus) gets to the root of sweet cravings and helps eliminate them. It appears to work by regulating brain pathways in what is now referred to as the “Feed-Feedback Cycle.”
To put it simply, when we feel stress, anxiety, or depression—even mildly, our brain hormones may become imbalanced. Once we eat some type of comfort food, the brain releases chemicals that promote the feeling of fullness and reward. But, unfortunately we may become locked in an eat-reward cycle where we get a feel-good hormone burst after eating something tasty but unhealthy. Other research shows that the worse this Feed-Feedback Cycle is, the more likely we are to become obese. This feedback cycle is the same as that involved in drug addiction.
Saffron extract may be the solution. In one study published in Nutrition Research found that between-meal snacking was reduced by 55% when participants took saffron extract. Another study published in the journal Nutraveris found that between-meal snacking was reduced by 51% in women after only 4 weeks of taking the saffron extract. Monitoring snacking frequency is used as a gauge for cravings. In addition to snacking less, the women reported reduced feelings of hunger before meals, a reduced “need” to snack between meals, greater energy and alertness.
The researchers believe that saffron works by increasing serotonin levels. Serotonin is a feel-good neurotransmitter which is also called 5-hydroxytryptamine. It is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland and central nervous system, the digestive tract, and blood platelets. It plays an important role in the regulation of mood, sleep, learning, and the constriction of blood vessels. In addition to appetite regulation, it may be involved in anxiety or migraines.
Study participants took a daily dose of 176.5 mg of a proprietary saffron extract to obtain the best appetite and craving regulation effects. Participants taking the placebo had no change in appetite or cravings. The women taking saffron also had another surprising result: they lost an average of 3.63 pounds over the course of four weeks, primarily as fat from their thighs. Both studies were randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind studies on humans.
Saffron is a spice from the flower of a particular crocus plant (Crocus sativus) which is indigenous to southwest Asia. It contains many medically-active compounds, but the two that have generated the greatest attention are crocin and safranal. Increasing amounts of research are showing that saffron helps with depression, anxiety, emotional stress, and may even have cancer-suppressing properties.
In traditional medicine and folk medicine, saffron has been used as a pain remedy, to assist with poor digestion, and to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, respiratory diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease.