Crocin: the Newest Carotenoid for Healthy Memory and Cognitive Functions

Maintaining healthy memory and cognitive functions is a major concern among the aging population. The latest research of natural products for boosting and maintaining a healthy mental state has revealed Crocin to be the newest game-changing ingredient.

Saffron has a long history for being the most expensive spice and medical herb and crocin is the reason behind this prestigious reputation. Crocin is a unique carotenoid and the main active constituent in saffron. Unlike most common carotenoids including beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, etc. that are widely available in fruits, vegetables, and foods, crocin is the only water-soluble carotenoid in nature and only exists in very limited plant sources such as saffron.

In the past three decades, extensive studies of the various health effects of saffron have led to the discovery that crocin is the crucial constituent responsible for effective and multi-target health boosting properties. Crocin is particularly important for supporting age-related health issues. 

Crocin supplementation, supported by dozens of recent human clinical studies, is able to significantly enhance and support memory, cognitive functions, mood, mobility, overall health, and quality of life.

About memory and cognitive functions

Memory and cognitive functions are formed and stored in billions of neurons, also known as nerve cells, and neural circuits, and executed by electric impulses in the human brains. Extensive loss of neurons and synapses is the primary cause for problems in memory and cognitive functions. 

In the human brain, if neurons die, they are largely irreplaceable. Scientists have confirmed that growth of new neurons, or neurogenesis, persists but occurs only at two small areas in adult human brain, the hippocampus and the subventricular zone1, 2. These two areas account no more than 3% of the total brain. 

As you age, you are exposed to various risk factors derived from your lifestyle, environment, genetics, and health conditions. They include toxins, dust, smoking, drugs, stresses, sleep deprivation, unhealthy diets, depression, imbalanced hormones, heart conditions, head injury, overexpression of toxic protein, infection of virus or bacteria, etc. These risk factors may directly or indirectly cause neuron death, disrupt neural circuits, and interrupt hippocampal neurogenesis. Significant loss of neurons eventually leads to problems of memory and cognitive functions.

Therefore, taking measures early to address these factors can mean overall healthier memory, cognitive functions, and better quality of life in the long run.

How does crocin help memory and cognitive functions?

A few hundred studies have evaluated the health effects of crocin, including over two dozen human clinical studies in the past ten years. These studies revealed that crocin supplementation could significantly benefit and support healthy memory and cognitive functions through its potent antioxidant, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and multi-targeting effects3, 4.  

  • Crocin boosts neuron vitality and supports neuron health. Numeric animal studies have demonstrated that crocin helps strengthen brain structure5, 6, reduce levels of toxic proteins, and protect neurons against various internal and external risk factors3.
  • Crocin boosts memory and cognitive functions. Findings of multiple human studies with saffron and animal studies with crocin indicate crocin is potent and effective in helping improve memory and cognitive functions3, 7, 8 through boosting hippocampal neurogenesis9, 1011 and synaptic plasticity12, as well as increasing levels of neurotrophic factors4
  • Crocin lowers health associated risk factors. Although as a new ingredient, at least thirty (30) human clinical studies to evaluate crocin on different health conditions have been published since 2013. Findings of clinical studies indicate that crocin is a potent multi-target natural ingredient and able to significantly improve mood1213, sleep quality14, 15, health of eye16, brain17, heart18, 19, lung20, pancreatic21, 22, and joint23, as well as quality of life24, 25.

Why is crocin more effective than saffron or saffron extract?

Proven effiective by the above human clinical studies, crocin is the secret and key constituent responsible for the health beneficial effects of saffron. But like any other botanical materials, saffron varies significantly in crocin content due to different growth region, weather, drying process, and other factors. 

Authentic saffron usually contains 4-6% of crocin according to the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) monograph26. High grade saffron can have a crocin content over 10%. Due to the limit of supply and high cost of saffron – a pound of saffron can cost $2,000-$5,000, saffron has been known to be subjected to adulteration since the Middle Ages. 

In fact, commercial “saffron extracts” including brand named ones in the USA market are actually “water-downed” preparation to give a buyer false impression of “better than saffron”. Comparing to saffron, these “saffron extracts” are highly diluted preparation27 and contain much less crocin, which may not provide beneficial effects28. So, there is no other natural ingredient better than the science based crocin itself.

If you seek products to boost memory and cognitive health, searching and looking up products with sufficient crocin content over saffron or “saffron extract” is your best choice.

References (To see published clinical and preclinical studies, click the underlined numbers in the text.)

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