Differentiate saffron, crocin and their supplements for health benefits

Saffron, the dried red stigmas of Crocus sativus L, has been the most expensive spice and used as a medical herb for over 2500 years. Saffron is traditionally used in folk medicine for various treatments as a nerve sedative, stress-reliever, anti-depressant, aphrodisiac, expectorant, and anti-spasmodic agent. What’s amazing about saffron and particularly its active constituent crocin is the recent revelations by clinical and preclinical studies of their powerful effects on improving many of today’s challenging health conditions.

About 100 clinical and many more preclinical studies of saffron and crocin have been published in the past 20-30 years. Results of these studies have shown saffron and crocin interventions could markedly improve health conditions and biomarkers in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, coronary artery disease, multiple sclerosis, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic maculopathy, cerebral ischemic stroke, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, etc1-9.

These clinical findings have prompted offerings on the market of various saffron related supplements for both consumers who seek to maintain a healthy lifestyle and patients who seek to improve their health conditions. However, these saffron related supplements use different ingredients, from watered-down saffron ingredient, whole flower extract, saffron itself, to purified crocin which is the most important active constituent in saffron. Therefore, it is wise to know saffron and crocin and differentiate among the many confusing saffron related supplements so one can select the right products.

Saffron is an expensive commodity and has been known to be subjected to frequent adulteration since the Middle Ages10. Quality of saffron, just as any plant material, varies significantly. Generally, saffron is graded primarily according to content of crocin by photo spectroscopic readings. There is an ISO method and slightly different methods to scale grading of saffron from Iran and Spain. Iran is the leading saffron producer, accounting for 80-90% of worldwide commercial saffron supply. The four Iranian grades, Sargol, Negin, Pushal and Bunch, are set according to the cut of saffron filaments. Negin is considered the highest quality, followed by Sargol, Pushal and Bunch. In Spain, saffron is scaled into five grades, Coupe, La Mancha, Rio, Standard, and Sierra, with Coupe as the best Spanish saffron and Sierra the lowest one. Despite the different grading methods, the criteria is the same thing. The higher the grade reflects the higher content of crocin and the higher quality.

Many of the saffron related supplements on the market are filled with watered-down saffron ingredients and falsely claimed as “saffron extract”. Extract, by definition, is a preparation containing the active ingredient of a substance in concentrated form. But these watered-down “saffron extracts” are produced in opposite ways by adding large amounts of fiber or carrier to dilute the content without specifying the content of crocin. Products filled with such ingredients hardly provide the effects or benefits of saffron for its users. Satiereal is such a preparation of “saffron extract”, produced by, a deviation from normal extraction process, adding 5 to 6 times by weight of microcrystalline cellulose carrier in the middle of extraction process and ending up with only about 16% of saffron material (Bernard Gout et al. Nutrition Research. 2010, 30: 305–313). An 8-week study of intaking Satiereal at 176.5mg per day claimed to reduce snacking and increased satiety in mildly overweight, healthy women11. However, evaluation of supplements containing Satiereal at 178 mg/day in a later study at Hofstra University did not find any detectable beneficial effects on body weight management12. Similarly produced watered-down “saffron extracts” have been used in many supplements on the US market. Through a simple comparison to the cost of saffron on the same weight base as shown in Table 1, one can easily tell if a supplement is filled with such watered-down “saffron extract”.

Table 1

Saffron

Saffron Supplement

(60 counts/bottle)

Conclusion

 

At Costco:

$11.89/gram

Satiereal or “Saffron extract”:

88.25-88.5 mg per capsule

Low price products with 88.25-88.5mg of “saffron extract” per capsule use watered-down material.

 

Better to buy saffron than the supplement.

Net weight

5 grams

5.3 grams (60 x 0.08825g = 5.3g)

Sale price based on 5g

 

$30-$32

 

$16-$30

 

From the table above, one can tell, unless filled with “watered-down” material, a bottle of saffron supplement with 60 capsules (88.5 mg/capsule) can’t be produced at lower cost to contain a comparable amount of real saffron. Based on this comparison, selection of saffron from a reputable supplier over some saffron supplements would be a better choice. Since crocin is the most important active constituent in saffron and primarily responsible for saffron health effects. The smartest choice will come down to looking for products that offer sufficient and quantitative amounts of crocin.

Crocin is a unique water-soluble carotenoid with potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and multi-target effects. Unlike fat-soluble carotenoids, crocin and its effects are not well known to most consumers. Some people may confuse crocin to a popular OTC medication, paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen), as this OTC drug is sold by brand names as Tylenol® in the USA and as Crocin® in some countries, such as India. Currently, a high purity natural crocin with trade name as Crocin Rich® is the only crocin ingredient reviewed and approved by FDA as a new dietary ingredient (NDI) in the USA. As a new ingredient with growing interest in proving its effects, over a dozen clinical studies of crocin have been reported since 2015. These clinical findings revealed that crocin could provide potent and multi-target effects in improving health conditions in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Type II diabetes, coronary artery disease, acute ischemic stroke, multiple sclerosis, depression, diabetic maculopathy, osteoarthritis, metabolic syndrome and other health conditions. So, supplementation of sufficient crocin could be significantly beneficial and help boost brain, visual and overall health. 

Reference:

  1. Finley JW & Gao S. (2017) Perspective on Crocus sativus L. (Saffron) Constituent Crocin: A Potent Water-Soluble Antioxidant and Potential Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease. Agric. Food Chem. 2017, 65, 1005−1020.
  2. Roshanravan B, et al. (2020) Metabolic impact of saffron and crocin: an updated systematic and meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials. Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry, DOI: 10.1080/13813455.2020.1716020
  3. Abedimanesh N et al. (2017) Effects of Saffron Aqueous Extract and Its Main Constituent, Crocin, on Health-Related Quality of Life, Depression, and Sexual Desire in Coronary Artery Disease Patients: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Clinical Trial. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2017, 19(9): e13676. doi: 10.5812/ircmj.13676.
  4. Ghiasian M, et al. (2019) Effects of crocin in reducing DNA damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress in multiple sclerosis patients: A double‐blind, randomized, and placebo‐controlled trial. J Biochem Mol Toxi. 2019, 33(12), e22410.
  5. Sepahi S, et al (2018) Effects of Crocin on Diabetic Maculopathy: A Placebo-Controlled Randomized Clinical Trial. Am J of Ophth. 2018, 190: 89-98
  6. Heitmar R, et al (2019) Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in Ocular Diseases: A Narrative Review of the Existing Evidence from Clinical Studies. Nutrients. 2019, 11, 649; doi:10.3390/nu11030649.
  7. Asadollahi , et al. (2019) Protective properties of the aqueous extract of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in ischemic stroke, randomized clinical trial. J Ethnopharmacol. 2019, 238: 111833.
  8. Talaei A, et al (2015) Crocin, the main active saffron constituent, as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot clinical trial. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2015, 174: 51–56.
  9. Poursamimi J, et al. Immunoregulatory Effects of Krocina™, a Herbal Medicine Made of Crocin, on Osteoarthritis Patients: A Successful Clinical Trial in Iran. Iran J Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2020, 19(3): 253-263.
  10. Reyerson KL. Commercial fraud in the middle ages: the case of the dissembling pepperer. Journal of Medieval History. 1982, 8(1): 63-72.
  11. Gout B, et al. (2010) Satiereal, a Crocus sativus L extract, reduces snacking and increases satiety in a randomized placebo-controlled study of mildly overweight, healthy women. Nutrition Research. 2010, 30: 305–313
  12. Gonzalez AM, et al. (2018) Effect of Multi-Ingredient Supplement Containing Satiereal, Naringin, and Vitamin D on Body Composition, Mood, and Satiety in Overweight Adults. Journal of Dietary Supplements. 2018, 15(6): 965-976.

 

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