Life Extension Magazine August 2010
Curb Compulsive Eating Naturally
Novel Spice Extract Targets the Neurochemistry of Appetite
By Julius Goepp, MD
The Depression Connection
Based on the findings of Bourges’s team, it has been proposed that saffron extracts might inhibit serotonin reuptake in synapses. Inhibiting synaptic serotonin reuptake keeps this mood-elevating neurotransmitter in the brain longer, enhancing its effects and combating depression. This proposed mechanism is supported by recent animal studies demonstrating antidepressant properties in extracts of multiple parts of the saffron plant.27
Saffron extracts have also demonstrated efficacy in managing mild to moderate depression and anxiety in humans 24,27-29—the same disorders that drive emotional eating. This affords a novel alternative to antidepressant drugs.
Extracts of saffron have been proven superior to placebo for management of mild to moderate depression in a number of controlled clinical trials, consistently producing better outcomes on the standard Hamilton depression rating scale.28,30 Saffron extracts also outperformed placebo in a related study of premenstrual syndrome.31 (The premenstrual phase is often accompanied by depressed mood and caloric overconsumption.)32
Even more compelling are the comparative data on saffron and prescription antidepressants. In one study, just 30 mg of standardized saffron extract delivering active constituents such as safranal and crocin produced results similar to 100 mg of the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine.33 The same amount of saffron extract produced results identical to the popular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) fluoxetine (Prozac®) in separate trials.34,35 Saffron produced no side effects, while the antidepressants produced a familiar list of adverse effects, including dry mouth and sedation.32
Emotional and compulsive eating have ties to anxiety, as well as depression. Animal studies show that safranal possesses anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) properties without affecting coordination or motor activity.24 One pre-clinical model found that saffron extracts were as effective as diazepam (Valium®) at reducing manifestations of anxiety.29
A complementary body of research indicates a positive role for saffron extracts containing safranal as an optimal intervention for stress and anxiety—core factors in the development of eating compulsions.
Natural Anxiety and Stress Control
Treating anxiety with benzodiazepines like Valium® (diazepam) may be temporarily effective, but it produces significant side effects, among them impaired memory.36 In contrast, saffron extracts not only reduce the depression and anxiety that can lead to emotional eating—they prevent memory impairment.37 In fact, saffron extracts have been shown to enhance memory.38
Scientists have developed a working understanding of how saffron produces these effects in the brain. Active extracts of saffron increase so-called long-term potentiation, the electrochemical mechanism underlying learning and memory at the cellular level.39 This effect has proven powerful enough to protect experimental animals’ brains from alcohol-induced memory loss.40,41 By an entirely different set of mechanisms, saffron extracts also protect brain cells in culture from inflammatory damage and death induced by cytokines such as TNF-alpha.42
Interestingly, advances in our understanding of stress and anxiety reveal that they are accompanied by increased oxidative stress in brain cells.43 Earlier this year, scientific evidence emerged indicating that oxidative stress in the brain is also a positive marker for compulsive behavior.44 Accordingly, there’s evidence that saffron’s capacity to limit emotional eating may be related to its antioxidant capacity.45,46
A historic 2010 study conclusively demonstrated that the neurochemical processes behind compulsive eating and drug addiction are identical—suggesting a novel neurological intervention for appetite control. While no safe, effective drug exists to favorably alter the neurochemistry of appetite, a proprietary saffron extract has been shown to reduce uncontrolled “between-meal” snacking without side effects.
At the core of saffron’s power is a scientifically validated ability to boost levels of serotonin, reducing the depression, anxiety, and stress central to compulsive eating. These effects, prized in traditional Persian medicine and corroborated by a team of pioneering French researchers, have been shown to be equal in potency to the tricyclic imipramine and the SSRI fluoxetine (Prozac®) in managing depression. By targeting the neurochemistry at the root of compulsive eating behavior, saffron extract serves as a safe, natural way to reduce caloric intake and induce weight loss.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.
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