Your E-mail box may be flooded with dozens of claims that taking their saffron extract pills will make you slim, “as seen on Doctor Oz.” Doctor Oz did indeed cover these pills, calling them a “miracle appetite suppressant.” But even Doctor Oz was uncharacteristically reticent about whether you would actually lose weight.
OK, that’s the requisite number of red flags to set off our Quack-O-Meter. There have been a number of studies of saffron extracts used for muscular problems and for treating depressive symptoms and OCD (in rats).
There has been only one paper, published in Nutrition Research, however, trying saffron extract on humans. Three French researchers set up a properly approved human trial using sixty mildly overweight women. Half were given commercial pills containing saffron extract and half given a placebo, each taken twice daily. Using daily diaries, they recorded the number of instances of snacking for each subject. Women were selected because of anecdotal evidence that this product may be more effective on women.
Over the eight week trial, the average number of snacking events per 2-week period decreased from 12.5 to 8.9 for the placebo group and 12.1 to 5.8 for the saffron pill group. There was also a very slight weight loss. The placebo group lost 0.01 kg and the saffron group lost 0.96 kg over 8 weeks. Since the margin of error was 0.26 kg, this is a very small loss indeed.
The conclusion of the paper was
“… the present results support the working hypothesis that Satiereal, a new patented stigma extract of C sativus L, may produce a certain level of satiation susceptible to impact snacking behavior. A possible consequence may be that Satiereal could contribute, although to a limited extent, to body weight reduction.”
Not to be outdone, Dr. Oz did a tiny trial with two women taking a bottle of pills home for the weekend and reporting on their urge to snack over several days. Since the study had neither placebo control nor blinding, it is not at all surprising that both reported a decreased urge to snack.
So, while it is possible that the saffron extract does help in controlling urges to snack by some appetite suppression, it is far from conclusive that this can lead to weight loss.
And further, as the paper notes, the mechanism explaining this suppression is far from clear:
“…the mechanisms suggested to contribute to reducing snacking remain speculative, awaiting elucidation of the central and/or peripheral targets involved in its neuropharmacology.”
This does not seem to be a good bet compared to normal dieting approaches and exercise.