Saffron (Crocus sativus L.), an herbal medicine in Islamic-Persian traditional medicine, is reputed to be the most expensive traditional spice for years. The plant, which is native to Iran, contains compounds – crocin, safranal, crocetin, and picrocrocin – known to provide health benefits, one of which is reducing oxidative stress. Moreover, saffron and its crocin were found to reduce levels of liver enzymes in male rats that suffered from fatty liver disease. Its extracts also contain flavonoids and carotenoids. (Related: The golden spice saffron has golden health benefits too)
However, the effect of a saffron hydro-alcoholic extract had not been previously analyzed, in particular, to people with Type 2 diabetes. To answer that burning question, a team of researchers in Iran did just that: They studied the effect of a saffron hydro-alcoholic extract on the parameters of the liver and renal functions in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
The research team then recruited 54 individuals with Type 2 diabetes for the study and randomly divided them into two groups: Half of the study participants were tasked to consume 15 mg of saffron extract, while the other half were tasked to consume placebo capsules. The team measured the participants' alkaline phosphatase, aspartate and alanine aminotransferase, uric acid, blood urea nitrogen, and creatinine levels. In addition, they measured the physical activity, dietary intake, anthropometric measure, and blood pressure of the participants.
Results indicated that the saffron extract reduced blood urea nitrogen and uric acid in patients with Type 2 diabetes. While liver enzymes and alkaline phosphatase were also reduced, the reduction was not significant. Also, no significant changes were seen between the saffron and placebo group at the end of the study. In addition, alterations in other profiles, such as liver enzymes, were not statistically significant in both groups. Furthermore, there were no significant improvements observed in the blood pressure, dietary intakes, and physical activity of the two groups.
“Although, saffron hydro-alcoholic extract may improve renal protection in saffron treated type 2 diabetic patients by itself, the protective effect was not significant when compared with placebo,” the researchers concluded.
However, consuming saffron, in combination with resistance exercise, provides a potent therapeutic effective factor on diabetic parameters in-vivo, according to a separate study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
In the study, the researchers divided diabetic and non-diabetic male rats into control, training, extract treatment, training and extract treatment. The exercise treatment, as well as the 40 mg/kg/day saffron treatment, lasted for six weeks.
The findings revealed that six weeks of resistance training, together with saffron treatment, led to insulin resistance reduction. In addition, serum glucose, cholesterol, triglyceride, low-density lipoprotein, very low-density lipoprotein, insulin resistance, and glycated hemoglobin levels were reduced in treated rats compared to untreated rats. The researchers concluded that consuming saffron together with resistance training could enhance diabetic parameters through redo-mediated mechanisms and the GLUT4/AMPK pathway to regulate insulin or glucose.
"Our study provides a key insight into diabetes, but significant evidences for the benefits of the combined factors have not been obtained," the researchers wrote.
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