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Are we saffroning our way to mitigating diabetes?

Certain herbs and spices may have a beneficial impact on diabetes. We've covered lemon balm and cinnamon in the past. In this volume, we add saffron to the list of spices we've examined in the NERD.

Study under review: The effect of hydroalcoholic Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) extract on fasting plasma glucose, HbA1c, lipid profile, liver, and renal function tests in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A randomized double‐blind clinical trial

Introduction

Diabetes currently affects over 20 million[1] people in the United States and roughly 500 million[2]people worldwide. While these numbers indicate a large portion of the world is already living with diabetes, the prevalence of the condition is only continuing to climb. It is estimated that by 2040, 521 to 829 million[3] people may be living with diabetes. According to the CDC[4] and the American Diabetes Association[5], diabetes ranks among the top 10 causes of death, which is likely an underestimation as diabetes is known to increase the risk of heart disease, chronic kidney disease[6], and Alzheimer’s disease[7]. As such, diabetes presents a major health concern to the current population, as well as future generations.

Anti-diabetic drugs have been critical in the management of diabetes for decades. Early therapies were focused primarily on insulin therapies. This was because at that point, type 1 diabetes (insulin deficient) represented the largest proportion of diabetes cases. However, over the last several decades, type 2 diabetes[1] has become the most common form of diabetes in both adults and children. Despite the recent advances in non-insulin based therapies (e.g. metformin, GLP-1 receptor agonists, SGLT-2 inhibitors, sulfonylureas, and thiazolidinediones), many of the commercially available pharmaceutical drugs come with adverse effects and complications. As such, there has been much research into alternative therapies, especially with nutraceuticals and medicinal herbs.

There have been positive data to suggest that some of these compounds may provide benefit for type 2 diabetes. For example, cinnamon and lemon balm have both shown benefits on many aspects of the diabetic milieu (e.g. fasting glucose, fasting insulin, and blood lipids). In addition to cinnamon and lemon balm (covered in NERD #36, Volume 2 and NERD #52, Volume 2, respectively), saffron has received some interest as an anti-diabetic nutraceutical. It is also well known for its exorbitant cost. High quality saffron can cost up to $3,000 per kilogram. It also contains compounds (e.g. crocin and safranal) that have shown anti-diabetic properties in rodent models[8] of diabetes and in tissue culture[9]. There is some limited evidence that saffron may also benefit some of the metabolic side effects of diabetes, namely plasma lipids[10] and other cardiovascular risk factors[11] shown in Figure 1, but the data are scarce in people with type 2 diabetes. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of saffron extract on the metabolic profile, liver function, and kidney function in people with type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is an ever-growing health concern and new therapeutics are needed to address the symptoms and causes of the disease. Many nutraceuticals and medicinal herbs have shown some promise as anti-diabetic therapies. Saffron is one out of several spices in this category that has shown promising early data. The present study examined the effects of saffron extract on the metabolic profile and kidney and liver function in people with type 2 diabetes.

Who and what was studied?

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Other Articles in Issue #55 (May 2019)