The Australian research team concludes that saffron may have beneficial effects in active males, as evidenced by increased exercise enjoyment and heart rate variability. However, no such benefits were identified in females.
“Affron's positive effect on heart rate and work out enjoyment could be attributed to various physiological mechanisms at play," says Alberto Espinel, Head of Strategic R&D in Active and Functional Natural Ingredients for Pharmactive.
"Previous animal studies have endorsed it role in reducing stress hormones such as cortisol while raising the "happy hormones" serotonin and dopamine.
“The botanical also demonstrated a relaxant effect on smooth muscles and blood vessels,” Espinel adds.
“Studies suggest it may even positively interact with the gut flora, which affects the nervous system. Moreover, saffron is touted as a potent anti-oxidant anti-inflammatory."
The study was a six-week, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled arrangement with, 59 active adults recruited and randomised to receive a placebo or 28 milligrams (mg) daily of Pharmactive Biotech’s standardised saffron extract (affron).
The subjects performed moderate-to-intense aerobic exercise more than three times per week that included cycling, running, swimming, tennis, aerobics, and/or boxing.
Self-report outcome measures include the Physical Activity Enjoyment Scale, Profile of Mood States, and Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System-29.
Participants also wore a wrist-worn heart rate, activity, and sleep monitoring device (WHOOP) to measure changes in sleep quality, resting heart rate, and heart rate variability.
"We decided to use a sports watch in the study model during sleep-time as it offers a very easy to use means measuring heart rate,” explains Jean-Marie Raymond, CEO for Pharmactive.
“Using the sports watch, consumers can see for themselves the impact of affron in real time and in the long term."
To help identify mechanisms of action associated with saffron intake, changes in plasma concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), oxytocin, and neuropeptide Y (NPY) were also measured.
Results revealed a statistically significant increase in PAES score over time in the affron group, with no such increase in the placebo group.
According to Pharmactive this suggests an improvement in enjoyment and mood with daily intake of affron.
Further findings revealed no between-group differences in change in plasma concentrations of BDNF, NPY, and oxytocin.
“Overall, there were statistically significant reductions in BDNF and oxytocin concentrations over time in both the placebo and saffron groups, and no change in NPY concentrations,” the study notes.
“However, these findings should be interpreted cautiously as several variables that may influence concentrations of these markers in blood were not controlled for.”
The team also suggests further investigation into how saffron influences the gut microbiome which can also affect vagus nerve activity, representing another potential mechanism of action.
In an animal study, saffron reduced cortisol concentrations (suggesting a dampening in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA)-axis activity).
However, no change in cortisol was identified in poor sleepers supplemented with saffron for four weeks.
Source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
Published online: doi.org/10.1080/15502783.2022.2083455
“An examination into the mental and physical effects of a saffron extract (affron) in recreationally active adults: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.”
Authors: Adrian Lopresti et al.