We will introduce you to the health benefits of saffron. What is saffron, what are the health benefits of saffron and side effects and how saffron reacts with some medications?
But let’s see what is and where saffron comes from.
Saffron, often referred to as the ”golden spice” has been used as a seasoning and coloring agent in food for centuries.
Modern research confirms the benefits of saffron for mental health, eyesight, and immunity, but casts doubt on other traditional uses.
Read on to discover the uses, benefits, and side effects of saffron.
What is Saffron?
Saffron, also known as Za’faran, is a spice derived from the Crocus sativus plant.
Alluding to its yellow color and high cost, saffron is often referred to as the Golden Spice.
Saffron has been used as a seasoning in food and as a coloring agent for over 4 millennia.
The Crocus sativus flower consists of thread-like, crimson-colored structures known as stigmas. The stigmas are collected and dried, resulting in the saffron spice.
Saffron is composed of a variety of chemical compounds that give rise to its taste, color and health benefits.
Traditional and Modern Uses
Historically, saffron was used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments including:
In modern medicine, saffron has gained popularity for its wide range of therapeutic applications, including but not limited to:
- Anxiety relief
- Treatment of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Insulin resistance
- Neurodegenerative disorders
- Learning disabilities
Today, several saffron formulations exist containing doses that have been proven to have a positive outcome. These include:
- Itch cream
- Scar removal cream
- Infusion into a tea
The dose of saffron and its active components may vary amongst formulations, or even between different manufacturers of the same preparation.
, the health benefits observed may differ depending on the quality of the plant, the dose in each formulation or the constituents overall.
Health Benefits of Saffron
Saffron extract may support mental health partly by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.
In a meta-analysis of five clinical trials (30-42 subjects each), saffron significantly improved the symptoms of depression. It affected comparable to that of standard antidepressants.
In 40 women with mild-to-moderate postpartum depression (after childbirth), saffron supplementation for 6 weeks was more effective than the common antidepressant Prozac.
Similar improvements in depressive symptoms were seen in 61 patients with schizophrenia given saffron extract for 12 weeks.
Saffron was well tolerated and safe to use, but more research is needed to determine if it’s as effective as the current therapies used for schizophrenia.
Related: Herbs To Treat Depression Naturally
2. Alzheimer’s Disease
Saffron extract supplementation for 16 weeks improved cognitive function and reduced dementia in a study of 46 patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to test-tube experiments, saffron may in part improve dementia by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine: acetylcholinesterase. This enzyme is a target of donepezil, one of the approved medications for Alzheimer’s.
In 54 patients, treatment with saffron (15 mg twice daily for 22 weeks) was as effective as donepezil for Alzheimer’s disease while having fewer digestive side effects.
Crocin, the active ingredient of saffron, can inhibit the deposit of amyloid-beta proteins, a hallmark characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
Related: How To Prevent Alzheimer’s Naturally
3. Eyesight Improvement
In a recent trial of 100 patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), saffron (20 mg daily for 3 months) modestly improved eye function.
Saffron extract supplementation was able to improve vision and blood flow to the eyes in animals with this condition.
This effect is likely mediated by crocin, which dilates the vessels carrying blood to the eyes.
4. Symptoms of PMS
One of the oldest traditional uses of saffron in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS.
The symptoms of PMS include mood swings, cramps, bloating, and acne.
In a group of 35 women, exposure to the odor of saffron for 20 minutes significantly reduced symptoms of PMS and improved irregular periods. This effect occurred through a reduction of the stress hormone, cortisol.
5. Menstrual Cramps (Dysmenorrhea)
In 180 younger women, an herbal product with saffron, celery seed, and anise extracts (1,500 mg/day for 3 days) significantly reduced the severity and duration of menstrual cramps.
Clinical studies should investigate this potential benefit further.
6. Blood Pressure Reduction
A study of 230 men with infertility found that saffron supplementation for 26 weeks significantly reduced blood pressure.
Similarly, in another study, saffron tablets reduced blood pressure in higher doses (400 mg) in 30 adults after one week.
This potential effect of saffron still needs to be evaluated in humans with high blood pressure.
7. Sexual Function
A study of 20 male patients with erectile dysfunction found that saffron supplementation daily for 10 days increased the frequency and duration of erections.
This study lacked a placebo control, which reduces the validity of the results.
Another study in 25 diabetic men with erectile dysfunction (a common symptom in diabetes) found that saffron gel significantly improved sexual function and increased the frequency of erections.
However, saffron extract (30 mg twice daily for 12 weeks) didn’t improve the symptoms of erectile dysfunction in a much larger trial of 346 men.
Certain medications, like antidepressants, can diminish the sexual drive and cause pain during sex.
In a study of 38 women, saffron supplemented for 4 weeks improved sexual drive and reduced pain associated with sex. Saffron also increased lubrication, which helped minimize pain during sex.
8. Immune Response
In 45 healthy people, saffron extract taken for 3 months significantly increased white blood cell and antibodies count (IgG and monocytes) compared to placebo.
Saffron increased white blood cell count without affecting the levels of other blood cells. In theory, it could selectively enhance immunity without increasing the risk of other blood-related complications.
In test tubes, saffron could also inhibit viral replication and entry into cells, potentially improving the immune system’s ability to fight off viral infections.
9. Heart Function
Saffron may improve heart function by increasing its pumping capacity. This may be due to the presence of kaempferol, a molecule with potent heart-protecting effects.
In a study of 20 subjects, saffron improved health in all patients but had the most profound improvement in patients with a heart condition.
Additionally, saffron’s constituent crocin, upon conversion to crocetin, may reduce cholesterol levels and the hardening of blood vessels (atherosclerosis).
In rats that suffered heart attacks, saffron protected the heart from drug toxicity. This may be mediated by its antioxidant effects on the heart tissue.
Saffron extract may support mental health by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.
Saffron supplementation improved anxiety symptoms in a study of 60 patients after 12 weeks.
11. Weight Loss
According to one review of clinical and preclinical data, saffron may aid in weight loss by:
- Slowing down fat absorption and digestion
- Reducing calorie intake by lowering appetite
- Improving glucose and fat utilization for energy
- High doses (176.5 mg twice daily) of saffron for 6 months slightly reduced late-night snacking in 60 overweight women.
Saffron and its components may reduce cholesterol and lipid levels, potentially contributing to better weight control.
However, these observations mainly stem from animal research. Large clinical trials are needed to evaluate the potential effects of saffron on weight loss.
Side Effects of Saffron
Saffron is considered a safe supplement to add to your daily regimen. Although side effects are rarely seen with saffron supplementation, some minor discomfort may occur, including :
- Dry mouth
- Change in appetite
- Some people may exhibit allergic reactions to the carotenoids found in saffron. These reactions usually take form as hives, nasal congestion, or difficulty breathing.
Taking high doses of saffron for a long period may lower red blood cell count.
Pregnant women should not take saffron (unless prescribed by a doctor), regardless of the potential benefits demonstrated in some earlier studies. Enough evidence indicates that saffron may pose a risk to the fetus and the mother.
Supplement-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let him know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.
Due to its ability to lower blood pressure and activate GABA receptors in the brain, saffron may interact with blood-pressure-lowering and sedative drugs, such as:
- Calcium channel blockers
Conclusion: As we can see from all the above saffron can help or can be used as a helper with anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s and other health issues. Most important is to know how it reacts with some medications.
Before taking saffron must be aware of its side effects and consult with your doctor first.