Saffron Health Benefits
Saffron, commonly known as the “Sun Spice,” comes from the stigma of the flower Crocus sativus. Although it has been used for centuries, in the past few decades saffron has become increasingly popular for its multitude of medicinal benefits with accumulating scientific research studies confirming the abundance of health-promoting compounds within this miraculous spice. It is historically noted that saffron was first used for its medicinal purposes in Greece. It was popular among people for its mood-enhancing, memory-improving and libido-boosting features.
Recent studies have shown that saffron’s health benefits are more significant than previously thought. According to several advanced biochemical studies on saffron, it has been demonstrated that saffron’s medicinal benefits arise from the presence of various volatile and non-volatile aromatic compounds such as picrocrocin, safranal, crocetin, etc . Saffron is rich in many macro- and micronutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, copper, iron, zinc and manganese, and abundant in many vitamins such as vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C . All of these powerful, bioactive components make saffron one of the most expensive and sacred spices in the world.
1- Powerful Immune Booster
The compounds in saffron such as crocin, crocetin, safranal and kaempferol are antioxidants, meaning they work to reverse and protect the cell from oxidative damage. Over the past decade, studies have shown that increased inflammation and a weakened immune system play an important role together in the pathophysiology of various conditions such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, asthma and allergies [2, 3].
The anti-inflammatory benefit of saffron is found to be related to its strong antioxidant and radical-scavenging virtues. Saffron’s useful pharmacological medicinal activities stem from its ability to interact with various biological targets and different signaling pathways. Findings suggest that the immunomodulatory activity (a chemical agent that modifies the immune system’s response- as by the stimulation of antibody formation or the inhibition of white blood cell activity) of saffron may involve direct targeting of Toll-Like Receptors (TLRs). TLRs play an important role in the innate immune system by triggering pro-inflammatory signaling pathways in response to either external or internal stimuli [2, 3]. Saffron is able to downregulate the proliferation (e.g., decrease the production) of these pro-inflammatory enzymes and molecules (including myeloperoxidase, cyclooxygenase-2, inducible nitric oxide synthase, prostanoids and phospholipase A2) while upregulating various anti-inflammatory molecules (such as the cytokines IL-4, IL-10 and TGF-β). In other words, with saffron supplementation, there are fewer molecules around that cause inflammation and more molecules around that reduce inflammation. Therefore, saffron’s immunoregulatory properties may be effective for prevention and treatment of the inflammation rooted in common pathological diseases, such as the ones mentioned above. Please check out your immensely powerful immune boosting Saffron Golden Milk: click here to see the recipe.
2- Potential Anti-Cancer Properties
Crocin is a dark red-orange, water soluble compound found in saffron that has been found to trigger apoptosis (programmed cell death) in many types of human cancer cells. Both animal models and cultured human cell studies have supplied an abundance of evidence of the anti-tumor, anti-carcinogenic properties of saffron and its constituents, demonstrating the chemopreventive effects of saffron in cancers such as leukemia, ovarian carcinoma, colon adenocarcinoma, lung cancer and others .
Researchers in Mexico who have been studying saffron extract have discovered that saffron and its active components display an ability to inhibit human malignant (cancerous) cells. Not only does the spice inhibit cells that have become cancerous, but it actually boosts the function of immune cells such as lymphocytes, which help destroy cancer cells . In fact, saffron has even been considered as a potential chemotherapeutic agent to treat cancer .
3-May Enhance Mood and Treat Depressive Symptoms
In multiple placebo-controlled trials, saffron supplementation was found to have significant treatment effects in reducing depression, with similar efficacy as compared to current antidepressant medication . It is proposed that this is due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective (protecting the brain and nervous system) benefits of saffron.
In some studies, it’s been found that taking 30-50 mg of saffron daily was as effective as taking commonly prescribed antidepressants such as: Fluoxetine, Imipramine, and Citalopram, which are conventional pharmacologic treatments for depression . These mood-altering synthetic conventional drugs come with a long list of potential adverse effects, including weight gain, memory loss, insomnia, anxiety, suicide and depression itself, whereas saffron is quite safe to use, having exhibited no toxicity at therapeutic doses in both clinical and experimental investigations [5, 8].
Saffron has been shown to powerfully affect serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with anxiety and mood. Saffron essentially helps keep more serotonin available within synapses (junction between two nerves) of the brain, leading to decreased anxiety and an overall sense of improved mood. In addition to the amplification of synaptic serotonin, saffron and its active components have been found to potentiate other important neurotransmitters of the brain that promote mood, motivation and attention, including dopamine and norepinephrine .
4- May Reduce Premenstrual Symptoms
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a highly prevalent health problem experienced in nearly half of reproductive aged women . PMS is defined as a collection of emotional symptoms, with or without physical symptoms, related to a woman’s menstruation cycle. Symptoms may include headaches, increased pain sensitivity, anxiety, irritability and insomnia.
One study showed that 14 mg saffron extract twice daily for 28 days improved sleep quality in patients with self-reported insomnia, with most effects occurring within the first week of saffron supplementation . Beyond the mood-enhancing effects mentioned above, saffron has also been thought to bind to GABA receptors in the brain, at the same binding site as benzodiazepines (a class of drugs that is used to treat anxiety), resulting in anxiety reduction with efficacy similar to current anti-anxiety medications . Simply the odor of saffron was found to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in women, offering yet another reason to use saffron in the treatment of PMS . Finally, parts of the saffron plant have notable anti-nociceptive properties, meaning they modulate the pain response, resulting in reduction of acute and chronic pain .
5- Can Reduce Appetite and Support Weight Loss
As the number of individuals with obesity continues to rise, many individuals are searching for alternative strategies to help them lose the extra weight. One placebo-controlled study explored the efficacy of saffron and crocin on appetite, dietary intake and body composition [in individuals with coronary artery disease]. They found that the group taking saffron extract had a significant reduction in appetite, as well as body mass index, waist circumference and fat mass . In another study, oral supplementation of the saffron extract, Satiereal, was significantly associated with weight reduction and reduced snacking frequency .
The proposed explanation of these outcomes is related to the mood-boosting effects of saffron, which may enhance satiety, contributing to reduced snacking and increased weight loss. As we understand more about the systemic metabolic effects of obesity, and the association between obesity and numerous chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease, this anti-obesity feature of saffron is very promising. Saffron not only does not come with many adverse side effects, but rather it comes with numerous side benefits unlike many commonly used over the counter weight loss pills.
6- Saffron Can Be Used as an Aphrodisiac
An aphrodisiac is a food, drink or other substance that when consumed can stimulate both males and females. Saffron has been known for its libido-boosting properties for many years, but recently studies have found that these aphrodisiac effects may be especially helpful in individuals taking antidepressants. Common side effects of many antidepressants are erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, and dryness in women. Men given 30 mg of saffron per day for one month experienced greater improvement in erectile function and greater sexual satisfaction than men taking placebo . Women who took a saffron supplement were found to have less sex-related pain, increased libido and improved lubrication .
One meta-analysis of several studies that explored saffron and sexual function discovered that consuming this spice had a positive impact on orgasmic function, satisfaction and desire . In conclusion, saffron supplementation is a safe and effective method to treat erectile dysfunction and improve overall sexual experience in men and women.
7- May Prevent Vision Loss and Restore Vision
In a double blind placebo controlled randomized trial, short term outcomes of saffron supplementation in about sixty patients with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) were randomly assigned to take 30mg/d or placebo supplementation for six months. Optical coherence tomography (OCT), electroretinography (ERG), fluorescein angiography, and visual acuity testing were performed at baseline and 3 and 6 months after treatment. It was concluded that daily supplementation with 30 mg of saffron for 6 months may result in a mid-term, significant improvement in retinal function in patients with AMD .
In a longitudinal follow-up study of saffron supplementation Italian scientists monitored the sustainability of the central retinal function following consistent Saffron supplementation. Age-related Macular Degeneration is a common loss of central vision and impairment that starts in some during the early ages with mild loss of vision and as it approaches its late stages in life, it sometimes is experienced as severe low vision and major visual impairments in elderly people of the developed world. It is clinically proven that consistent saffron supplementation is a short and long term answer to improving vision and reversal of macular degeneration in AMD patients. 
Saffron has rarely been reported to have any toxic or adverse side effects and is considered to be safe for daily consumption. It is also important to note that saffron can stimulate uterine contractions, so it is not suggested for medical dose usage in pregnant women and nursing mothers anymore than the small amount used in food.
It is also critical that one consumes high quality saffron that comes from a reputable source, as it can widely vary in quality and price which is why we are proud to provide the highest quality of saffron (super negin) in the world at Zaran Saffron. Individuals with chronic medical conditions should always consult with their healthcare providers before using supplements.
- Shaista Qadir, Sabeeha Bashir, Riffat John. Chapter 15 - Saffron—Immune System. Editor(s): Maryam Sarwat, Sajida Sumaiya. Saffron, Academic Press, 2020, Pages 177-192, ISBN 9780128184622, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-818462-2.00015-2.
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