Research on Saffron + Anxiety
Anxiety Epidemiology and Prevalence
Large population-based surveys estimate that approximately 33.7% of the population will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. (1) Anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and separation anxiety disorder are the most prevalent mental disorders, placing significant financial and resource burdens on the healthcare system and wider society. (1) Although psychological and pharmacological treatments can be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms for some, many individuals do not utilise these services, and many of these pharmacological treatments come with unwanted side effects, low efficacy rates, and low tolerability. (1, 2) Research into novel treatments with negligible toxicity risks and more favourable outcomes, such as saffron, is therefore justified and necessary.
Saffron: Anti-Anxiolytic Research
Saffron has been well-researched for its potential positive effect in mental illness disorders, particularly anxiety and depression. (3) The active constituents in saffron, crocin, crocetin, and safranal, may have the ability to influence several of the neurobiological mechanisms seen in mental illness, including modulating pathways related to neurotransmitters, inflammation, immune regulation, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, oxidative stress, and neurotrophins. (3)
Several studies provide evidence of the ability for saffron and its constituents to reduce symptoms of anxiety. A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis reviewing 23 studies investigating the effect of saffron on symptoms of depression and anxiety found evidence that saffron may prove to be an effective intervention for treatments of both depression and anxiety. (3) Another 2018 study researched the effect of the saffron extract, Affron, on symptoms of anxiety and depression in teenage youths. (4) In this eight-week, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, Affron was shown to be effective at reducing internalising symptoms in teenagers, particularly separation anxiety, depression, and social phobia. (4)
Mechanisms of Action
The precise mechanisms by which saffron supplementation acts to reduce anxiety is still not entirely clear. It has been hypothesised that saffron and its constituents exert their anxiolytic action in a similar way to other flavonoids, by interacting with the benzodiazapine binding site at the GABAA receptor. (5) It is also considered likely that saffron and its constituents interact with the HPA axis and reduce the increase of stress-induced corticosterone. (5) In animal studies, saffron appears to inhibit corticosterone secretion by blocking NMDA and/or sigma opioid receptors situated in the adrenal cortex. (5)
The safety profile of saffron is high, with minimal serious side effects reported. Marx et al. noted that, although 21 out of the 23 studies included in their systematic review and meta-analysis reported adverse events, including nausea, headache, anxiety, constipation, dry mouth and appetite changes, there was no significant difference between the saffron group compared to the placebo group. (3) Clinical studies on the safety of saffron supplementation have concluded that saffron and its extracts display a safe and normal pharmacological profile. (7,8)
Bandelow B, Michaelis S. Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience. 2015 Sep;17(3):327.
Shafiee M, Arekhi S, Omranzadeh A, Sahebkar A. Saffron in the treatment of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders: Current evidence and potential mechanisms of action. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2018 Feb 1;227:330-7.
Marx W, Lane M, Rocks T, Ruusunen A, Loughman A, Lopresti A, Marshall S, Berk M, Jacka F, Dean OM. Effect of saffron supplementation on symptoms of depression and anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition reviews. 2019 Aug 1;77(8):557-71.
Lopresti AL, Drummond PD, Inarejos-García AM, Prodanov M. Affron®, a standardised extract from saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for the treatment of youth anxiety and depressive symptoms: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Journal of affective disorders. 2018 May 1;232:349-57.
Pitsikas N. Constituents of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) as potential candidates for the treatment of anxiety disorders and schizophrenia. Molecules. 2016 Mar;21(3):303.
Lopresti AL, Drummond PD. Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental. 2014 Nov;29(6):517-27.
Modaghegh MH, Shahabian M, Esmaeili HA, Rajbai O, Hosseinzadeh H. Safety evaluation of saffron (Crocus sativus) tablets in healthy volunteers. Phytomedicine. 2008 Dec 1;15(12):1032-7.
Mohamadpour AH, Ayati Z, Parizadeh MR, Rajbai O, Hosseinzadeh H. Safety evaluation of crocin (a constituent of saffron) tablets in healthy volunteers. Iranian journal of basic medical sciences. 2013 Jan;16(1):39.