The Evidence for Saffron, Mood Disorders and Mild Anxiety
Saffron is one such amazing spice. Harvested from the dried stigma of the Crocus Sativus, saffron has long held the reputation for being the world’s most expensive spice. Although this high price is due to the extremely labour-intensive process of harvesting the stigmas, research is beginning to unveil some health properties of consuming saffron that, to many people, will be worth a lot more than the cost of this humble spice.
The Evidence for Saffron
Saffron has been found to have numerous scientifically proven therapeutic properties, including anti-depressant and anti-anxiolytic qualities. (1) Saffron also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiplatelet and neuro-protective properties, and has traditionally been used for pain relief, as a sedative, and as a treatment for gastrointestinal, respiratory and infectious diseases. (3) A systematic review and meta-analysis (the highest level of evidence in scientific research) found that saffron supplementation significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety when compared with a placebo, and also had a positive effect on depressive symptoms when used in conjunction with anti-depressants. (4) Adolescents with mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety also noticed a significant improvement in their symptoms after supplementing with affron (a saffron extract) for eight weeks. (3) In yet another randomized, double-blind study on ADHD in children aged 6-17 years of age, saffron was found to have an identical effect on symptoms of ADHD to methylphenidate (MPH), which is the most commonly prescribed drug for the treatment of ADHD. (1)
Physiologic and Neurologic Effects
There is evidence that saffron may have a positive effect on the body’s monoaminergic and glutamatergic systems, both of which have been found to malfunction in ADHD. It seems that saffron does this by increasing the reuptake inhibition of dopamine and norepinephrine. (1) Saffron and its active constituents are also NMDA receptor antagonists, and GABA-a-agonists, and have been shown in animal studies to have a positive effect on the neurotrophin, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). (1, 3) Essentially, this means that saffron may help to produce new brain cells, and strengthen the existing ones.
Alongside these amazing results, saffron also boasts a high safety profile, and no adverse side effects. (3) This is in contrast to MPH, which often causes sleep issues, stomach pain, nausea, and loss of appetite, and may also trigger tachycardia and palpitations. (1) In addition to this, saffron doesn’t interact negatively with other medications, unlike St John’s Wort, another commonly used natural anti-depressant. (3)
Saffron packs a powerful punch in the emerging world of evidence-based complementary medicine. The evidence to date clearly shows an exciting range of potential health benefits from saffron supplementation, particularly for children with disorders such as ADHD, depression, or anxiety. Promisingly, the safety profile of saffron is excellent, and it’s a safe and effective option to be used in conjunction with other medications if necessary.
1. Baziar S, Aqamolaei A, Mortazavi SH, Naderi S, Sahebolzamani E, Mortezaei A, et al. Crocus sativus L. Versus Methylphenidate in Treatment of Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Randomized, Double-Blind Pilot Study. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. 2019;29(3):205-12.
2. Levy T, Kronenberg S, Crosbie J, Schachar RJ. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms and suicidality in children: The mediating role of depression, irritability and anxiety symptoms. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2020;265:200-6.
3. Marx W, Lane M, Rocks T, Ruusunen A, Loughman A, Lopresti A, et al. Effect of saffron supplementation on symptoms of depression and anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis: Oxford University Press; 2019.
4. 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;232:349-57.
Written By Brittany Darling
NUTRITIONIST (BHSC), WESTERN HERBAL MEDICINE (ADV DIP),
CERT. PAEDIATRIC NUTRITION