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Crocus Sativus (Saffron)

Crocus Sativus (Saffron)

Crocus Sativus (Saffron)

Saffron is a spice, derived from the Crocus sativus flower, widely used for its medicinal benefits that promote various aspects of human health.

As we’ll explore in this article, the perennial plant has been suggested to be effective in the treatment of a wide range of disorders including coronary artery diseases, hypertension, stomach disorders, dysmenorrhea and learning and memory impairments.

Additionally, research has shown saffron to have anti-inflammatory, anti-atherosclerotic, antigenotoxic and cytotoxic properties, which all play a role in treating nervous system disorders.

Saffron is a also prized ingredient in various cuisines around the world, particularly in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cooking, which harness its earthy yet sweet flavour and distinctive colour in a wide range of dishes, including rice, risottos, desserts, and beverages.

As you’ll learn, it has been widely adopted in dietary supplements because of its calming qualities and its natural taste.

About the Saffron dry flower (Crocus sativus)

The Crocus sativus flower is native to southwest Asia, particularly Iran, and has been cultivated for thousands of years for its vibrant red stigmas, which are collected and dried to produce saffron.

Those stigmas, the thread-like structures found in the centre of the purple flower, are notoriously labour-intensive to pick, which typically explains why saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. (1)

Aside from its medicinal value, saffron has an equally (and arguably more) significant purpose in the cultural and culinary traditions of many regions, having been used in religious rituals, perfumes, and dyes.

Yet, the focus of this article is to dive a bit deeper into how saffron has been used for its potential medicinal properties, including its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and mood-enhancing effects.

Benefits: From the brain to the nervous system and beyond

Research shows that consuming the substances found in the highly sought after saffron can benefit health in several ways.

Saffron’s powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties

Crocitin, crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal - four of the main bio-active compounds found in saffron - have been shown to have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.

Studies have shown how regularly consuming saffron, or taking saffron supplements, may result in reduced inflammation and lower markers of oxidative stress. (2)

Oxidative stress occurs when there aren’t enough antioxidant defences in the body, which can lead to cellular damage.

One particular study published in 2019 found that participants who supplemented with 100mg of saffron each day for 12 weeks reported significant reductions in blood levels of malondialdehyde (MDA), a marker of oxidative stress. (3)

Saffron for sleep: How it can improve your sleep quality as a safe and effective herbal aid

Results of recent research and reviews, albeit somewhat limited, has shown that the active substances found in saffron have sleep-inducing properties.

A 2023 review of five separate studies found that treatments containing saffron or its active substances, including crocin, had beneficial effects on sleep quality and sleep duration by increasing the level of sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. (4)

Crocus sativus, or saffron extract, is a key ingredient in Super Sleep, an innovative, Australian-owned and Australian-manufactured sleep support supplement.

Mental health benefits of saffron

Researchers believe that some of the bio-active compounds in saffron, such as crocin and safranal, can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression by inhibiting the reuptake of mood-boosting, feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. (5)

A 2019 review of 23 studies found saffron treatments had a significant positive effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety, while also noting that it had similar effects on depressive symptoms as antidepressant medications. (6)

Better vision with saffron

There is evidence that suggests saffron may benefit people with conditions that impact the eyes, including the leading cause of vision loss in adults - macular degeneration (AMD).

Since most eye diseases are mainly caused by increased inflammation, it’s believed that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds found in saffron are what reduce inflammation in the eye.

More specifically, studies have shown how supplementing with saffron can improve vision win people with AMD, as well as reduce eye pressure in people with the nerve-damaging, vision-impairing condition of glaucoma. (7)

Can saffron improve heart health?

Those same anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects mentioned above have also been found to help improve cardiovascular health.

A 2021 review of 19 studies found that saffron treatments were shown to be effective in reducing heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol. (8)

How to increase your saffron intake

Saffron is commonly sold in its raw form as saffron threads, the stamen of the Crocus sativus flower.

It’s also become available in powder form.

A note of caution for those cooking with saffron: Use it sparingly. It often boasts a strong flavour that can overpower a dish, and is very expensive.

So whether you’re adding it to a paella or soup, or into rice or dessert, make sure you use it in small quantities.

If you’re looking for a saffron supplement that improves sleep quality and quantity, check out Super Sleep.

Dosage

Supplementing with up to 100mg of saffron extract daily, for up to 26 weeks, has not been found to be associated with serious side effects. (9)

However, the same study found that taking saffron supplements for more than 26 consecutive weeks, or consuming more than five grams of saffron each day, could lead to more significant side effects, including bloody diarrhoea and vomiting.

If you are considering using saffron supplements, check first with your healthcare provider for a solution that is tailored to your needs.

Side effects

Saffron is generally considered safe when consumed in regular amounts, but when taken in higher does it can lead to minor side effects, including:

  • dizziness;
  • fatigue;
  • dry mouth;
  • anxiety;
  • Nausea; and
  • Headache (10)

Conclusion

Emerging evidence shows that the Anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the substances found in saffron could provide powerful benefits for various nervous system disorders.

Research involving both humans and animals suggests that saffron and its components may be effective in moderating mood treating mild to moderate depression.

This positive impact on mood and sleep quality might be related to how saffron interacts with the serotonin and noradrenaline systems.

However, we are still relatively new in our understanding of how saffron affects the nervous system, and additional detailed studies are highly advised by researchers.

References

  1. Aissa R, Ibourki M, Ait Bouzid H, et al. Phytochemistry, quality control and medicinal uses of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.): an updated review. J Med Life. 2023;16(6):822-836. doi:10.25122/jml-2022-0353.
  2. El Midaoui A, Ghzaiel I, Vervandier-Fasseur D, et al. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.): a source of nutrients for health and for the treatment of neuropsychiatric and age-related diseases. Nutrients. 2022;14(3):597. doi:10.3390/nu14030597.
  3. Ebrahimi F, Sahebkar A, Aryaeian N, et al. Effects of saffron supplementation on inflammation and metabolic responses in type 2 diabetic patients: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2019;12:2107-2115. doi:10.2147/DMSO.S216666.
  4. Sadat Rafiei SK, Abolghasemi S, Frashidi M, et al. Saffron and sleep quality: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Metab Insights. 2023;16:11786388231160316. doi:10.1177/11786388231160317.
  5. Marx W, Lane M, Rocks T, et al. Effect of saffron supplementation on symptoms of depression and anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2019;nuz023. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuz023..
  6. Marx W, Lane M, Rocks T, et al. Effect of saffron supplementation on symptoms of depression and anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2019;nuz023. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuz023..
  7. Sepahi S, Ghorani-Azam A, Hossieni SM, Mohajeri SA, Khodaverdi E. Pharmacological effects of saffron and its constituents in ocular disorders from in vitro studies to clinical trials: a systematic review. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2021;19(3):392-401. doi:10.2174/1570159X18666200507083346.
  8. Lu C, Ke L, Li J, et al. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and health outcomes: a meta-research review of meta-analyses and an evidence mapping study. Phytomedicine. 2021;91:153699. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2021.153699.
  9. Ait Tastift M, Makbal R, Bourhim T, Omari Z, Isoda H, Gadhi C. Safety assessment and pain relief properties of saffron from taliouine region(Morocco). Molecules. 2022;27(10):3339. doi: 10.3390/molecules27103339.
  10. Bostan HB, Mehri S, Hosseinzadeh H. Toxicology effects of saffron and its constituents: a review. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2017;20(2):110-121. doi:10.22038/ijbms.2017.8230.
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