Saffron: 5 Remarkable Ways It Boosts Body And Mind

Saffron, the 'sunshine spice,' goes beyond its culinary allure, offering a wealth of health benefits. From bolstering brain health and soothing menstrual discomfort to enhancing immunity and boosting mood, saffron's multifaceted properties have been studied for centuries.
Saffron Benefits

The Main Key Points of This Article

  • Saffron is derived from the Crocus sativus flower and has a history spanning over four millennia.
  • Saffron offers a range of benefits, including aiding in Alzheimer's disease management, mitigating stress and depression, soothing menstrual pain, and fortifying the immune system.
  • Saffron contains over 150 compounds, including crocin, picrocrocin, safranal, and crocetin.
  • Carotenoids, essential oils, and kaempferol are nutritional and antioxidant components in saffron.
  • Saffron's compounds support brain health, enhance blood flow, and offer protection against free radicals.
  • Saffron's crocin inhibits the growth of amyloid-beta protein associated with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Saffron extract boosts mood by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels.
  • Saffron shows promise in enhancing memory and cognitive function through crocin and crocetin.
  • Saffron has been traditionally used to alleviate premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms.
  • Saffron extract boosts immunity by increasing white blood cells and antibodies.
  • Saffron tea can be enjoyed plain or combined with other ingredients for unique flavors.

What is Saffron?

Saffron, exuding a rich golden glow, is more than just a prized addition to culinary dishes. Known by other names like Za'faran or Kesar, this product of the Crocus sativus flower tells a tale that reaches back over four millennia.

Crocus sativus flower consists of thread-like crimson structures known as stigmas. These stigmas are harvested and dried, then transformed into the saffron spice. Today, Iran is the epicenter of this golden marvel, providing more than 90% of what the world consumes.

So what exactly gives saffron its fame as a catalyst for brain and health enhancement? Let's embark on a delightful exploration of the many gifts of saffron: [1]

  • Aiding in the battle against Alzheimer's disease
  • Mitigating stress and depressive symptoms
  • Soothing the discomfort of menstrual pain and PMS
  • Fortifying the immune system
  • Safeguarding vital organs like the brain, heart, and liver

Saffron boasts an impressive array of over 150 compounds, including: [2]

  • Crocin and picrocrocin, responsible for its distinctive flavor
  • Safranal, the source of its unique aroma
  • Crocetin and crocin, imparting its vibrant yellow-red hue

Additionally, saffron's composition features:

  • Carotenoids, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, add to its colorful charm.
  • Volatile or essential oils contribute to its slightly bitter undertone.
  • Kaempferol is an antioxidant compound with potential benefits for conditions like diabetes, heart ailments, and skin aging. [3]

From a nutritional perspective, a mere tablespoon of saffron supplies an abundance of nutrients, such as:

  • A balanced mix of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
  • Essential vitamins like C, B9, B6, B3, and B2.
  • Crucial minerals include iron, manganese, magnesium, copper, phosphorous, and potassium.
  • Plus, 4.3 mg of the Kaempferol.

How Does Saffron Work?

Though the play of chemicals within saffron might seem complex, it's all part of a fascinating journey that offers us well-being and comfort.

Think of saffron's components like diligent caretakers of a flourishing garden. They nourish our body's growth, enhance blood flow, and tend to our brain's vitality through proteins like BDNF, VEGF, and phosphorylated CREB. [4]

As an antioxidant, saffron watches over our cells, protecting them from unruly free radicals that might otherwise harm our delicate inner balance.

As we venture deeper into this herb, we find saffron's tender touch against Alzheimer's disease, delicately inhibiting the growth of amyloid-beta protein, a primary contributor to this condition. [5]

One of the saffron's most precious chemicals is crocin. Though not easily absorbed, it transforms into crocetin within us, possibly increasing serotonin levels in the brain, a path to easing depression and anxiety. [1]

Safranal, another jewel in saffron's crown, stimulates GABA receptors, increasing the brain-protective effects. It connects with various receptors in our body, creating a web of effects that increase blood flow, protect the brain, and block unwelcome reactions. [4]

Saffron's gifts extend even to shielding us from viral threats, protecting our cells, and preventing unwelcome intruders. [6]

1. Saffron as an Antidepressant

Saffron, often called the 'sunshine spice,' is more than a vibrant red and yellow seasoning. It's a spice known to brighten moods, and there's scientific research to back it up!

How does the mood-boosting magic work, you ask? Saffron extract seems to support mental well-being by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels, two chemicals that can elevate mood. [1]

Saffron is also a natural alternative. One study found saffron as potent as the pharmaceutical drug Prozac for treating mild to moderate depression. [7]

There are also positive findings that demonstrate this herb's effectiveness for adults. In an analysis of five clinical trials (each involving 30-42 people), saffron significantly alleviated depression symptoms, matching the effects of antidepressants. [8]

Saffron even proved to be effective for new mothers. For 40 women with mild-to-moderate postpartum depression, a 6-week saffron supplementation proved more effective than Prozac. [9]

Additionally, saffron has proven its potential for Schizophrenia patients. A study involving 61 schizophrenia patients saw similar improvements in depressive symptoms after 12 weeks of saffron extract use. Though promising and safe, more research is needed to ascertain if saffron is as effective as existing treatments for schizophrenia. [10]

The 'sunshine spice' is revealing its potential as a natural mood enhancer, providing a glimpse of hope for those seeking alternative mental health solutions.

2. Saffron as a Memory Booster

Saffron, the beautiful spice often associated with exotic dishes, may hold secrets that could impact our cognition. It's all down to two special chemicals within saffron: crocin and crocetin.

A study discovered that saffron could help with learning and memory issues. [11] Such findings hint that saffron might have applications in treating brain-related diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

In a 16-week study involving 46 Alzheimer's patients, saffron extract supplementation boosted cognitive function and reduced dementia symptoms. [12]

Saffron even offers a different approach to treating dementia. Through test-tube experiments, researchers have found that saffron may improve dementia by targeting acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. Interestingly, this enzyme is also a target for donepezil, an approved medication for Alzheimer's. [13]

In another study with 54 patients, a 22-week saffron treatment was as effective as donepezil for Alzheimer's disease but with fewer digestive side effects. [14] These findings show that saffron is indeed comparable to existing treatments.

Finally, Crocin, saffron's active ingredient, inhibits the deposit of amyloid-beta proteins, a defining feature of Alzheimer's disease. [4] These results demonstrate saffron's potential as a combat agent against Alzheimer's.

The evidence is growing that saffron's unique compounds could play a vital role in brain health, especially in managing conditions like Alzheimer's. Though these findings are encouraging, more research is needed to fully understand and utilize the potential of this 'golden' spice.

3. Saffron and PMS Treatment

Saffron has been traditionally used to alleviate premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, symptoms such as mood swings, cramps, bloating, and acne. [15] So, it might be the golden alternative to medications.

A review explored various herbal treatments for PMS and its more intense counterpart, PMDD. Both conditions manifest in the one to two weeks leading up to a woman's period, causing significant discomfort. The review highlighted saffron as a potent remedy. [16]

Saffron is also effective across ages. A study focusing on women aged 20 to 45 discovered that 15 mg of saffron taken twice daily could ease PMS symptoms. [17]

Even saffron's scent has proven potent. In an intriguing study with 35 women, smelling saffron for 20 minutes significantly reduced PMS symptoms and helped regularize periods. This calming effect reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. [18]

4. Saffron as an Energy Enhancer

Saffron is packed with active chemicals called carotenoids. These unique molecules may do more than add flavor to your dishes; they might actually boost your energy and strength!

In a study involving 28 healthy men, just ten days of saffron supplementation led to an increase in muscle strength and quicker reaction times. But how? It seems to be related to the improved function of the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cells) and the antioxidant activity, which enhances thinking and cognition. [19]

What's more, saffron might even enhance blood flow and oxygen delivery to your muscles when you're working out, contributing to these positive effects.

These findings uncover another dimension to saffron, hinting at its potential as a natural ergogenic aid. Who knew this culinary treasure could also be a gym buddy, helping to power your workouts and sharpen your reactions?

5. Saffron and Immunity

Saffron might also play a significant role in boosting our immune system. In a study with 45 healthy participants, taking saffron extract for three months led to a significant increase in white blood cells and antibodies (specifically IgG and monocytes) compared to a placebo. [20] These elements are crucial in defending the body against infections.

The study also found that saffron increased white blood cell count without altering the levels of other blood cells. Theoretically, this could mean that saffron enhances immunity without raising the risk of other blood-related issues. It's like having a targeted defense system! [20]

Saffron's potential doesn't stop there. In test-tube experiments, it inhibited viral replication and prevented viruses from entering cells. [21] These results could translate to a strengthened ability of the immune system to ward off viral infections.

Safety and Side Effects

You can safely include saffron in your daily diet, but it's essential to understand potential side effects and special considerations. While rarely seen, some minor side effects of saffron supplementation might include dry mouth, anxiety, dizziness or drowsiness, nausea, changes in appetite, or headaches. [22]

If you notice hives, nasal congestion, or difficulty breathing after consuming saffron, it could be an allergic reaction to the carotenoids present in the spice.

Prolonged use of high doses of saffron might lower red blood cell count, so moderation and consultation with a healthcare provider are key. [23]

Finally, though some studies have pointed to potential benefits, pregnant women should refrain from taking saffron unless prescribed by a doctor. Sufficient evidence suggests it may pose risks to the fetus and the mother. [24]

How to Make Saffron Tea

Saffron tea can be a delightful experience with its vibrant hue and unique flavor. While you can steep the threads in hot water for a plain saffron tea, its strong and sometimes bitter taste often leads to creative combinations with other ingredients. Here's how you can explore this exotic beverage:

Start with boiling water in a saucepan. Add saffron threads and any additional herbs, spices, or tea leaves. Allow it to steep like a regular teabag for about five to eight minutes. Then, remove the threads and savor the warmth of the tea.

If you're looking for a richer taste, try a blend of saffron with cardamom and either raw or coconut milk. This luxurious mix offers a flavorful twist on the traditional.

For a refreshing twist, why not try saffron iced tea? Combine saffron with complementary flavors like basil, lemon, and honey. Serve it chilled for a cooling experience on a hot day.

Whether you prefer it simple and unadorned or paired with an array of herbs and spices, saffron tea provides a versatile canvas for culinary creativity. Experiment with different recipes to find the perfect blend that suits your taste.

The Bottom Line

Saffron has proven to be more than a colorful addition to our culinary palette. From its potential mood-boosting properties to its use in enhancing cognitive function and immunity, saffron's value extends well beyond the kitchen.

Research-backed studies have unveiled its role in alleviating symptoms of depression, improving learning and memory, and even providing relief for premenstrual syndrome.

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[1]The effects of Crocus sativus (saffron) and its constituents on nervous system: A review - PMC (

[2]Constituents of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) as Potential Candidates for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders and Schizophrenia - PubMed (

[3]Flavonols from saffron flower: tyrosinase inhibitory activity and inhibition mechanism - PubMed (

[4]The pharmacology of Crocus sativus- A review | Semantic Scholar

[5]Frontiers | Natural Compounds as Inhibitors of Aβ Peptide Aggregation: Chemical Requirements and Molecular Mechanisms (

[6]Antiviral Effects of Saffron and its Major Ingredients - PubMed (

[7]Hydro-alcoholic extract of Crocus sativus L. versus fluoxetine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized pilot trial - PubMed (

[8]Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials - PMC (

[9]Comparison of Saffron versus Fluoxetine in Treatment of Mild to Moderate Postpartum Depression: A Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial - PubMed (

[10]Safety evaluation of saffron stigma (Crocus sativus L.) aqueous extract and crocin in patients with schizophrenia - PubMed (

[11]Effects of saffron extract and its constituent crocin on learning behaviour and long-term potentiation - PubMed (

[12]Saffron in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a 16-week, randomized and placebo-controlled trial - PubMed (

[13]Saffron as a source of novel acetylcholinesterase inhibitors: molecular docking and in vitro enzymatic studies - PubMed (

[14]A 22-week, multicenter, randomized, double-blind controlled trial of Crocus sativus in the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease - PubMed (

[15]Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial - PubMed (

[16]Herbal treatments for alleviating premenstrual symptoms: a systematic review: Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology: Vol 32, No 1 (

[17]Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double‐blind, randomised and placebo‐controlled trial - Agha‐Hosseini - 2008 - BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology - Wiley Online Library

[18]Psychological and neuroendocrinological effects of odor of saffron (Crocus sativus) - PubMed (

[19]Potential Ergogenic Effects of Saffron - PubMed (

[20]Immunomodulatory effects of saffron: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial - PubMed (

[21]Antiviral Effects of Saffron and its Major Ingredients - PubMed (

[22]Toxicology effects of saffron and its constituents: a review - PMC (

[23]Crocus sativus L.: A comprehensive review - PMC (

[24]Effect of Saffron (Fan Hong Hua) On the Readiness of The Uterine Cervix In Term Pregnancy: A Placebo-Controlled Randomized Trial - PMC (

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